When the sound of air raid sirens pierced through the air, I was with my brother and sister in Belgrade, not knowing what to expect. A neighbor came to our house to help us get to the bomb shelter. We ran around our home trying to put food and anything we could get into black plastic bag, fleeing without uttering a word, an event no one prepared us for.

Our parents were trying to reach Belgrade on blocked roads and with busses that did not want to take passengers, or would take some with the acknowledgement of their own risk of getting hit by a bomb. My Dad had to bribe the driver to secure passage on a bus to get him and mom back home to Belgrade, and I can only imagine, in hindsight, how it must have felt for them to be separated from their children while NATO bombs rained down on Serbia.  

NATO bombing of Serbia, 1999 Photo: Foto D.Milovanovic

I do not remember having any feelings. Just sitting in the dark underground praying that the bomb wouldn’t hit us. As the oldest, telling my siblings that everything will be alright, despite knowing I had no proof that it would, those words you are supposed to say for the sake of convincing both yourself and others. 

The first night of NATO’s bombing of Serbia, we did not sleep. When we came back to the house, our parents were still not there. The electricity was cut off. There was no running water. Everything that we had taken for granted just a day before, was gone. We were thrown into a war zone in the European capital, and NATO showed no mercy. 

Can you imagine this in London? Can you imagine this in Washington, DC? Paris, Madrid? Can you imagine it happening to you in 1999, watching as, for three months, the rest of the Western world stands by, encouraging the devastation that has infiltrated your home town? Can you imagine being sent to bomb shelters with no possibility of escaping the country, having no where to go beyond your faith to cling onto and hope that you and your family will survive?

My siblings and I took the mattresses off of the beds and placed them on the floor away from the windows to catch some sleep, as we had become exhausted from the constant state of fear. That’s sort of the first thing you learn on the go when plunged into the deep end. We had to learn how to survive. In those moments, you would not have the time to psychologically analyze what you are going through .The sole focus was bare survival as we faced the reality of empty food shelves in the supermarkets. 

I crashed on the mattress and fell asleep, but then the roller coaster started up again after just a few hours. The sound of air raid sirens woke me up with noise that cuts through the bones and chills to the core. A paralyzing fear washed over me and for a moment I could not catch air. The next series of explosions was headed for us. 

NATO bombing of Belgrade, capital of Serbia 1999.

Someone, somewhere – who does not know me, who I do not know – was deciding if I am going to live or die. The feeling of hopelessness overwhelmed me. I could not envision the future. I found myself with the rest of my family and the nation at a dead end, knowing that some will live and some will die. 

We ran to the bomb shelter again. This time, the floor beneath us started to shake as the bombs fell down on our neighborhood. We were moving left and right – That’s how I remember it. People started to scream. Babies and children were crying. That, I have no choice but to remember. 

It did not stop for 78 days. 

That was twenty three years ago. It did happen after World War II in the heart of Europe. Today marks an anniversary that I am writing about to honor the civilian victims who did not outlast the NATO bombing campaign. If you were to consult the TV pundits, academics, and politicians, they would omit, against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, the gravity and depth the situation’s our reality held.  

I’ve survived Clinton’s bombing of Belgrade, “Madeleine’s war,” as some used to call it. I’ve spent three months in bomb shelters without food, electricity, or running water, but we are not even acknowledged for sharing our stories of their war crimes and merciless killing of civilians. They act as if it did not happen.

Albrights, Bidens, Clintons, McCains. They’re all the same. They all suffer from collective amnesia about atrocities they committed in the heart of Europe in 1999.

March 31, 1999: President Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, CIA Director George Tenet, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Hugh Shelton and others.

When the bombing in Ukraine started, the war trauma came back to me and millions of Serbs. I am not used to complaining about tough times. It’s a national trait, but, also, no space has been given to any Serbs to share their stories, and corporate international media, at that time, mostly BBC and CNN, showed no objectivity, no sympathy. Like Albrights, Bidens, Clintons, McCains, these news corporations had the interest of justifying the atrocities, not analyzing them honestly for what they were.

As the war in Ukraine erupted, it became clear that the world is oblivious to what NATO did in Serbia just two decades ago, forcing me to speak about my personal experience of what happened.

The story of NATO bombs many would rather see forgotten, erased from the history books, so they may continue referencing only one historical reference for the new generations, Adolf Hitler in 1939. But crimes against humanity happened after him, as well, and by those who have the full mouth of democracy. 

