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Germany sued over NATO bombing of Yugoslavia

By John Catalinotto

Sometimes it is possible for a small, determined group of people to keep an important issue alive, creating a forum that can pave the way for a future struggle.

Attorney Ulrich Dost, working with only a small committee of supporters in Berlin and Hamburg, Germany, and the cooperation of the people of Varvarin in Serbia, has brought a suit against the German government on behalf of those wounded and the surviving family members of those killed in a NATO bombing attack on the village on May 30, 1999. The suit is asking for about $90,000 in damages for each person.

After over a year of painstaking work gathering evidence and doing the necessary legal submissions, Dost has been able to file the Varvarin victims' claim for damages.

Dost argues that whatever nation's planes carried out the assault on Varvarin, Germany is guilty of illegally causing damages to the population by virtue of its membership in NATO and its go-ahead for all the bombing raids.

For the first time since the work was begun, the establishment media in Germany and also CNN and the BBC have begun to publicize the Varvarin case.

This publicity comes as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) meeting in The Hague is about to open a war-crimes trial against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on Feb. 12. Stories have begun to come out that the ICTY prosecutors fear they have insufficient evidence to prove their charges.

Dost, on the other hand, believes more than enough evidence exists to prove the civil case against the German regime. On Jan. 13 Workers World asked Dost, who had just returned from an exhausting weeklong tour of Yugoslavia, to explain the facts of the case for a U.S. audience.

"Varvarin, with its 4,000 inhabitants," said Dost, "lies about 125 miles south of Belgrade and another 125 miles from the border of Kosovo. It is in a mostly agricultural region with no significant industry, no military bases, and in 1999 military transports were never sent through the center of the town. People there did not think of their town as a war target.

"Even on Whitsunday, May 30, 1999, the Sunday market where farmers sold their goods was open. At 1:25 p.m. three NATO warplanes appeared over Var varin. One separated from the formation, flew toward the bridge and fired its rocket, which hit the bridge's central support column. Its collapse dumped the bridge and all the people and vehicles on it into the small Morava River.

"Panic broke out among the hundreds of people in the market. Some of them ran to the bridge's wreckage and began to reach toward the victims.

"After they fired the first round of rockets, the warplanes turned around. The rescue work had just begun," Dost said angrily. "One of the planes attacked from the other side, firing two additional rockets at the already destroyed bridge.

"There were further dead and wounded. Altogether from this air attack 10 people lost their lives and another 16 people were gravely wounded. The youngest fatal casualty of this attack was a 15-year-old student, Sanja Milenkovic.

"There was no military excuse for the attack. It was directed at civilians. This is a crime," argued Dost.

Asked why there were not more cases of such suits around Yugoslavia, which was bombed so heavily, Dost apologized for not having the human and material resources to handle more cases.

"It would be easy--if attorneys and funds were available--to bring similar cases from all different regions of Yugoslavia, including Kosovo, and with victims of all ethnic origins. Right now, though, I and some other volunteer workers have our hands full with the Varvarin case.

"We have to raise another 150,000 Euros [$135,000] to pay the legal costs of finishing this case," he said. "There is no support from the new Yugoslav regime, which is trying to stay on good terms with Germany."

Conditions inside Yugoslavia

WW asked Dost, who had just seen much of Yugoslavia while traveling and speaking about Varvarin, what conditions were like there now.

"The unemployment must be over 50 percent," he said. "In some areas there doesn't seem to be a money economy. People are only surviving through the help of their families. It reminds me of what I heard about conditions in Germany just after World War II."

Dost also brought up the time after reunification of Germany in 1990. "As many East Germans did during reunification, many Yugoslavs had great hopes that removing Milosevic and making peace with the NATO powers would bring prosperity back. Now even the pro-Western [Serbian Prime Minister Zoran] Djindjic is complaining that none of the promised aid is coming through.

"In Eastern Germany, too, people soon lost their jobs and their whole way of life. The difference is that under the ample West German social security guarantees--which have decreased in the past years--people were able to maintain at least a minimum livelihood. In Yugoslavia they have only their family's support.

"There are polls that predict that in an election the Socialist Party of Serbia [Milosevic's party] would come in first. So the European Union people have advised Belgrade to postpone the elections."

For more information or to give support, contact [email protected]

Reprinted from the Feb. 14, 2002, issue of Workers World newspaper

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