In My Neighborhood – Milosevic Residence – 15 Užička Street

I snapped this photo looking over the wall of a compound just down the street from our apartment. It was 12 years ago this month, that NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) was in the middle of bombing attacks in Serbia. The purpose of the bombing was to get the Serbian government to pull the military out of Kosovo. About a month into the bombing, NATO targeted the then president, Slobodan Milosevic’s home in the suburb of Dedinje. You can see the photo of the below of the residence from a BBC article from April 22, 1999.

Photo Courtesy of the BBC

I asked my friend why the government has not demolished or repaired the home. He replied that there is a large, unexploded Tomahawk missile buried in the center of the house. It is difficult to detonate safely. He said he saw it for himself. I don’t believe that there is still a missile there. If any of my readers can confirm or deny this, I would love to hear from you.

The NATO bombing raids lasted 78 days. NATO planes flew 37,465 “sorties” and attacked over 900 targets, many of them repeatedly. The raids did stop Milosevic and the JNA did pull out of Kosovo. Sadly, over 500 civilians died from the bombing in Serbia and Kosovo. It is horrible that in modern warfare, civilians die more than soldiers.

There are only a few buildings left that still show evidence from the bombing. It would be good to make this into a museum documenting the Milosevic years in power as Yugoslavia was breaking up. The grounds are large and there is another large building next to the residence that could be used.

This is one of the fascinating stories of the residences found in my neighborhood of Dedinje. I am frustrated that I don’t speak Serbian well enough to find out more information about most of the properties. There is also not much in English about Dedinje.

I would love to take a walk around inside the compound to see what it looks like up close.

Update (May 21, 2011) I found this article about the house that was written in the British newspaper, The Independent in 1999 by Robert Fisk.

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15 Uzicka Street: home to Tito and Milosevic, ‘legitimate’ target for Nato

Targets

Robert Fisk in Belgrade

Friday, 23 April 1999

 

SO NOW it’s a “command and control centre” is it? When I last walked through the door of Number 15 Uzicka Street – targeted by Nato in the early hours of yesterday morning – it contained a large desk, 14,000 books, some fine paintings by Sava Jovanovic and a brace of Persian carpets. It must have looked much the same when Her Majesty the Queen – our very own Elizabeth II – visited President Tito here.

And as it did when Winston Churchill and his son Randolph dropped by to see the Grand Old Man of Yugoslavia. Or when Nixon came to visit. And Lord Mountbatten. And U Thant, the former United Nations leader, and Nehru and Indira Gandhi and the queens of Holland, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The only thing which they assuredly were not shown – and to which even The Independent’s correspondent was refused admission to seven years ago – was Tito’s “Room of Ladies”, containing a series of nude statues and portraits of reclining girls which reflected the interests of the priapic old dictator.

Into this extraordinary shrine, we are now told, the Yugoslav regime had installed a command and control centre. Was this computerised “nerve centre” in the bedroom of the two-storey collonaded villa? Or next to the library where the works of Hegel nestled beside volumes of partisan- brigade history? Or in the old cinema where Tito enjoyed watching Richard Burton playing the role of – yes – Marshal Tito? Or near the flocks of wild birds shot by Tito and religiously stuffed for posterity? Or in the Room of Ladies? Or alongside the old boy’s desk, left as it was when Yugoslavia’s Titan left work for the last time for hospital and death?

Inevitably, President Slobodan Milosevic and his family had moved into Tito’s former residence a couple of years ago. And equally inevitably, Nato attacked it. The laser-guided bomb, dropped yesterday from a lone aircraft high over Belgrade, exploded in the bedroom.

And a few hours later, there was Ken Bacon in the Pentagon, wearing his familiar spokesman’s bow-tie, telling us it was “a command and control centre”. I can believe almost anything of this war. I have no doubt that Nato hates Mr Milosevic. I can see why. But this looked to me very much like an assassination attempt on a head of state.

