NATO bombing of the then Yugoslavia has been an embarrassing deviation which everyone is ashamed of today, John Simpson, a BBC reporter told British public broadcaster’s office in Belgrade on Wednesday.
Simson, who was covering the NATO intervention in 1999 aimed at stopping Belgrade's forces from, as they said, repression over ethnic Albanians in the then Yugoslav province of Kosovo, said it was “an unpleasant experience” from the beginning to the end, which “is forgotten today.”
He said the bombing was far away from being successful as the world leaders had hoped for, and according to him, it ended with help from Moscow which persuaded Belgrade to withdraw its army and police forces from Kosovo.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday he understood that memories of the Alliance’s 1999 bombing were still painful in Serbia. “A year of diplomatic efforts did not succeed... That’s why we went in to help to end the killing of civilians. Since then, NATO is in Kosovo and helps to secure safety to all citizens, including the Serbs,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with the Czech radio Radozurnal on the occasion of the NATO 70th anniversary.
"Though some 500 Serbia’s civilians were killed, and though bridges, military objects, power plants, and what was outrageous, the Chinese embassy were destroyed, NATO smart bombs and cruise missiles were not that successful in destroying Serbia’s equipment and weaponry. Most of the tanks and vehicles NATO claimed to have destroyed were just models,” Simpson said 20 years after the bombing.
As far as internal politics in Serbia, according to Simpson, things had not changed much. That’s, according to him, why Serbia today, 20 years after NATO bombing, unpleasantly resembles what it had been then.
And 20 years after, he remembered a young Information Minister, an ultra-nationalist who he recalled as “baby face with inflammable rhetoric,” adding the Western journalists saw Aleksandar Vucic as a real threat at the time.
Vucic became Serbia’s President, according to Simpson, after changing his stands and embracing Serbia’s membership to the European Union… But, in reality, there was no significant difference between Vucic then and now.
“He (Vucic) hasn’t changed a lot politically. Westminster Foundation for Democracy says Vucic’s Serbia is marked with repression over media and their take-over by the state with political standards which are far away from democratic norms. The Government is increasingly taking over media, and now there is only one independent mainstream news channel, N1 TV linked to CNN,” Simpson said.