NATO bombed a three year old, Milica Rakic, who was sitting on the potty. Her parents rushed in to her sitting in a pool of her own blood. “We lost her!” her father was crying in agony, lifting up the lifeless body of his daughter. 

Three year old Milica Rakic was killed by NATO bombs on April 17, 1999 while sitting on a potty in Batajnica neighborhood in Belgrade, Serbia.

Have you heard about this story? You probably have not, as it paints NATO in a negative light, but the US does not recognize the International Criminal Court (ICC) they send others to anyway, so who to make a complaint to? Almighty God? 

On this 23-years anniversary of NATO bombing of Serbia, one that coincides with the death of one of the NATO bombing architects, Madeleine Albright, I am looking back knowing that the Serbian people were told that our stories did not deserve to be told.

Belgrade was the nucleus of the opposition against Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s, and, yet, NATO was willing to punish the civilian population, leaving bombed bridges, hospitals, a TV station with journalist inside, and civilian targets devastated. 

I will not mourn Madeleine Albright because I will not whitewash her war crimes and the evil that she was responsible for around the world. 

Legacy matters, and Albright’s is one of killings.

There was no social media then to show the world what Bill Clinton was doing, and the informational gatekeepers of that time that served as a tool of NATO and US Foreign Policy did not have any interest in drawing attention to the matter. 

NATO bombing of Serbia 1999. Bombed hospital, May 12. 1999 killed 10 people ( Photo: Tanjug archives)

Since I’ve started talking about my war experience in bomb shelters in Belgrade during the illegal NATO bombing, many people unfollowed me, but I gained three times as many new followers.

That’s what I call finding a community of people who are with me for the right reasons.

NATO bombing of a Freedom bridge, in Vojvodina, Serbia, April 1999. ( Photo: Tanjug archives)

Everyone has the right to their story. Now that my war story is unveiling, the infringement of international law and bombing of civilians by NATO, this does not mean that it did not happen and that I should be a complicit in covering it up.

World history goes beyond World War II.

Serbian victims of NATO’s bombing deserve the same outrage as Ukrainian victims. That’s called equal justice for all.

I was there, I remember.

I write, I remember. 

I speak up, I remember. 

How’s that for kick ass independent journalism?

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Ksenija Pavlovic McAteer

Ksenija Pavlovic is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Pavlovic Today, The Chief White House Correspondent. Pavlovic was a Teaching Fellow and Doctoral Fellow in the Political Science department...

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7 Comments

  1. As I read ‘NATO Bombing of Serbia’ it put tears in my eyes. I heard true first-hand updates regularly in my Orthodox Church. It still saddens me how our country led the way for the bombings. Some of us were deeply saddened and supported the Serbian people.

  2. Thank you for writing this article. It’s heartbreaking what horrors untouchable politicians around the world will bring to totally innocent people and their families. I detest politics and I despise most politicians.

  3. We came! We saw! He Died! Then Hillary laughed! Hillary’s thoughts on the killing of Kadaffee. Later when those Americans who guarded our Ambassador and the Embassy in Libya died, she COLDLY asked the Congressional panel, “what difference does it make”? Madeleine and Hillary are Killers by proxy.

  4. I am very sorry to hear of the trauma you and your family suffered. It was Hillary’s war of as well…

    ‘In 2007, asked by reporter Charlie Savage about the limits of presidential war powers, candidate Clinton replied: “the Constitution requires Congress to authorize war. I do not believe that the president can take military action — including any kind of strategic bombing — against Iran without congressional authorization.”

    It’s hard to credit that answer as “sincere.” As first lady, Clinton played a key role in convincing her husband to bomb Serbia without congressional approval. For eight months after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, she refused to speak to her husband, until, in March 1999, she phoned him with a directive to attack.

    “I urged him to bomb,” she later explained.’

    (Cato Institute -https://www.cato.org/commentary/who-would-hillary-clinton-bomb)

  5. As a Dutchman I remember how ashamed I was that Dutch pilots took part in the bombings of yugoslavia, a country I knew very well through the many holidays my parents spend there.

  6. Good, clear writing. More and more people are noticing that the US is the country that starts the most wars. In fact US (Nuland, Biden) meddling in Kiev in 2014 could be blamed for the present mess in Ukraine. Thanks

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