MY OWN BELGRADE

A family emergency at the end of March brought me from the seclusion of a professor's office in upstate New York to the explosive lights and sounds and smells of my native Thessaloniki. A few hours after landing there on Saturday evening I found myself in a bookstore located in the city's main youth district. Instead of the usual background music, a live radio broadcast from Belgrade and an interview with a Greek-speaking Serb woman about to descent to a shelter for the night -- that was at about the same time the Stealth was downed. Exactly one week later, a week filled with war news and discussions, with destruction and refugees fleeing the bombing (and only that, according to Greek media), on the eve of my return to the U.S., a last look at the news on Greek TV before a last stroll around Thessaloniki: guards standing by the cages at the Belgrade zoo, ready to kill animals in case of a NATO-assisted escape! It only then occurred to me that the scenes from "Underground" were not fictional, that not too far from home 1999 did not look that different from 1941 ... but at the same time it occurred to me that it was "my first zoo" that it was now under threat, the zoo that I visited, at the age of 10, on the way to Venice ... the Yugoslavia that was, the NATO that is ...

... That magic family trip, the first one abroad, and, foolishly on my part, the last one to Yugoslavia ... From the barefoot, almost fearsome children of the Skopje streets to the "welcome" signs in Greek in the restaurant of the Zagreb hotel where our group stayed, charmed by all that neatness and deeply unaware of being in Western Europe already ... and somewhere in between, THE FAULT: the impossibly long and straight stretch of highway bypassing Sarajevo -- did I even know of it back then? -- and leaving back that mysterious city of Belgrade, poor and rich at the same time, with high rises higher than those at home and parks at every other corner, it seemed ... The zoo, where each hippopotamus tooth loomed as large as a human head ... and the pineapple we proudly brought back to Thessaloniki as a "proof" of Yugoslav happiness and prosperity, so exotic and so decorative that it was half-rotten by the time we finally dared to cut it: the Belgrade that my childish memory has sheltered from oblivion, the Belgrade I forgot to revisit before the flames brought it back in the middle of an otherwise uneventful "Spring Break" trip to Greece ...

Dedicated to the memory of the young Serb who was killed upon firing at the NATO "peace" forces entering Pristina

Kosovo in 1912

Kosovo in 1982

Kosovo and Iraq


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