THE TORONTO STAR, Thursday, May 27, 1999 p. A14
Crisis in the Balkans
Pregnant friend fights for life as doctors work by candles
NATO destroying the power grid
Alexandria (last name withheld at her request) is a writer and filmmaker
in Belgrade who is keeping a diary of events as NATO bombs Yugoslavia.
The Star will run excerpts from her diary from time to time.
Thursday, May 20: ``Spasov Dan'' - Belgrade's Slava (guardian saint).
Like every Serbian family has its Slava, Belgrade has its own as well.
This is one more day when Belgradians, walking through their city, pray
for the victims of the war and for the quick end of it. Is there any
sense to all this? Is there any sense after 1,200 killed civilians,
after destruction of the country, after thousands of refugees? Is there
any sense to it in the morning after the night in which the hospital was
hit? A famous writer once wrote that hope dies last, and where there is
hope there is a sense in praying.
Friday, May 21: It is a sunny morning and, in spite of sirens, I decided
to meet a friend in the centre of the city. Somewhere around noon the
streets are full of people and the atmosphere seems normal. We drink a
coffee in one of the modern cafes (Oh Cinema!) on the terrace situated
on the medieval Kalamegdon fortress. All of a sudden we witnessed a
surrealistic scene: A huge bird landed on the terrace, and we got up to
see it close. As we approached the fence of the terrace the bird flew
away, but a well known sight caught our eyes. From this terrace one can
see the meeting of two rivers, the Danube and the Sava,and the whole of
Belgrade like in the palm of a hand. The picture is almost the same,
with the difference in a few ruins. My friend Beba notices that we can't
see where Avala (a hill near Belgrade) is. Before the bombing there was
a TV tower 206 meters high, one of Belgrade's trademarks, now it is
destroyed. Around four o'clock PM we return home. The streets are
uneasily quiet for this time of the day, the shops that usually close
around eight are now shut. Nothing is like before!
Monday, May 24: Almost three days and nights passed without electricity
and water. This time the bombs were not the so-called Soft Bombs but the
ones which explode and destroy. The electrical system of Serbia was
proclaimed to be a legitimate military target, although it is well known
that it is much more essential for civilians than for the army. This is
definitely a measure to discourage and demoralize the population. It
would probably be possible in a western consumer society, but around
here people are used to suffering and with dignity. To be without
electricity does not only mean that there is no light at night, that the
TV, washing machine or stove don't work, and that trams and trolleys
All this can be endured. But it also means that the incubators for the
babies don't work, that the lives of dialysis patients are endangered,
that bread cannot be baked and that the whole food industry has been
Telephones still work though. Somewhere around evening the husband of my
friend Dragana calls. He is crying. Dragana was in her ninth month of
pregnancy and the delivery started. She was taken to the hospital, there
were some complications and the doctors decided to do a Cesarean.
Shortly after, due to the bombing, Serbia was left without electricity.
The hospital had a generator but after 10 minutes it broke down (in a
country impoverished by eight years of sanctions there is not enough
money to buy new equipment for hospitals). The kid was stillborn and the
doctors had to finish the operation by candle light. Dragana lost too
much blood, because of the conditions, and as I am writing this the
doctors are still fighting for her life - some days are just tougher
Wednesday May 26: This spring in Belgrade everything happens before four
in the afternoon. There are early shows in the cinema and matinees in
the theatre, early literary readings. The openings of exhibitions are
always around noon. Even the lovers meet before dark. Every day on Knez
Mihailova Street pedestrian area, there is a book fair. The publishers
and the owners of the bookshops decided that it would last one more day
than the (NATO) aggression. This is their way of helping Belgradians, by
offering them cheap books, to forget at least for a moment their
In spite my love for books, I hope diplomatic attempts to finish the
crisis will be successful, and the book fair will soon stop.