A Not-So-Subtle Reminder of a Not-Too-Distant Past

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Belgrade, Serbia – April 2012

A lone guard paces back and forth in front of the former Ministry of Defense buildings, which were bombed in an American-led NATO strike back in the nineties. His gait is slow and shuffling. He has a goofy grin on his face and his military uniform looks like it’s been slept in. I pull my camera out of my purse.  This morning, I asked the owner of the hotel where I’m staying if it was okay if I took some photos of these buildings. I had read on a couple of travel forums that people get offended. “It’s fine to take photos. The buildings are still there so that people will remember,” the owner said. “But thanks for asking.”

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The guard doesn’t so much as glance my way as I snap photos. Neither do people in the cars that pass through this busy intersection. A tram pulls up just as the light turns red. It is the after work rush hour, so it is packed so full that people’s faces are smushed up against the glass. I start to giggle, but the orneriness of their glares makes me flinch. It would be an interesting photo, this painfully crowded tram against the backdrop of the crumbling building. The light will be green before they can push their way out and chase me down. But empathy wins out. There are some photos you just shouldn’t take. I wait until the tram is gone and then I raise my camera for one final shot.

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45 thoughts on “A Not-So-Subtle Reminder of a Not-Too-Distant Past

  1. There is some fine, albeit painful, war photography from the Balkan conflict during the 90’s (available online via The Atlantic, for example). Like your pictures, it is a reminder that this violent conflict is not gone–the scars and the memories and the physical evidence are still there for the people of the Balkans, every day.

    I admire your respect for the feelings of the people you photograph, especially in such a sensitive context.

    (http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2012/04/20-years-since-the-bosnian-war/100278/)

    • Thanks for the link, Anthony. The scars of that war are still very fresh, and it’s best to just avoid any discussion about it unless you happen know all of its complexities, which most people don’t. I certainly don’t. Watching CNN ain’t enough. The Serbs suffered terribly as well. They know that Westerners think of them as “bad people” and are trying hard to change that image. I had an awesome time there.

  2. Completely agree that some photos should not be taken no matter how tempting it can be!
    It’s pretty amazing that these buildings are still standing, most cities would have ripped then down quickly enough and replaced as fast as they possible could to rid the city of such a memory.

    • I thought the same thing about the buildings still being there. It would be very easy to just knock them down. But after I spoke to a few people, I got the feeling that they want them to stay up so that visitors will know that Serbia didn’t escape unscathed.

  3. Julie I just love the new blog. I know I have read alot befor but never get tired of them. Can we talk this week ? Miss you mom

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  4. Maybe you do not know but these buildings have collapsed because of the bombing of American planes in Belgrade. They are wanted from Serbia to give up part of its territory-Kosovo, and that they get. We had a successful state of Yugoslavia and the politicians are destroying everything. Thank you for your beautiful words of the Serbian nation. You’re also welcome to Croatia to meet Croatian and our beautiful coast! Your country is absolutely fascinating, and I hope to visit it. Cheers!

    • Hello! Yes, I’m aware that it was an American led strike, and have edited to post to add that. I thought I had written that. I’m American and think that it was none of our business to be involved. We need to take care of our own country and leave others alone!

      My trip to Serbia was the most enjoyable trip I had taken in years, mostly because of the people. I will post more about it in the future and also about my trip to Croatia. I was only in Zagreb and Plitvice, but loved it as well. Warm Wishes!!

  5. Wow, yeah …some parts still does look like that …i know…i was there and around entire beautiful country of mine -ex.Yugoslavia !!!summer 2012…nazalost !Looking forward to see images from Croatia …Plitvice…what a fantasy nature 🙂

  6. Pingback: An American Tourist in Serbia | Wish I Were Here

  7. Interesting that they’ve been allowed to stand, despite looking quite unstable. I wonder if I would have taken the tram shot if there? Perhaps not.

    A Donald Trump hotel? At least it’s not a McDonalds.

    • A McDonald’s….I can just imagine. A Starbucks would be pretty obnoxious, too. I think you wouldn’t have taken the tram shot. You aren’t one for taking photos that could be considered as mean-spirited.

  8. I can’t imagine. Even on US soil, I can’t, too far away. It all seems like a nightmare. Figures of injured, killed or maimed to large to grasp.

  9. I think it is quite important to have these kind of building still standing otherwise we would remember the wars or similar tragic events anymore. I remember that I was very impressed when I was in front of the famous picture which shows Hector Pieterson being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo after being shot by South African police. His sister, Antoinette Sithole, runs beside them.
    Thank you, dear Julie, for having taken these picture.:)

  10. There is something eerily fascinating about war damage and, as Martina suggests, there is probably a good case for leaving such ‘monuments’ in place. Growing up in postwar Manchester there were a significant number of bomb damaged buildings in the centre of the city – all gone now, perhaps a few should have remained as a reminder of the futility of armed conflict.

    • I know this eerie fascination. As an American, it’s probably stronger, because I grew up so cocooned from any sort of military conflict. Everything was sanitized and romanticized. This could also explain my fascination with the communist monuments that are still standing. I agree that some of these things should be allowed to remain as reminders. I wonder how the people of Belgrade feel about these buildings being demolished.

  11. I like the respect and the sensitivity you have for the others, Julie. Documenting is important, but does not mean to make the others disappointed.
    Your shots remind me to my trip to Cyprus; i didn’t take any shot of the old city destroyed, but i still remember it well.

  12. In a way, Julie, your photography reminds me of when I was writing, Inside laneways. Broken structures that may or may not still be homes (though the above is a government building). Some memories say etched in peoples lives for life, moments never to be forgotten.

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