Sullen Belgrade maps out its losses



An indignant and fascinated little crowd gathers at the bottom of Terazije Street, in the heart of Belgrade. The source of interest: a new map, which was originally published with triumphal intentions. "Thank God I'm a Serb," says the proud inscription. Now, the map is a bitter memorial to defeat.

It was intended to show the extent of Serb conquests in recent years. Yellow shows "territory under the control of Serb forces". Given what has happened in the past four years, much of the map is printed in yellow. There is just a forlorn little strip of green down the middle, for the "territories of Muslim-Croat Federation".

But then came the humiliation. Pink-striped amendments have been drawn on to the map, marking areas that Croats and Bosnian-government forces have seized Serbs recently. Suddenly there is little reason for Serbs to rejoice.

It seems odd that people gather to study the map so intently. Surely Serbs must know exactly what they have lost? In reality the official media have been reticent. The Bosnia deal reached in New York last week is proclaimed a triumph for the policies of President Slobodan Milosevic. The loss of territories where Serbs have lived for generations and the expulsion of 200,000 refugees are ignored. Thus the maps on Terazije Street provide the first opportunity for many to examine the grim new reality in detail.

"All of this was pure Serb," says one man (with a gesture taking in areas where Bosnian Muslims were in the majority until "ethnic cleansers" killed them or drove them out of their homes). "And now look. We've lost everything. It's genocide, pure genocide."

That indignation is typical.Every Serb can give you a lecture about what Serbs suffered 50 or 500 years ago. People talk, too, about Serbian suffering of recent months. But the Serbian crimes of the past few years do not exist in most people's minds. One depressing reason why the outspoken Serbian opposition Vreme magazine can still be published is that it has such a small readership. Few Serbs want to read uncomfortable truths.

There are, of course, Serbs who do not seek to use the vile experiences of history as a justification for unleashing new nightmares. But such heartening free spirits are an endangered minority - as rare as sympathisers of Andrei Sakharov in Brezhnev's Soviet Union or genuine haters of Nazism in Germany in 1945.

The Serbs' perception of themselves as eternal victims is another reason why last week's New York deal has been greeted with little enthusiasm on the streets of Belgrade. The official media emphasised the deal means Mir [peace] in our time, Mir on the horizon, Mir by Christmas, Mir because of the wise Serbian leader.

But many ordinary Serbs remain cautious. They believe, in any case, that the Western powers are the true warmongers.

"The war will be over when the Americans want it to be over - not a moment earlier," was one typical comment as Richard Holbrooke, the US peace envoy, arrived in Belgrade last weekend.

The nationalist opposition blames Mr Milosevic for allowing the Serb-majority Krajina to fall easily into Croat hands. "That wasn't a military victory [by the Croats]. It was a gift [from the Serbian leadership]" runs a popular argument. But Serbs, more exhausted than enraged, do not seem ready to pour on to the streets to protest. A nationalist opposition demonstration - in other words, those who regard Mr Milosevic as a sell-out - persuaded 10,000 people on to the streets, but the protests stopped there.

In one respect at least, there is a new half-optimism. Many believe that the New York deal could lead to the lifting of sanctions, which is all that many people care about. If sanctions are lifted, then solidarity with brother Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia could soon be forgotten, and Mr Milosevic's popularity could soar once more.

For the moment, however, Serbia remains a country of sullen resentment. Savo, one of the men gathered around the map-seller on Terazije, argues that Serbs are deeply misunderstood, because of a mixture of foreign ignorance and malice. But he acknowledges, too, that the information flow in Serbia is not all that it might be. "What do we know? We have no information. We know nothing." Why not? Savo shrugs. "That's just how it is."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

Berlusconi's world of sleaze

The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

Could gaming arcades be revived?

The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

Heard the one about menstruation?

Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage