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One Sunday in May 1999 on the bridge over the Morava River, in Varvarin, Serbia

Sania's Last Day


Traducido por  Agatha Haun, revised by Fausto Giudice

It happened that one night, out of the blue, a small, deranged star in the clear sky left its constellation and commenced to fall and to fall and to fall and to fall through the entire confused cosmos.
And as it fell so, it came to the solar system and chanced to land on the planet Earth. On a continent called Europe -- in a town on which no star had ever fallen before, and therefore, this was a real miracle..
A man who lit the street lights wanted to catch it so that he could shine it in his lantern.
A general wanted to pin it on his chest, like a medal.
But the star gave itself to no one, and instead fell right into a maternity ward of a hospital on the edge of town.
Precisely at midnight, when a girl named Sania was born.
On her left knee, the errant star was transformed into a small, attractive birthmark.

(Momo Kapor, Sania)

* * *

Sania Milenkovich  was born on 30 November 1983 in the central Serbian town of Kruševac. At the start of the NATO attack she was 15 years old and 1.80 meters tall. Her brown eyes sparkled golden in the sunlight, her chin-length brown hair was parted on the left, sometimes she let a couple of stray strands of hair hang down over her forehead. She wore inconspicuous jewellery -- a slim chain with a swivel fastener, a ring without a gemstone, small round earrings. What was special about her face was her mouth, a curved upper lip and full lower lip. When she laughed, her teeth flashed and she smiled from ear to ear. In fact she did have a small birthmark, but not on her knee, rather on her arm.
In short, it could be said that she looked approximately like the feminine version of Leonardo Di Caprio, whose poster hung in her room. As we all do, in the beloved, she sought something of her own. Sania and Leonardo, that would really be something, a dream couple; why must an iceberg get in the way and ram the "Titanic"? Sania was romantic, she read love stories avidly, and then she liked to listen to the music of Whitney Houston, Luna, or Hari Mata Hari. She always sang along when she listened to: "Znam pricu o sreci, I know a story about happiness."

Mileva Marich, who together with Einstein formulated the theory of relativity

Yet with Sania, emotions and pain were quickly forgotten when it came to figures and numbers, algebra, logarithms, and binomial formulas. Who is Leonardo Di Caprio in comparison with Albert Einstein? And: hasn't the theory of relativity conquered space and time and thus made it conceivable that in some parallel universe, the "Titanic" never even sank? Besides, it was a Serbian woman, Mileva Marich, who as Einstein's first wife, formulated the theory of relativity with him. Why shouldn't she, Sania, also be able to accomplish something like that? In any case, mathematics was Sania's passion from the start. Perhaps it had rubbed off on her from the fact that her father Zoran is a qualified mathematician. In the school in Varvarin she was always the   best, always with an A in maths.

Apart from that, Sania was anything but a workaholic. She couldn't be bothered. "You're such a lazybones",  her mother Vesna always used to say to her when she shirked the household chores. "Later I'll build a machine", Sania answered, "Then everything will be taken care of at the push of a button." But she studied hard at school. And in January 1998, at the end of the eight-year primary school period, when the mathematics competitions began, she crammed until late at night in the kitchen. Her mother had to sit there along with her, but sometimes went to sleep at the table. Sania woke her up only when she had solved a tricky problem. In between times the two of them did gymnastics. Like every teenager, Sania thought she had to lose weight. In any event, she was so  successful in the competitions that in spring 1998 she was promoted to the secondary school, not just any school, but the Mathematical Secondary School in Belgrade. She was admitted there without having to take an entry examination. Just imagine: to the secondary school! To Belgrade! Without an entrance examination. All the dreams seemd to come true. "Znam pricu o sreci, I know a story about happiness."

