April 23, 2000Mourners mark Serbian TV bombing
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) -- Family and friends gathered around a simple stone monument Sunday to mourn 16 Serbian state TV employees killed when NATO targeted the network's building last year. One word etched on the tablet summed up their grief: "Zasto" -- Why?
More than 2,000 people attended the memorial service, led by priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Family and friends of the victims read speeches blaming both President Slobodan Milosevic's regime and NATO for the deaths.
"NATO committed a terrible crime and so did the managers of Serbian Radio Television who bear responsibility for the deaths," said Mirjana Stojmenovska, the mother of 25-year-old technician Darko who died in the pre-dawn raid last April 23.
"Why did you gamble with the lives of our loved ones? Why did you use the lives of innocent people to try to show NATO you are invincible?" Stojmenovska asked, in a speech largely condemning Milosevic's government, which tightly controls the dominant state network.
"For cheap political propaganda, you sacrificed 16 innocent lives," she said.
Only technicians, cameramen, security guards and a makeup artist were on duty the night when two NATO missiles struck the network's main building in downtown Belgrade.
The 78-day bombing campaign was launched to make Milosevic accept a Western peace plan for Serbia's Kosovo province, where government troops had cracked down on pro-independence ethnic Albanians.
Milosevic's defiance increased in the first weeks of the bombing and the alliance added to target lists to include infrastructure and institutions considered vital to his rule. The state network was -- and still is -- the government's chief mouthpiece.
Before the attack, NATO urged the state network to either change its editorial policies or face missiles. The television's chief editors openly defied the warning, and said they were prepared to withstand attack.
"But none of the key people from the television were in the building that night," said Zanka Stojanovic, the mother of Nebojsa, a 26-year old technician who was killed. "My son and others were sacrificed,"
The casualties, along with hundreds of others suffered in the bombing, have been presented by the authorities as proof that NATO committed "aggression," rather than intervention toward peace.
However, the TV building deaths have sparked intense debates here and increasing suspicion that the government deliberately did nothing to protect the low-ranking employees.
Recent reports in independent media have said the authorities evacuated key network staff from the building hours before the attack. Top editors and executives of the network have tersely denied the allegations, but avoided any open debate on the issue.
None of them attended the service, and instead attended a separate ceremony Sunday with a narrow circle of top managers led by the television's chief executive, Dragoljub Milanovic. He called the victims "heroes," saying they should "rest in peace and no one should speculate with their heroic deaths. The murderers were NATO pilots, Gen. Wesley Clark and Bill Clinton."
But Stojmenovska insisted officials shared responsibility.
"Many pieces of the horrible picture have come together," she said. "The authorities knew when NATO was going to strike. Instead of evacuating the people, the workers' shifts were extended."
At least two documentary films have been made here about the tragedy by independent journalists seeking to shed more light on what happened.
There is "no doubt these people were victimized and the regime is ready to victimize many more just to stay in power," said Veran Matic, head of the Association of Independent Electronic Media and producer of one of the documentaries.
"One year after the bombing, the pain is only bigger." Stojanovic said. "Those who wanted the war and waged the war are all alive and well, and my son is dead."