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April 1, 2000
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 432
Surdulica -- a Year After

Collateral Reconstruction

by Goran M. Antic (AIM)

In the coming months, the charming south-Serbian town of Surdulica, situated on the Bulgarian-Serbian border, will be faced with traumatic memories of the last year's NATO bombing.   The bombing began on April 6, and its gruesome balance is the following: 50 houses completely destroyed, some 500 buildings gravely damaged and will have to be pulled down, 150 people wounded, while the names of thirty citizens of Surdulica, engraved on the monument in the center of the city, are the tragic consequence of a "collateral damage."

On April 27, a bomb hit the family house of Vojislav Milic in the Zmaj-Jovina Street, and nine people remained under the ruins.  Six of them were the members of Milic's immediate family -- his wife, son, daughter-in-law, and three grand children.  On the same day, the streets of Drinska divizija, Jugoslovenska and Beogradska were also devastated, but luckily without any human casualties.  Four days later, on May 31, the target was the Special Hospital (a sanatorium), where 19 people were instantly killed, while one person died after two days.

The man whose life has been devastated by the war beyond compare, Vojislav Milic, is wandering around his yard full of building material. All in black, with a gray beard and a hollow look, he speaks softly almost apathetically.  He now lives in his old house, which miraculously remained almost intact. Why, when he had a new house built by the state?  He says: "Please come and see why I cannot live in it."

The whole ambiance around the house, which from the outside looks as if completely built, shows that something had been commenced and then left unfinished.  Inside the house, there is nothing done except the carpentry.  The only thing you can see is the chaos left all over the house - the unfinished scaffolds, empty mortar containers, empty bottles of beer, and all sorts of debris and garbage.   Hardly any door can be shut, and you can shut the windows only using bars.  As Vojislav removes one bar from it, the window is falling almost on his head.  In the cellar, just a bit above the floor, you can see peeled-off mortar, which is the consequence of the water that flooded the cellar during heavy rains.  

"I had had one of the biggest and newest houses in Surdulica," Vojislav said, "and look what I've got now.  They deprived me of 100 square meters, but that would not be so important, if they only finished this one.  Why did not they?  I don't know.  The only two men who know that are the mayor of Surdulica, Miroslav Stojiljkovic, and the building contractor from Sabac, who was supposed to build my house, and who was simultaneously working on the mayor's house.  Maybe he has not finished his, too?
Initially, they were pressuring me and my brother Stojadin to have our hoses built on some other location and let them make a memorial park here.  We had even agreed to that under the pressure, but after some time they gave up this idea, and started building our houses.  However, after the ribbons had been cut, the houses were left as they were -- unfinished."

Vojislav continued:  "I do not expect anything from the state any more.   I will try to find Milutin Mrkonjic (who is the manager of the Direction for Building and Reconstruction), and the president of Serbia, Milan Milutinovic, to complain to them.  My thanks go only to Dragan Tomic of "Simpo" for giving me the building material for the roof of my old house, as well as gutters and some furniture - a bed, a carpet, six chairs and a table.  I went to the city hall many times, but they say that the building of my house is within the competence of "Novogradnja" from Vranje.  

>From the state I received 13,000 dinars for each deceased, as well as some rice and macaroni.  What shall I do with that?  Let me have what I cannot buy in the shops, these commodities I can buy on my own.  I had had DM 70,000 in the Vranje-based "Beobanka," while my late wife Stamenka had carried DM 25,000 in her blouse hoping to buy a car for our son, and after the tragedy I've received only DM 700.  What do you say?!  They explained that this was what they found. When Mirko Marjanovic visited Surdulica, I wanted to go and see him.  You ask me why?  To complain."

In the Drinske divizije Street, three apartment houses with 22 apartments have been built.  Everything looks fine here, but it is obvious that no one is living in at least half of the apartments.  Vojislav commented: "So, you see.  Previously, there had been only some shacks and barracks here, and the people who used to live here had much better luck than I did.  They had not had bathrooms or kitchens, and it was almost impossible to live here.  Now they have gotten everything, they are getting food and other aid.  I've heard that some of them say that they would even put Clinton's picture on the wall."   