Every day she called home
The first weeks in Belgrade were difficult. The supervisor of the girls' residence hall «Jelica Milanovich» often heard her crying and then spoke with her and consoled her. Every day she telephoned home. That helped her to settle in. Besides, she liked the classes. No one talked about her behind her back any more as sometimes happened in Varvarin, because the "swot" knew everything. At times she certainly didn't know everything. The other students, young maths geniuses like her, helped her then.
And after school they conquered the city, street by street. Strolling and eating ice cream in the pedestrian zone of Knez Mihailova -- just the right thing after stress. If you just had a couple more dinars in your pocket, you could buy all the chic clothes -- there was just everything: Armani, Versace, Escada, Then over to the Kalemegdan, the old Turkish fortress -- on the wall one can still see a scaffold where they hanged the rebellious Serbs. Really gruesome! Finally along the Francuska, down from the fortress and into the musicians' neighborhood, Skadarlija, where the Tamburasi sometimes already played their mandolins in the afternoons -- it was just a pity that her mother had impressed on her the importance of always being at the dormitory early.

* * *
Our agonies are nothing to you,
You throw our teardrop-pearls in the dust.
Yet your sunrise flow over her,
the one I fell in love with, merry and young.

(Milos Crnjanski, Lament for Belgrade)
* * *
"I don't want to go home, Mama, now I've just gotten settled in!" "You have to, it's too dangerous!" Already after half a year, in October 1998, Vesna Milenkovich took her daughter back to Varvarin. NATO had presented Yugoslavia with an ultimatum, its air force was mobilizing. The first blows would strike the large cities, that was clear. Sania did as her mother wished. In Varvarin they went for walks, as they had earlier, hand in hand, through the streets, in spite of the fear. Then the all-clear sounded: Holbrooke, from the US, had concluded an agreement with Miloshevich. Things were all right once more. Sania returned to Belgrade. In January 1999 an interview with her appeared in the illustrated journal Nada Nova. "Nada Nova" means "new hope". That's the way it appeared to Sania also, she had hopes of happiness once again. 

Vesna and Zoran

She brought Sania back from Belgrade
She hoped in vain. "Not only in Brussels, an increasing number of people believe that a military engagement in Kosovo could be inevitable" noted the German Defense Minister Scharping on 17 January 1999 in his diary. The new of the negotiations in Rambouillet didn't sound good. In the newspapers people saw photographs that said more than the flowery communiques: The US Secretary of State embraced Hashim Thaci, a terrorist on the "wanted" list, sought by Belgrade. The German foreign minister shook his fists at Milan Milutinovich, the Serbian president. On 23 March, while visiting a friend in Paracin, Vesna heard the news about the state of emergency. Together with her mother, she left already that evening for Belgrade and loaded Sania with all her things in Grandfather's old Mercedes. At 1:00 in the morning of 24 March they had packed everything and started off. Just in time: a few hours later the sirens were howling in Belgrade, the bombers were roaring over the city, the F-16s and F-18s flying at supersonic speed, the supposedly invisible F-117s, the type A-10 slow warthogs with their uranium munitions, the German ECR-Tornados, indispensable for eliminating the Yugoslavian anti-aircraft defence. For the first time since the end of the Second World War, the Germans joined in the bombing, for the third time in the 20th century, they waged a war of aggression war against Serbia. On the trip back from Belgrade to Varvarin, Vesna held her arms tightly around her daughter. "Now you're safe, my daughter", she comforted Sania.
* * *
The facts were undeniable: that we wouldn't return to sleep in our beds tonight, that we wouldn't go back to school tomorrow, that we didn't know which of our relatives were still alive, which of our classmates, the teachers, neighbors, playmates from this or that part of the city. Forms and lines were obscured in the rising smoke and the approach darkness. The aeroplane motors droned in our ears, our joints trembled during the explosions, the air strikes stroke underground. Dust whirled up, then followed the rumbling of the destruction that burst out of the underground spaces. No more pathbreaking,  no better thought could occur to the mind of the childish eyewitness than "to get away, to flee, to run away from this frightful race, that followed at everyone's heels, like the malicious, gloating tail of a dragon that one can't escape. For the first time, we felt completely defenceless, left to the mercy of Evil, against which our physical frailty was powerless to do anything but just to collapse or run away. Who willed, who grasped, that Satan had the upper hand?
(Miodrag Pavlovich,
Usurpers of the Sky)