Normally both Mr Milosevic and his wife, Mira Markovic – the professor of Marxism who wrote a very angry letter to Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, on Sunday – and their children, Marija and Marko, lived here, along with a one-and-a-half-year-old grandson, also Marko. But they were wise enough to stay away on Wednesday night; after all, Nato had fired cruise missiles into the headquarters of both Mr Milosevic’s and Ms Markovic’s political parties a few hours earlier. It clearly wasn’t a good night to spend in the old Tito villa, renovated in somewhat spectacular style by the Yugoslav President and his wife.

No one I spoke to yesterday knew what Mr Milosevic did with Tito’s desk or with the massive volume of snapshots I found in the house seven years ago with the soporific title National Liberation Army and Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia. Given the couple’s admiration for Tito, they must have been kept. But where? In the basement? And what happened to Sava Jovanovic’s Portrait of a Girl which once stared wistfully down on the library? Was it shredded by the bomb?

It was a strange, pompous, old house, built in the fashionable middle- class 1930s suburb of Dedinje, with big, square lawns and straight military paths through the trees. You could see how it appealed to General Lohr, commanding officer of the Wehrmacht’s Army Group E, who moved in during Germany’s wartime occupation (one of Lohr’s aides being a priggish young intelligence officer from Austria, a certain Oberlieutenant Kurt Waldheim who went on to become president of Austria in the 1980s.) And how it must have appealed to Tito when he moved in after the war.

One of his former secretaries had shown me round 15 Uzicka Street. By Tito’s desk, the hands of a clock were stopped at the minute of his death. But already, the government had been deconstructing the Tito myth, turning his 25 May Museum into an exhibition of Serbian military history with frightful photographs of old Serbian women being hanged by a grinning rabble of Austrian and Bulgarian soldiery. Dust sheets half covered the junk of admiration which Tito had collected: the hunting rifles from Churchill, Brezhnev and Zhukov, the diamond-studded ash-tray from Nasser, the coffee service from Saddam Hussein.

“They’re getting rid of things so fast these days,” the plump and elderly retainer had puffed as we entered the residence seven years ago. “Who knows what they will close next? We don’t even know how long this place will last. If Tito was alive today, he would not have believed what has happened.” Too true, I muttered to myself yesterday as I puffed my own way up the hill in the rain towards the old Tito museum that lies behind No 15.

The gardens were overgrown. The wet grass was conquering the concrete floor of the fountain. Graffiti was splashed over park benches and walls. At the door of the museum, I was met by a Serb policeman. “I am sorry, the museum is closed,” he said. And he shook his head in a weary, amused way when I asked if there was any chance of taking a look at what was left of No 15. If I wanted to find the secretary who had shown me round all those years ago, he added, I would have to remember her name and apply in writing to the authorities. Khaki figures in rain capes watched me from the trees.

The only head of state to be wounded in action during the Second World War was buried close to his residence and I asked the Serb policeman if I could take a peak at Tito’s tomb, just in case the concrete slab had cracked as the dictator – 19 years dead – turned in his grave. The policeman shook his head with a smile.

Nor could I find out if another tomb, the grave of Tito’s young partisan mistress that lay in the garden of No 15, survived the Nato bombing. For yesterday, the old man’s home was as broken as his dreams of brotherhood and unity. Heaven knows what happened to Nasser’s ashtray. Or Saddam Hussein’s coffee service. What on earth would Tito have made of Mr Bacon’s revelation of a “command and control centre”? Best not to imagine. Another army, half a century past, had tried to assassinate Tito. And the clock stopped here a long time ago.

