It was 1999, shortly after the NATO war. I was with a delegation that came to Yugoslavia to document NATO war crimes, and we found no shortage of them. In all of the towns and cities we visited, not one had been spared destruction.
One of our stops was at Aleksinac, a small mining town that NATO had targeted with a special ferocity. The town was led by a strong socialist local government, which may not have been entirely unrelated to NATO’s attentions. Local officials provided us with statistics that were startling for such a small town: 767 houses and 908 apartment flats were destroyed or damaged, as were 302 public buildings. Dragoljub Todorovich, a 74-year-old retired teacher, was at the opening meeting. Metal braces encased his left leg, and he walked with crutches. A missile levelled his home in one of the attacks. “I had been told for forty to fifty years that Americans were our friends,” he reflected. “Americans, with Russians, destroyed fascism together. I survived the Second World War. I was a partisan during the war.” Now war had once again visited Todorovich, but this time he nearly hadn’t survived.
Following our meeting, we visited the site of Todorovich’s home. Nothing remained but blasted concrete and bricks strewn about the area. As we stepped through the rubble, the clinking of bricks underfoot wove a counterpoint to his words. “When I regained consciousness, I saw that only a small part of skin connected my leg with my body,” he recalled. Although surgery saved Todorovich’s leg, he would remain crippled for the remainder of his life. During his fourteen-week recovery in the hospital, he was in constant pain and suffered a heart attack. One thought persisted in his bedridden state: “The worst way possible – that was the way America chose.”