* * *
So far the war had only touched the town in passing
In Varvarin, Satan was far away. In fact, no better place of refuge could be imagined. The village with its 4000 inhabitants lies some 160 kilometres southeast of Belgrade. So far the war had only touched it in passing: a police officer from Varvarin was shot by Albanian terrorists on 8 January in Kosovo -- in a village named Raèak, which later would become the synonym for murder in the West, but not for the murder of Serbian policemen; no one in the West was interested in that.
Most of the inhabitants worked in agriculture, there are shoemakers, tailors, and bakers, a couple of doctors and pharmacists, inns, the Hotel Plaza. Industries have not been established, except for a small textile enterprise, which produces mats for the Zastava automobiles. In the town and in the nearby surroundings there were no military installations, the closest one was 22 kilometres away, an airfield in Cuprija. The only battle in the history of Varvarin took place in 1810, when the Turks advanced against Serbian rebels. Even World Wars I and II had spared the little town. It was only in 1944 that the Nazis destroyed the bridge over the Morava River, in order to hinder the advance of the Red Army. The residents were warned a day before that. It was quite different in nearby Kragujevac: between the 18th and 21st of October 1943, units of the German Wehrmacht there executed 7000 "Communists, Jews, and Serbs", as they were termed in their jargon -- 100 for each German soldier that had been shot earlier. Among those who were massacred were 300 secondary school students and15 children between eight and twelve years old. The memorial museum that was opened in 1976 was visited by five million people.
* * *
It happened and it is true,
that one day in a country
in the mountainous Balkans
a group of school students
were martyred..
Yet fifteen minutes
before they died,
the students were sitting
at their desks,
had to solve problems, to think:
How far would a wanderer and his companion come,
if they go five hours, and so on. . .
The heads full of
similar rows of numbers,
and in the notebooks, in the school bags
many senseless
ones and threes.
Their pockets filled
With the same dreams
Of love for their homeland and for friends,
as one dreams in secret when one is a student.
And each one believed,
he had before him,
still endless before him
a broad field,
in order to finally solve
all the problems of the world.
It happened and it is true,
that one day in a country
in the mountainous Balkans
a group of school students were martyred.

(Desanka Maksimovich, Bloody Month of March)
* * *
The fact that the World Wars had spared Varvarin does not mean, however, that they spared its people. From 1914 to 1918, 2000 citizens died, one of every two inhabitants. During the German occupation after the invasion of 1941, 2000 fled into the forests, to the partisans. 500 were shot or hanged by the Germans. The Fourth Proletarian Montenegrin Brigade played a major role in winning back the region in 1944, its commander, Blazo Jankovich is to this day an honorary citizen of Varvarin. Yet that also has long since been forgotten. In any case the Milenkovich family never heard anything of this honorary citizen. The Proletarian Brigade was something for veterans. Nazi Germany had ceased to exist. The war was history. That's what everyone thought before March 1999.
The town is insignificant from the military-strategic standpoint and even from the traffic-technical standpoint
When the war began on 24 March 1999, Kragujevac was bombed immediately; one of the first things that NATO destroyed, along with others, was the memorial to the victims of Nazism of 1941. In Varvarin, by way of contrast, it remained quiet during April and May. The town is not only unimportant in military and strategic terms, but also in terms of traffic and technology. Anyone who wants to go toward Kosovo or toward the south detours around the town altogether, if they don't want to lose time unnecessarily. Highway E75 proceeds further eastward via Nis, the E761 further westward via Kruševac.
30 May 1999 was a hot day, a blue sky over central Serbia, the best flying weather for the NATO bombers. Already since morning they had come racing from the Adriatic, at a high altitude, over Varvarin, or made their loops. They were certainly on the way to Novi Sad, Nis, or Belgrade, as already in the previous days and weeks. At nine o'clock the sirens wailed in Varvarin, air-raid alarm. Most people shrugged their shoulders. Routine. In fact, nothing happened, either. In spite of that, Vesna was worried. Two days ago, the news agency Tanjug had reported that Miloshevich, after a nine-hour discussion with the Russian envoy Chernomyrdin, had agreed to the principles of the G8's peace plan -- that is, he had accepted the conditions set by the seven most powerful Western industrial states plus Russia. Yet on 27 May, the war crimes tribunal in The Hague had published its accusations against the same Miloshevich. Obviously there were powers in NATO that didn't want a peace agreement with Yugoslavia, for with whom would they conclude it, if not with Yugoslavia's president?

"Don't be silly, Mama, who would attack a little village?"
"Be careful, darling, and don't come home so late!" Sania's mother told her as she set out that morning. The other two girls tittered and waved, Their mothers had said the same thing, mothers always say that. "Don't be silly, Mama, who would attack a little village? Especially on a Sunday?" Sania pouted. The three had gotten dressed up, put up their hair with some gel and hair spray, Sania had swiped her mother's lipstick and eye-shadow that morning. Her blue T-shirt, white corduroy trousers, and white sneakers were becoming. Maybe she would meet the boys from her old school again? There was always something going on at a church festival like this, even now during the war, since the war was far away, and besides, it was summer.
* * *
This summer "will remain, for all those who lived spent it here, as the most glorious and beautiful summer in living memory, because in their consciousness it shines and glows on a quite immense and somber horizon of death and misfortune, that stretches into the boundless distance. And in fact, this summer began well, better than so many earlier summers.
(Ivo Andrich, The Bridge on the Drina)
* * *

The way to the church took the three girls to the bridge over the Morava. It had come from Germany, after the Second World War, as reparation for the one that the Nazis had blown up. However, it wasn't the Germans themselves who had sent this compensation -- it had been the Soviets who dismantled the bridges in their zone of occupation in Germany and given it as a present to the fraternal Yugoslavian people. It was straight and had a roadway, resting horizontally on concrete blocks, so it was nothing special, not a wire cable construction, no curved girders or marble balustrades, no lanterns and no benches. The bridge bore only a slight resemblance to its bold sisters in New York or the romantic ones in Paris or with the "Bridge on the Drina" in Višegrad, described by Ivo Andrich  in his famous book. Nevertheless, it was a bridge, and that's always somewhat exciting, because there is an "over here" on our side and an "over there" on their side.  Sometimes the teenagers met each other there. The boys whistled after the girls, the girls tapped themselves on the forehead. Those in love concealed themselves in the bushes along the river bank or behind the trees in the meadow, whose leafs brushed the surface of the water and hid them from view. As Sania and her friends Marina and Marijana passed over the bridge about 10:00 in the morning, the Morava murmured below them, as always. The many years of the embargo had ruined the industry in the area and brought unemployment to the residents, but now people could swim there again. Yugoslavia had become impoverished. Only the fish were happy that the factories were falling into disrepair and hardly produced any industrial effluents any more. 

Marijana Stovanovic

Every Sunday was market day in Varvarin, and in addition, on this Sunday the Festival of the Trinity, the Orthodox Pentecost, was celebrated on the square in front of the Church on the River. Already from a distance, Sania saw the hurly-burly, heard the calls of the market sellers, the bargaining of the customers. As always, the farmers were offering potatoes and fruits, mobile traders sold stylish clothes, sneakers, all kinds of tools. 3000 people, perhaps even more, jostled each other between the Plaza Hotel and the river bank. The three girls went into the church first, Sania bought a candle. The priest preached how the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost: "50 days after Christ's resurrection, a rushing noise began to resound from the sky, while the apostles were gathered together at prayer, as one soul. Tongues of fire appeared to them and fell on each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit." The girls listened to this gladly, but they already knew it well. After the worship service they visited another friend and had some fruit juice to drink.

Two jet bombers flew over Varvarin heading north
"Come on, we have to go home, I still have to do something for Mama, she wants to bake a cake",  Sania insisted on leaving early. "Oh why? It isn't even one o'clock yet" Marina said unwillingly. But after all, they were friends and stayed together. Maybe late in the afternoon they could come back to the festival once more. It was just a stone's throw from the church to the river, perhaps 150 metres. The girls dawdled on the bridge, made jokes about the other pedestrians, a boy spat into the water from the railing, perhaps it looked silly. They fooled around and didn't realize what had happened: two jet bombers flew over Varvarin toward the north, disappeared and turned around beyond the horizon, flew once more above the little town, coming from the south, moved in a curve toward the east, ended the curve in a loop toward the south. They came back!
The clock on the church tower struck one o'clock. Sania's parents were working in the kitchen and making preparations for tomorrow's banquet. Suddenly they heard a powerful explosion. Zoran assumed that it was a strike in Cuprija, but it seemed to Vesna that it was closer nearby, much closer. She ran to the telephone, dialed a number from the centre of town -- the line was dead. That could mean that the bridge had been hit, because the telephone cable ran under it. Vesna couldn't breathe. it was as though her throat had been slashed. Zoran had to hold on to her, otherwise she would have collapsed. What should they do? Go down into the basement, which they had fitted out as a makeshift bunker? Out of the question, not without Sania. Since Zoran had injured his legs playing volleyball, Vesna ran to the neighbour, Marina's mother. Sometimes it's difficult to get a car started when your hands are trembling, but this time it succeeded without any problems. The two women drove off, the car's tyres screeching, toward the Morava. On the way they looked into at the face of everyone coming toward them, many children were among them, but no Marina, no Marijana, no Sania. Shortly before they reached Varvarin, passersby confirmed that the bridge had been hit, and at that time people had seen some girls on it. Vesna felt nauseated, then she choked it back, stepped on the accelerator. Don't think now. Change gears, use the clutch, step on the pedal. Every second mattered. It was eerily quiet at the river -- dark above the water because of the clouds of smoke after the explosions. The mothers called out the names of their daughters: Marina, Marijana, Sania.
* * *
The beautiful area -- suddenly it was as though a thin and deceptive curtain had been pushed aside, and in front of her stood the wolf with glittering eyes, its tail curled, and its fangs bared in a grin, more ghastly than anything her mother had ever pictured to her. Aska's blood froze and her legs were as stiff as wood. It occurred to her that she should cry out to her friends for help, she opened her mouth but couldn't utter a sound. Death stood before her, invisible and alone and omnipresent, dreadful and unbelievable in its cruelty.
(Ivo Andrich, Aska and the Wolf)
* * *
They see two fighter bombers hurtling directly toward them
The old, feeble cars on the bridge rattle, therefore the girls only hear the aeroplanes when it's already too late. At 13:01 they're in the middle of the bridge and see two fighter bombers rushing directly toward them. Where to go now? -- back or forward? Sania's mathematical brain switches itself off, not even an Einstein could calculate the flight path and the place where the missile would strike. God doesn't roll dice. Perhaps he helps a little, at least? Oh God, help me. The pilots are still 300 metres away, still 100 metres, from this distance and in this clear weather they must see everything, the market, the square in front of the church, full of people, the cars on the bridge. They fire two rockets, type AGM 65. Sania remembers the sermon a while ago in the church: "A rushing noise began to resound from the sky, while the apostles were gathered together at prayer, as one soul. Tongues of fire appeared to them and fell on each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit." But this isn't the Holy Spirit here, thinks Sania, this is Hell. She also hears a hissing sound, then a frightful blow hurls her through the air. She feels herself burning up, a hideous heat. Suddenly she is quite lightweight, hovering in the air.
The laser-guided bombs slice the bridge in the middle, it breaks down, the girls fall into the depths, lose consciousness. After two or three minutes Marina regains consciousness, the first thing she sees is her bleeding hand. Her right leg is completely shattered below the knee, the lower leg still attached to the body only by shreds of flesh. Where are the other two? Marijana groans, screams for help. She tries to pull herself up onto the railing, but then notices that a bone is jutting out of her upper arm and she has no more strength. Sania holds her hand on her breast, her eyes are open, she finds it hard to breathe, wants to say something, but is unable to do so. She leans with her back against the railing, no wound can be seen. 
Marina Jovanovich

