e-mail from tetka m.


bombing tour


78 days


NATO's military intervention led to the breathtakingly rapid and effective destruction of any space in the north american media and public life for those of us holding both an antinationalist stance AND an antibombing stance. To be yugoslav, in particular to bear the taint of any serbian heritage, and to question the media mantra of humanitarian motives, the either/or polarities that characterize all war, or the idea that there was no other choice but to drop hi-tech bombs for 78 days brought immediate silencing, scrutiny, and sometimes violent attacks. To be serbian, even a serbian of mixed croatian or other heritage, was to face constant and intense suspicion, to realize the extent to which it didn't really matter what you said or how you qualified or prefaced yourself, you were a constant target for aggression and the direct implication that you were actively complicit in monstrous deeds. It didn't matter how much or at what personal cost you may have contested the policies of the yugoslav state in kosovo and their impacts on everyday kosovar albanians, you were an open target for those who knew little of the situation and had risked little to adopt a stance of fascinated revulsion towards you.

In order for most people to hang on to the idea that their countries were bombing in the name of justice and peace, they had to instinctively silence or demonize any public airing, even the most personal, of the human impacts of this military action on those belonging to the evil side. Just as the media largely worked to deny even the possibility of the existence of anyone in serbia opposed to Milosevic's policies and seeking to build alternatives to both nationalism and the west's policies towards the region. All serbs had to be reduced to one-dimensional caricatures of demonic, primitive, blood-thirsty nationalists.

You became a monster... Caught between mutually reinforcing and equally unacceptable logics: nationalist reaction or the racist doctrine of a collective guilt that demands the pummeling of your peoples, and their poisoning through depleted uranium, with the latest in hi-tech weapons of destruction by the world's richest countries. Nationalism being a monstrous thing only where small, impoverished, "primitive" Balkan countries that haven't become client states of the u.s. or europe are concerned. Either you are with us, or you are with the nationalists.

...no other possibility could be allowed to manifest itself. If you refused both, your voice, legitimacy, and very existence had to be attacked, smeared or suppressed.

After almost ten years of war in the region, I suppose I have gotten used to the range of reactions I get ... suspicion, aggression, discomfort, on occasion even some understanding, when people decipher my ethnicity. One family member long ago adopted the strategy of saying when asked that she was anything other than yugoslav, to avoid dealing with the typical responses and assumptions. Answering simply that I am of yugoslav heritage never satisfies their questions. They come in a range of forms, like the most recent one, where my dentist responded upon learning that I was serbo-croatian that he was surprised I hadn't killed myself yet.

After almost ten years of conflict in the region, I am all too familiar with a war logic that demands the complete blocking out or denial of the devastating impacts of war and militarized violence on the side that you are encouraged to see only as the "other side." Or to justify them as necessary self-defence or deserved punishment for dehumanized monstors. Conversely, much of the real suffering that results continues to be taken up by nationalist politicians to feed a narrative of victimization that only fuels nationalist responses. While this was certainly true for serbian nationalism, it was no less the case for other local nationalisms in the region and elsewhere that bore similar features, but were not exceptionalized or demonized on the world stage to nearly the same extent (in fact, some are clearly legitimated and supported by western policies). With the launching of the NATO attacks, any attempt to humanize or even communicate the devastating impacts of the bombing on those on the 'evil' or 'wrong' side of the conflict was met with immediate and sometimes aggressive silencing.

Like many north americans of yugoslav origin, I experienced the polarities and moralism of western humanitarian militarism as a new and profound disjuncture between two different experiences of NATO’s military intervention. On the one hand, my main experience of the war, as for most north americans, came through the media and internet, where it was filtered as a highly charged yet distant war game using the latest boy toys against monstrous others in the service of the new military humanitarianism . On the other hand, the fact that the targets of the war were not just distant monsters implied the devastating possibility that the ‘collateral damage’ might include my own family in Belgrade. These experiences merged in rather surreal ways for me in the regular e-mails I received from my aunt recounting the previous night’s bombings and her fear and confusion, or in the internet sound recordings of the daily bombings and air raid sirens. Here I was turning to the same military-derived technologies as were being used in the NATO bombing strikes to desperately try and figure out was going on, to try to absorb the traumatic personal implications of the situation through the haze of cold and distant media images.

The irony of these links between media and military technologies, both in how we now experience war and in how war is actually fought, merged for me in a moment of profound incongruity. After trying unsuccessfully for many years to visit my family in Belgrade, my first ever glimpse of a map of Belgrade was the above map, printed in the newspaper and displaying all the possible targets for NATO's bombs. It took a phone call to my father to substantiate that my family lived next to a major target, just above the 'b' of the bridge listed (incorrectly) as the Bratstvai Jedinstva bridge.



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