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Thursday, September 23, 1999 Published at 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK

World: Europe

Eyewitness: Serbia after the war

The war is over, but life does not return to normal. While Kosovo is part of an international plan to reconstruct the Balkans, Serbia remains, in the eyes of many, the pariah state, with an indicted war crimes suspect at its head.

Kosovo: Special Report
But there are some 11 million ordinary people trying to repair their lives, all against a backdrop of larger and larger protests against the Milosevic regime.
Kolja Novakovic, 19, is a student studying in Novi Sad, Serbia's second city and one of the hardest hit in the Nato bombing campaign. BBC News Online asked him to reflect on the war, how his contemporaries viewed it, and the state in which Serbia now finds itself:

What are your feelings about the war now that it's over?

My opinion about the war? I think it was a lost cause and now we are in an even worse state than we were before.

[ image:  ]
Before the Nato countries bombed us, I assumed and hoped that they would be able to bring us some justice, to understand the situation in which the Yugoslav people found themselves. But when the bombing began, I felt betrayed. I simply did not believe it could come to that.

The worst thing is, I don't feel it achieved anything, at least nothing positive for the people of this country.

One of the worst things from my point of view was the way politicians in other countries kept saying the bombing was directed against Milosevic and not against the people of Yugoslavia.

I simply cannot see how they harmed him. On the contrary, the moment the bombing started, Milosevic increased his power to such an extent that no-one could touch him.

He wasn't harmed by anything, unlike the people. Bridges and factories were destroyed, people lost their livelihoods, homes and some lost their lives.

Weren't the losses mainly confined to the military?

One of the assistant lecturers at my university was called up into the army when the war began. He was killed by a bomb as he manned a radar post.

[ image: After the war: Relief soon gave way to new fears]
After the war: Relief soon gave way to new fears
What choice did he have? Did he ignore the call-up and thereby officially become a traitor with all the consequences that brings, or did he answer and simply pray that he would come back in one piece.

He is one of those who didn't make it. He was certainly not pro-Milosevic, but he simply had no choice.

He was 26 years old. It could have been me, or anyone else.

So the war affected everyone?

Two of my friends came back from Kosovo completely emotionally devastated.

[ image:  ]
I tried to talk to them about what they had been through, but they didn't want to talk about it at all. I don't think I'd want to if I were in their place either.

Now that it's all over, I don't think anything here has changed. Or, if it has changed, it has only been for the worse.

They didn't get rid of Milosevic with their bombs. He has come out of it once more as a "victor" and been made even stronger.

Tell us about Novi Sad. What state is it in?

In a word: Terrible. Novi Sad was one of the cities where the greatest number of civilian targets was hit, despite the fact that the opposition had won elections there and most of its inhabitants were anti-Milosevic.

[ image: Novi Sad, April 1999: Nato destroys the oil refinery]
Novi Sad, April 1999: Nato destroys the oil refinery
Before the bombing, Novi Sad had three bridges over the Danube. Now, they say, the Danube flows over the bridges, which would be funny if it weren't so sad.

Freedom Bridge (Most Slobode) was one of the few bridges built at a gradient and the second largest suspension bridge in Europe.

Now more than half of the bridge is lying in the river, one of the pillars is completely destroyed, hit when about a dozen people were actually on it.

As for the other two bridges - nothing is left of them - they have completely disappeared into the Danube. People cross the river now on rafts.

The large number of people who live on the far side of the river have to cross it so they can get to work and the children to school.

But you have to wait up to an hour for a raft across and when it was hot people would pass out from waiting.

Up to 200 people get packed onto a raft, like cattle. I was passing by once, in the rain, and I felt so sorry for them. I can't imagine what it will be like in the winter.

What else was hit?

Novi Sad saw its oil refinery destroyed. It was hit about 80 times.

[ image:  ]
You cannot imagine the extent of the pollution it caused. There was a black cloud above the town for days, you couldn't eat vegetables, there was acid rain and the streets were covered in soot.

One bomb fell in the populated part of town near the refinery, another literally a few yards from the student hall of residence, but luckily it buried itself into the bank, creating a huge crater.

I saw and heard this one fly over my house and land 500m away from me. Again, I don't even want to imagine what would have happened had it hit the hall of residence.

An unexploded missile was found near the house of a friend of mine. I am afraid there will be more in the future.

Surely things must be returning to normal?

At the moment, there is no fuel, so the buses don't run regularly. Lorries don't collect rubbish and the streets are almost empty because there are no cars.

Bicycles have become the main means of transport. We were also told that there will not be enough electricity, gas or oil in the winter, so we'll have long power cuts. We are all worried about the winter.

Has it changed the way that you and others think about the future?

It was bad before, but it is going to be even worse now. A good salary, which is about 200 DM a month (65) cannot cover living expenses, electricity, telephone, taxes.

[ image:  ]
Looking for a job in this situation is impossible. There are no possibilities here for young people - most only think about how to get away from here. They can't see anything changing for the better in the next 10 years or so.

One of my friends says it's better not to have children here, because there hasn't been a generation that has not experienced war, so the chances are our children will experience it as well.

But isn't it always darkest before the dawn?

The worst of all is that nobody thinks this is the end.

[ image: Ruins: Ordinary people saw infrastructure obliterated]
Ruins: Ordinary people saw infrastructure obliterated
Everybody thinks the worst is still to come. The protests against Milosevic have begun, so we are afraid of civil war. There are signs that what happened in Kosovo may happen in Vojvodina. I really hope it won't come to that, but who knows?

After so many years under Milosevic, people have become completely financially and emotionally impoverished. If it came to another war after all this, this country would become poorer than the poorest African countries.

Already, the health service is in dire straits. People only go to the doctor if they absolutely have to.

There are no medicines, the hospitals, the ones still in one piece after the bombing, are in a desperate state, and their staff are totally unmotivated since their salaries are months in arrears.

What do young people think of it all?

People say the programme in the universities has deliberately been changed so it won't be recognised in other countries - in an effort to stop qualified students from leaving for the West.

Because of this many, including me, are wondering whether it's even worth studying.

Many would like to leave for the West. But the problem with that is that it's extremely hard to get visas, something which makes prospects even more limited.

The queues for visas outside the embassies are huge and the vast majority of those waiting are under 30 years old.

What would you ideally like to do?

Without a doubt - I'd like to get out. I'd like to be able to live a normal life and do a job which interests me in the field that I am studying, computer science.

But I am slowly beginning to wonder whether I will ever be able to. I don't think I will have either the money or the will to stay for several more years in this country - which is what I need to do to complete my studies.

Even if I did, I'm not sure my degree would be recognised in the West.

And if I did go to the West I would have to do the worst kind of menial work for years before I could get established.

It would be difficult for me to get enough money together to study there, but who knows? We'll see.

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