Five minutes later, someone cries shrilly, "They're coming back!" Sania looks up, sees the jets' contrails and the two rockets that hiss as they come straight toward her, gyrating as though drunk. It's because of the laser guidance, but Sania doesn't know that. What is left of the bridge is struck once again. The second explosion is even more violent than the first, it is heard in Kruševac, 16 kilometres away. A block of concrete, the size of a tank, is tossed 100 metres to the cemetery on the other side of the church. Sania slips downward, her head hangs down, only a little above the surface of the water. She feels an iceberg growing inside her. Her pelvis, abdomen, and intestines are already frozen. Now the cold creeps up to her heart. It must have been like that when the "Titanic" sank, a short distance from the Arctic Circle. Where is the lifeboat? Suddenly she sees Leonardo di Caprio. Yes, it's really him. He'll save her. Sania smiles. Znam pricu o sreci, I know a story about happiness.
Marina crawls to Sania, crawls with the aid of her elbows -- she can no longer use her shattered legs. Then she holds the unconscious girl's head firmly so that it stays above the water. She gets a soda bottle out of her knapsack, moistens Sania's face. Marina stands in the water, but the current is so strong, pulls so much on the shreds of flesh left of her thigh, that she fears the leg will be torn off. In any case, the leg swells up under the burden and hurts terribly. Marina must get out of the water, pulls herself back onto what is left of the bridge.  She and Marijana call for help, wait. Nothing happens. Finally they hear voices, their mothers' voices.
Some hours later, it is still bright and warm, eight lifeless bodies lie in the Varvarin morgue, nearly all of them gruesomely mutilated. Vojkan Stankovich's limbs are dislocated, perhaps broken. Zoran Marinkovich's leg is cut off at the pelvis, someone has delicately and neatly laid it over the left shoulder, the brightly polished shoe is still tightly laced up. Milan Savichs lower legs lied torn off on his lower abdomen. There is a gaping hole in Dragoslav Terzich's skull. The head of the priest Milivoje Cyrich  is missing, a flying piece of iron cut it off. Seven of the eight dead were killed in the second attack. So was the aforementioned Milan Savich. He wanted to come to the aid of the three girls in the river, a friend warned him: "They're coming back, they always do that, that's what friends from Belgrade told me." Milan yelled back, "You're a coward, we've got to help them!" Those were his last words.
* * *
Embrace me now,
hold me as close as you can,
and don't give me up to the black bird,
No, don't be afraid,
it will be gone in the next minute.
The glare of the million lights frightens me,
when the sky is set on fire.
Where is the end then,
for whom have they dug the deep grave?
Do human beings solve any problem at all,
or are we only here
because of the balance among the stars?

