What do fictional human being Donald Trump and the capital city of Serbia have in common? Had I not been in Belgrade and heard it for myself I doubt I would have believed it, but the preposterously haired Trump has a ‘special’ relationship with the city. Trump (which, for anyone of my generation and British, is another word for ‘fart’), intends to build a five-star hotel in the heart of Belgrade.
It’s not just any hotel that Fart, sorry Trump, wants to build, he intends to raise a hotel phoenix-like from the ashes, or in this case rubble, of the former headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Defence. The buildings were destroyed by NATO warplanes on May 7, 1999, and have been left in their current condition ever since.
The attacks on the Ministry of Defence were just one of many that NATO carried out in Belgrade and the rest of Serbia, as part of attempts to end the war in Kosovo. A war started when the Serbian government of Slobodan Milošević tried to tighten Serb control over Kosovo. It escalated into a one-sided battle between the Yugoslav military, supported by Serbian militias and police, and Kosovar Albanian forces.
At least 400,000 Kosovar Albanians became refugees during the war; while thousands more died at the hands of Serb troops and militias, who unleashed a wave of ethnic cleansing against Kosovars. Milošević’s government did nothing to prevent the killing, and quite a lot to facilitate it, one of the many reasons he died in a prison cell belonging to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Despite the mass graves found in Kosovo, victims of war crimes, Serbia feels wronged by the NATO attacks. Serbia has some support, Amnesty International has called NATO’s attack on the Serbian TV headquarters in which 16 people died, a war crime. Yet it’s striking that the destroyed Ministry of Defence buildings are next to the largest military recruiting poster I’ve ever seen. Hardly a signal that lessons have been learned.
Maybe transforming these bombed out monuments to some of the darkest moments in recent European history, will provide psychological closure for Belgraders. Maybe not. After all, even if he does like to build hotels, Trump hardly seems like the sort of man interested in building bridges.