In the area surrounding the Special Hospital, i.e. the sanatorium, a newly-built hospital ward dominates over the old and shabby pavilions, in which you can hardly see any life -- a curtain or a pot with a dry flower.  That is where the refugees have been put up.  In front of the new hospital ward, which emerged after the previous one had been razed to the ground, there is a sculpture with a commemorative plaque bearing a trivial text "The world has always had its destroyers and its builders...," as well as an information that the prime minister of Serbia, Mirko Marjanovic, on June 22, 1999 proclaimed the beginning of the rebuilding and laid a cornerstone for the new building.  The builders of the new ward finished the building in December of last year, but it is still not used, and the patients are still staying in an accessory ward.   In the meantime, during the key-delivering ceremony for 10 new houses and 22 apartments, the Prime Minister was awarded with a September Plaque of Surdulica for his achievements in the building and reconstruction.  The usual RTS propaganda accompanied the ceremony.  But do things really stand as they are shown on TV screens?
In the Jugoslovenska Street, across the military barracks, three more houses have been built.  One of the owners, Slavko Velickovic, is full of praise for  the regime and the country leadership.  He said: "I am more than satisfied with what they have done for me.  In square meters, the new house is the same as the previous one, only the arrangement of rooms is somewhat different, but it is to my taste.  They have given me furniture, too.  The truth is that the building constructor had tried to make some profit for himself, but since I am also a civil engineer, I was able to control the workers all the time.  So I reiterate, if I had a chance I would kiss the hands of Milosevic, Tomic and Mrkonjic."

But as near as in the next house, the story is completely different.  An elderly couple, Dusanka (76) and Dobrivoje (79) Bozilovic, are living in this house.  Dobrivoje said:  "We are not satisfied at all.  First of all, why the new kitchen was not built in the same place where the old one used to be? Secondly, the old house was 100 square meters big, and the new one is only 70.  Why did they deprive us of 30 square meters?  When we said something against this, the building constructor threatened that he would discontinue the building, so I would be left to do its on my own.  And what have they done?  We are still not connected to the town sewage system, the electrical installations are not rightly done, the carpentry, gutters - nothing has been done as it should be.  The stairway is so narrow as if made for the ants and there is no handrail to it, so I'm afraid to step on it since I am old.  And on top of all that, this bu...buf...buffet!  What would two people as old as we are do with this buffet.  Do they expect us to open a bar at this age?  I have made many complaints, but no one listens to me."  

On the same tragic day, the house of Vojislav's nephew, Slobodan Milic, was also destroyed.  He said to us: "Five commissions came and went away, and none of them has made any decision so far.  They gave me 1000 blocks and I began to build and then stopped.  I am unemployed, my wife is expecting.  We had lived from the shop in which all the goods were destroyed during the bombing, and I now cannot work, since the shop had been planned for razing.  When I go to the mayor for help he sends me to CIP (construction enterprise), they promise to help me and they send me to "Novogradnja" enterprise, where I am told that they have nothing to do with it.  So, this a closed circle."
In the Beogradska Street, two houses were destroyed in the Piskavica settlement.  It is a suburban area, the mud is up to your knees.  What NATO was bombing here only the NATO officers know.  Among the many shabby houses, two newly-build buildings emerge.  In one of them we are met by Draganka Cvetkovic, who on the day of the bombing was buried under the debris for hours.  She said: "I am grateful to the people of good will.  For the time being I am content, and I shall see how things are going to be.  We have been left without any property, but we will manage somehow.     The new house is bigger than the previous one, which I and my father had built with great difficulty.  It is now important that we all survived.  I'm saying, I'm happy with the new house, but I have another problem: due to the consequences I suffered from the bombing, I was not able to work as I used to, so on September 10 I was sacked from the "Yumko" factory in Belo Polje.  I am now on welfare, and to make things worse, my son who is 23, is also unemployed.  He was mobilized and in the army during the war.  What shall we live on?"

Her neighbor, Radica Ristic, is taking care of her grandchild born immediately after the war.  She said:  "First of all I thank the God for staying alive, and then I thank the country.  My previous house had been bigger, but it had not been finished.  So although smaller, this new house is at least finished and it is mine.  I am not satisfied with the fact that we have not gotten anything, not even a TV set, and almost everybody else has received one.  We have only gotten a small bed for the baby and a heater from the municipality, and the High School and the Agricultural School, where I work as a cleaning woman, have given us some money."

In conclusion, we are going back to the sad little house of Vojislav Milic.  Across the street you can see two newly-built houses from the building and reconstruction program.  They obviously excel in quality from all other houses.  "The first one belongs to the Red Cross official, Milorad Andjelkovic," says Vojislav indifferently, "and the other, whose front yard is decorated with flower wreaths (maybe from a recent wedding?), the other one belongs to Slobodan Milosevic."

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