(Djordje Balasevich, Slavonic Song)
* * *
Sania is not among the dead in the morgue. After her mother found the wounded girl by the river, she was laid on a board and shoved into an ambulance. Vesna climbed in too. Her child is unconscious, although her eyes move, and her mouth is open. "Be strong. I'm here beside you", Vesna says. And to the doctor: "Do something, turn her onto her back, I can't watch my child die before my eyes." After a five-minute drive, Sania slowly closes her eyes. The doctor instructs the driver to change direction and to drive to the nearest clinic. There Sania is given an adrenalin injection, her eyelids flutter, she opens her eyes again. Vesna ets into a car, the ambulance with Sania and the doctor races to the hospital in Kruševac. When the mother arrives there somewhat later, she sees a doctor coming out of the hospital room and pulling off his gloves. As in a film. Vesna knows what's going on. "I want to go to my daughter." "No, that isn't your daughter, that's a taller girl, see for yourself." Vesna rushes into the room, somewhere between fear and hope, but the frightful presentiment is confirmed. The lifeless girl in the green gown is her Sania. Vesna rushes forward, throws herself on Sania, feels something tapping. "Doctor, her heart is still beating, she isn't dead." The doctor pulls her away gently, looks into her flickering eyes, looks down. "But she is."
Much later Vesna is sitting on the back seat of the car, Sania in her arms, as on 24 March, when they came from Belgrade, but now everything is different. At home she washes and cleans the body. There is a wound from the left side of her back to the leg, and a splinter in the back of her head. Small fragments of the bridge pierced the entire body, the legs, even the toes. All the internal organs were wounded, especially the lungs. From the front the body appears to be intact. Zoran obtains a white coffin. Vesna picks out her daughter's favourite clothing and dresses her in it. Vesna says: "I don't know what I'll do without you."

Pilot: "Now I'm leaving the clouds. I still don't see anything.
Base: Continue your flight. Toward the north 4280.
Pilot: I'm below 3000 feet. A column of vehicles under me. A kind of tractors. What could that be? Give me Instructions.
Base: Where are the tanks?
Pilot: I see tractors. I don't suppose the Reds have camouflaged the tanks as tractors.
Base: What sort of nonsense is that? Goddamn!  The Serbs are certainly behind that. Destroy the target!
Pilot: What am I supposed to destroy? Tractors? Ordinary cars? I repeat: I don't see any tanks. Give me further information.
Base: It's a military target. Destroy the target! I repeat: destroy the target!

