The second controversy concerns commemoration of the bombing. RTS was named TV Bastille, and was a frequent rallying point for anti-Milosevic rallies from 1991 to 2000. Few publicly remembered its destruction. In 2002, the general manager of RTS at the time was convicted to 10 years in prison because he did not evacuate the employees to the safe location during the air raid. Still, frequent questions by the families of the 16 killed went unanswered, and such families built a monument in nearby Tasmajdan park, with the question “Why” on it? They wished to see all those responsible on trial—the regime officials who they say sacrificed innocent people just to gain international attention, and also NATO commanders who ordered the bombing of a civilian target.

But they were on their own. For many years, commemoration was a private ceremony by families, friends, and colleagues of those who died. The bombing of these prominent public institutions was turned into a private tragedy, and there was a silent consensus to avoid a disturbing question—why was the state television headquarters bombed? For a few years after 2000, the new democratic government ignored it. Even the journalistic community was ambivalent.

RTS is particularly important for Serbian journalism history. It became Milosevic’s propaganda fist, but only after almost 1,000 professionals were fired in the early 1990s. They formed a new Independent Association of Journalists, dissociating themselves from the regime and from the journalists who obediently continued to serve the regime. For journalists who fought Milosevic, lingering questions about the bombing all go back to the public silence bout the Serbia’s role in the wars that tore Yugoslavia apart. Without such a discussion, the bombing is only a private tragedy of 16 victims.

And with the passage of of time, the significance of the bombing in national memory gets more complicated. In the new climate of revival of nationalistic political parties, the RTS bombing victims might just be once again used to silence the conversation about Serbia’s war past, a conversation that has never really started.

 

Snjezana Milivojevic is a professor of media studies at Belgrade University, Serbia. This year she is a Fulbright Scholar at Columbia’s Graduate School Of Journalism.