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Wednesday, April 14, 1999 Published at 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK

The view from Belgrade

Serbs in anti Nato demo outside the Yugoslav Federal Parliament

By Mike Williams in Belgrade

Time and time again in the last twenty days I have been asked to describe the mood in Belgrade. Time and time again I have given an answer in thirty seconds or so, a summary of the anger, the defiance and the fear.

Belgrade though is a city of some two million people, as complex as any living organism with all that that comparison implies - fragility, the will to survive, and the capacity to sustain damage, yet continue to function.

[ image: Mike Williams:
Mike Williams: "Belgrade is as complex as any living organism"
There is the public face. Popular demonstrations of defiance are held at the nightly concert for the human shields on Belgrade's bridges.

And there is the official line. State controlled television reports the names of the latest pilots decorated for valour in defence of Yugoslavia. But the complex of opinions, emotions and propaganda is constructed of individual hopes and fears, loves, hates and ambitions.

Perhaps a few case studies illuminate more clearly than journalistic precis.

Arkan: Leader of the Tigers

"I am going to accuse Bill Clinton and Blair of terrible war crimes with the bombing, the Nato force bombing of Yugoslavia" says the man known in this city and throughout the Balkans as Arkan.

His real name is Zeljko Raznjatovic, the leader of The Tigers, a paramilitary group which ran through ethnically-cleansed Bosnia like a fury. Indicted as a war criminal here, he is a folk hero who is feared by almost everyone.

[ image: A Serb woman waves a scarf with the printed peace symbol]
A Serb woman waves a scarf with the printed peace symbol
He says: "I think that all the people, all nations - Serbs, Albanians, Turks, Gypsies - they're running away from Kosovo because of the bombing, because they've launched so many bombs that, if they launched at London, half of London would be on their knees."

Yugoslavia claims that the refugees are lying about the stories of atrocities from Serb security forces. I asked Arkan if he really believed that they all got together and agreed a story before they left, to three different countries.

"No" he said, "but I know that the reporters from Albania are doing a very good job, which has been prepared by the CIA."

Protesting quietly

Just over two years ago, a young Serb woman and her friends joined other student demonstrators to protest on the streets of Belgrade. There was a hope then of democratic reform. Now such protests would be unacceptable. Opposition to the government does exist, but it is voiced quietly.

She says that Milosevic is now like God: "Serbs are all together, with the Yugoslav army and of course with President Mr Milosevic. So now you're not able to find anyone to tell you he is a bad guy."

[ image: A young Belgrader holds up the three-finger Serbian nationalist symbol]
A young Belgrader holds up the three-finger Serbian nationalist symbol
One Serb man had some hopes for a life from the west, but that has changed: "I am Serb and they are bombing my country and my people. I cannot believe in all the things the western media say about the Serbian army because I know some of the people that are in the army and in the police and I know them as normal people, not insane murderers who do such things."

"I don't see any way out" says another Serb man, "because two weeks ago we reached the point of no return. Now it only has to be total destruction or obedience and a pullback from Kosovo, which will never happen. People are getting more and more fed up by the day."

They are liberal, well-educated cosmopolitans. But the pressure waves from Nato's bombs are felt by them in a way that perhaps the Alliance had not expected, forcing them to turn away from the western European and American lifestyles they craved, to discover now a Serbian identity.

Young people were once thought to be the foundations of some future Yugoslavia, a modern democratic country which would value their opinions. Their views may not be popular in the Nato countries, but they are genuinely and widely held: "My country, right or wrong."

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