Hike to Đavolja Varoš

 

 

Last weekend I went on a hiking trip to the UNESCO Heritage site called Đavolja Varoš (Devil’s Town). The main attraction advertised were the 200 odd pillars you can see in the photo above. These huge pillars are formed through many years of erosion. You can see the hikers on the far right of the photo. They are set in a beautiful canyon which we climbed into. The sun came out as I was taking this photo and the beautiful fall colors added to the scene. Legend has it that the devil made a secret potion into the spring water at the site, and when the local settlers drank it, they forgot their familial relationships. A brother and sister were about to get married when a protective fairy in the village prayed to god and he swept down and turned the entire lot into these stone pillars. I like this explanation better than the erosion one. I guess with the small pockets of population a long time ago, incest was a big issue for the community. 

I took a group of students and we stayed at the Prolom banja spa. It is a communist era hotel that many elderly people go to for the healthy waters. The place was not very modern, but it was clean and somewhat comfortable and the staff was very friendly and helpful. 

 

The Sacred Spiral Plum Tree

The second day we took a 3 km walk from the town of Prolom Banja to a small church called St. Lazar. It is one of the legends surrounding the Serb battle against the Ottomans in 1389. The church is about 10 kilometers from the Kosovo border set amidst some forested hills. The area is great for hunting deer, wolves, foxes, etc. according to the locals. The guide from the hotel told us that before doing battle against the Ottomans, the Serb soldiers walked around the church 6 times and they also planted six spiral plum trees which were regarded as sacred. The photo above shows the oldest remains from one of the trees. There are two living spiral trees next to the church. 

Lazar was the leader of the Serbs at the time of the big battle and both he and the Ottoman leader died in the battle. 

I am not sure how true this is. From my research, not much is actually known about the battle. It is a great story however and with the low clouds and mists set in the dark forest, it is easy to imagine the medieval Serbs doing battle with the Turks in this kind of setting. I really want to go back with mountain bicycles, there were roads and trails galore in the area.

Kosovo Part I

Kosovo has been in the Serbian news a lot lately so I wanted to get a bit of historical background on the place. In February they declared independence and that caused protests in Serbia. It is a place of conflict and violence.

Kosovo was the southern part of Serbia. It held 20% of the Serbian population and composed about 12% of its land mass. The area is small compared to the USA, with Kosovo only being ¼ the size of my home of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is actually only a bit bigger than Iron county. The majority (> 90%) of the population is Albanian but many Serbs consider it the “cultural heartland” of the nation and the scene of Serbian Orthodox monasteries, historic battlefields, and other historic sites.

It was my goal in reading Kosovo: A Short History by Noel Malcolm, to learn more about why some Serbs feel so strongly about the place, considering it is now mostly Albanian. The question of Kosovo independence is a touchy subject with Serbs and this particular book caused many ill-feelings with the Serbs. It is not my place to form an opinion this question and I will read more on Kosovo.  I can say it is sad to have had so much death and hate in the breakup of Yugoslavia. This is the last bit of it. The topic of Kosovo will come up in conversation with my future Serb friends and I do want to visit the place to see it for myself, so some background on the area will not hurt.

In general, I disagree with the former US president Woodrow Wilson regarding his view on independence movements. When the great powers were deciding the fate of nations and peoples after World War I, he had the philosophy that if an area was mostly homogeneous in regards to ethnicity, that they should have self-determination. That sounds nice, but the world is more complex than that. I see that a strength of the USA is the union of many different kinds of people to form one unified government and more importantly, one economy. Personally, I believe that standard of living takes precedence over everything and it is nicer to live in a bigger economy. There are more opportunities to earn a living and have a better home and lifestyle for individual families. I am not sure that this movement of smaller and smaller nations is beneficial in this regard.

I am mix of Slovak and Polish descent. I am a “pan-Slavist” and wish that the Slavs would have banded together from the beginning to form one country. They would have had a better standard of living and wielded more power in defending themselves against larger outside powers like the Ottomans and the Nazis. According to Wikipedia there are 320 million Slavs. Imagine if Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia along with the Slavs of  former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria formed one country. It would also be more powerful than current European heavyweights, Germany and France.

As I move through the book, I’ll blog more about what I am learning.