ISSUE 1442 Friday 7 May 1999

'Attacks on Belgrade are driving us mad'
Prof Miroslav Milicevic, Chief of Surgery at Belgrade University
Hospital, has lived through the bombing of Belgrade. In extracts from a
letter to a friend with whom he worked for two years at Imperial
College, London, he describes his experiences. He has never been a
suppporter of President Milosevic and carries no political affiliation,
according to his friend. 

Tuesday, May 4. 

Dear colleague, 

Hope you and the kids are doing OK. My father told me that you called
and that you said that you have been trying to reach me for some time
but that it proved impossible. I am not surprised, it is a miracle that
phones are working at all, not to mention international lines. 

I really thank you both for inquiring about us. What can I say about the
way we live. Whatever I say is not terrible enough and does not portray
the present situation in its extreme horror. When the bombing started,
Lepa and the kids were here for two days. I have a bomb shelter in the
house where I live and we spent practically two nights there. 

The sirens, the blasts and the general feeling really deranged my kids
(they are only 5 and 7) and Lepa could not take it at all. It was like a
nightmare. My kids really suffered greatly and after a few days I had to
decide to move them out of the country, which was not easy at all. 

There was really no choice since they would definitely have been
psychologically damaged for life. I made up my mind in two hours and
arranged for a minibus to drive my family and the families of two of my
friends to Budapest. We were driving behind the minibus to make sure
they made it across the bridges. Can you imagine how it feels when you
are speeding down the road and 700 metres to your left you have
screeching aircraft piloted by morons bombing the airfield in Batajnica?
Can you imagine how the kids feel? 

We knew that it was an opportunity to get our families to safety and
that we had to take it no matter what the risk was. Believe me Nagy,
that we only hoped that if someone had to die it was us and not our
children. They made it to Budapest, thank God. From there Lepa and the
kids went to Moscow. It is fortunate that I have a brother there and he
has been taking care of them since. 

What has been happening since. Utter madness. We do very little surgery,
only what is inevitable and have emptied the hospital for eventual
casualties. We are low on supplies, and you can imagine how surgeons
that do not operate feel. 

We have 24 hour shifts every few days (several teams headed by a
professor) as spare teams for the Emergency Centre teams. There is
depression and anger everywhere you turn. No one can do anything smart -
we just exist. I cannot write or read. Friends (since most families are
in exile) meet and spend their time together. I am relieved when I
operate - it
keeps my mind off my family and the unbelievable reality. Can you
believe that 500 million of the richest and most powerful people in the
world (the largest fighting force ever) has attacked 10 million people
that have been devastated by sanctions and a European capital is being
bombed at the end of the second millennium. People do not smile any
more, survival is the only preoccupation. It is only important that our
kids do not suffer. 

I have stopped watching satellite news. I cannot stand the propaganda
telling me that I belong to a nation that does not deserve to live.
Believe me that what you see in the news has nothing to do with how
really terrible things are. More than 80 per cent of the bridges have
been destroyed, most railroads and roads. Both refineries have been
destroyed, there is no gasoline at all, and we practically do not drive
cars any more. More than 300 schools and university buildings have been
damaged. More than 1 million pre-school, school and university students
do not go to school any more. 

The semester has been concluded one month ago. My daughter has not
learned to read properly in first grade and she is already in the second
grade. The whole generation will be crippled. Believe me, I have lived
through some of the most difficult days in my life, I am tough and I do
not break and will not break. 

In Belgrade practically no one sleeps at night any more, since the main
bombings take place from 22:30 to 04:30. It is enough to hear enemy
planes fly over your cities, the cruise missiles (they fly low and
slow), to hear and feel the explosions. When planes do not fly you still
think you hear them. It is hard to stay sane. 

Imagine seeing buildings you grew up next to crumble and be turned to
dust. It is like someone is erasing a part of your life. Seeing your
city destroyed is so sad. When they bombed the Ministry for Internal
Affairs my teams were on duty at the Clinic. That building is barely 200
metres from the First Surgical. Can you imagine how it feels and how it
sounds? The blast, shattering glass, the fire, smoke etc. Anti-aircraft
guns and rockets light up the sky. A small nation can only do so much. 

Last Thursday was one of the worst days. My teams were on duty again and
at around 01:30 they rocketed the same building twice again and the army
headquarters only 800 metres away. The rockets flew over our heads, the
explosions were terrible. 

When we left for the casualties there was some in the air, dust, the
smell of chemicals and flames all over the place. Like in a lousy war
movie. In fifteen minutes the attack was repeated and all the people
that went into the building to look for the injured were blasted out. 

In that one night our teams amputated three legs (two in the same
patient), one in another and one on the spot of the bombing. Can you
believe that this is happening in the main street of Belgrade several
hundred metres from the hospital? For the past few weeks I have really
aged. Then they bombed the TV station only 900 metres from my flat. In
that attack 17 people were killed and crushed. Another leg amputation
had to be done on the spot. 

A few days ago they used special carbon dust and fibre bombs and shorted
the electrical power grid so that 80 per cent of Serbia was without
electricity the entire night, part of the next day and some are still
without electricity. 

Can you imagine in a city of 2 million how many babies could not be
taken care of during the night? You know our hospitals and how much we
can do with generators. If this is not cruelty beyond compare then I am
probably insane already. This must be a nightmare, it could not be
happening. When the death tolls become public, I am certain that
generations to come will hide their face in shame. They will want to
skip this lesson in history books. 

The worst part is wondering why this all is happening. All of my life I
tried to be decent, honest and dignified doing no wrong to anyone. Most
of my friends are the same. We worked hard to achieve something. Now
that everything started working for me, patient referrals, operations,
income, research etc, everything is disrupted and there is no future any
more. I can really see no more sense in anything I do. 

We barely had the means for serious hepatic surgery before the
aggression and now we have no means for serious surgery at all. What
have I been doing for the past 50 years at all? 

I know one thing for sure. If all this does not induce drastic political
changes and some, even remote, future for my kids - I am through with
surgery and this is not going to be a place where I want them to grow up
in, I can harbour my fury and hatred, I can function even at a time like
this and I shall not break but I keep asking myself why so much
violence, hatred,
destruction - is it so hard to be normal? 

The problem is that there is no end in sight and people change. The weak
crack, psychopaths strive, the normal suffer and I am sure that nothing
here is ever going to be the same again. What can we as doctors do? I
cannot leave my people in time of greatest need and none of my friends
has done so. We can only speak our mind and promote moral principles
hoping that sanity will prevail. 

Unfortunately no one wants to hear. If we were a species of animals I am
sure animal protection groups would stand up against what is happening
to us. This is how I live presently. I shall do my best to survive and
provide a future for my kids. They deserve it. I am not a quitter and I
shall take what is coming. At this point, surgery seems so far away
because one does not understand the purpose of anything any more. 

I have hope and that will guide me. I have friends and they make this
turmoil easier to bear. All the best to all of you. 


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