These excerpts from the radio communications between the cockpit and the NATO command station, recorded by the Yugoslavian anti-aircraft defence, come from another attack. We don't know whether it was like that in Varvarin. The official NATO version is sketchy: "Two F-16s attack the bridge with four laser-guided 2000-pound bombs in short intervals. The first attack destroys the central part, the second attack -- the rest of the bridge." Lieutenant Colonel Michael Kämmerer, responsible for the German press in the public relations centre of the NATO European supreme command in Mons, southern Belgium, divulges at any rate that Varvarin was a "secondary target". In other words, the target that was actually selected had already been destroyed, therefore they had searched out an alternative target.
Among the public in the West there was criticism because of the collateral damage of 30 May. NATO justified itself and spoke of a "legitimate attack on a principal supply line of the Serbian army". NATO press spokesman Jamie Shea called Varvarin a "selected and justified target".
Who chose Varvarin as a bombing target? NATO, speaking to Reiner Luyken of Die Zeit, refused to give the name of the pilots, even their nationality was concealed. Sania's grandfather is convinced that a German flyer killed his granddaughter. An expert on military matters such as John Erickson assumes that they were US pilots, because supposedly only they had "the operational competence in the use of laser-guided weapons". And who gave the pilots the commands? The list of targets was determined by the NATO planning staff and given the approval of the political leaders of the NATO states -- Clinton, Blair, Jospin and also Schroeder. It is known that in some cases, the French government successfully vetoed the bombing of civilian targets, such as bridges on the Danube. In Minister Scharping's war diary one can read that the choice of targets was always on the NATO council's agenda. Since decisions in the NATO council can only be made by a unanimous vote, the German government could also have blocked certain attacks with a No vote.
Secondary targets, according to Lieutenant Colonel Kämmerer speaking to Die Zeit author Luyken, were established, however, without political counter-control. In the opinion of Paul Beaver of the specialized journal Jane's Defense Weekly, the coordinates of these alternative targets were communicated to the pilots of the AWACS aircraft, that is, the flying NATO command centres. German specialists and officers were also on board. In 1994 the SPD [Social-Democratic Party] had sought in vain to prohibit their participation, by way of the Federal Constitutional Court.
NATO press spokesman Shea offered praise: "Never in history was there an air force operation that did so much damage to the military and benefitted the civilians as much as this one now." Shea's German partner, General Walter Jertz, was of the opinion that NATO waged against Yugoslavia "the most accurate bombing war in history." Fantastic precision? The most accurate bombing war in history? In 78 days, NATO destroyed only 14 Yugoslavian tanks, but 48 hospitals, 74 TV stations, and 422 schools. 200,000 fragmentation bombs are still lying in the soil today as duds, and can explode at any time. The remains of the munitions that contain uranium will still be radioactive for many thousands of years. Over 2000 Yugoslavian civilians died, a third of them children.
After the war, the bridge in Varvarin was rebuilt; the money came from Serbs in Switzerland. The Belgrade government of that time established a Sania Milenkovich Foundation, which supports mathematically gifted students. For a long time, Vesna slept in her dead daughter's bed. She couldn't weep at the grave, for that she went into Sania's room. The sunshine brought her no joy, it reminded her too strongly of the sunny 30 May 1999. Some time after that, when she heard that her parents had had a serious accident, she remained quite calm. If they're dead, they're with Sania, she thought. For Marijana and Marina, life goes on, somehow, to this day their bodies still have fragments from the bombing, that cannot be removed. For Schroeder and Fischer too, life goes on. Clinton, Albright, Scharping, and Naumann enjoy their pensions.
Serbian victims of the NATO aggression, the survivors and wounded from Varvarin, like Sania's mother, finally made the effort to bring legal proceedings against the German government, in order to obtain at least material compensation for something which can't be atoned for. They were supported by a small group of German activists around the Berlin businessman Harald Kampffmeyer and his wife Cornelia, who mortgaged their property to finance the process. In the land of the war victors they don't like such people who denigrate the country; without exception the press wrote disparagingly about the man.


Zoran and Harald

The Serbs' suit has so far been rejected in three courts, most recently in November 2006 by the Federal Supreme Court in Karlsruhe. What has been achieved up to now: for the duration of the process, to rescue from oblivion the dead girl and with her, the other nameless victims of the bombing war. Still pending is a complaint about the violation of the constitution, before the Federal Constitutional Court.
But should all that have happened? Is there in this damned Germany no students' co-administration and no teachers' group that would take up the struggle to have their school bear the name of Sania Milenkovich? Is there no Protestant pastor or Catholic priest who would lead a worship service on 30 May for Sania  Milenkovich and take up a collection for the costs of the legal proceedings? No factory council from IG Metall (Industrial Union of Metalworkers ) or from ver.di (United Services Union ), that would decide on a walkout or at least a moment of silence? Should a girl be forgotten, who had to die solely for the reason that she was Serbian? Should the Serbs be forgotten because three times in the 20th century they were in the way of the Germans' plans? Does anyone dare to speak of rope in the house of the hangman?
* * *
For the Serbs lament rightly with the words of their writer Miodrag Pavlovich:
There will be no more beautiful cities
in our land.
We wish for long nights and deep woods
where one can see even without eyes.
Let us sing and commemorate ourselves,
the others have forgotten us.


Memorial monument to the Varvarin bridge

Source: Sanjas letzter Tag, exerpt from the book Kriegslügen. Vom Jugoslawienkrieg zum Milosevic-Prozeß, Kai Homilius-Verlag, Berlin 2004, 2nd edition Kriegslügen: Softcoverausgabe. Der NATO-Angriff auf Jugoslawien, 2008

Original article published in 2004

About the author

Agatha Haun and Fausto Giudice are members of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, translator and reviser are cited.

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PAZ Y GUERRA: 05/05/2009