Easter of 1941, 1944 and 1999 in Yugoslavia in the eyes of Serbian media

14.06.2021

The original article was published on Balkans in-site.  Any reprints of the article only with the permission of the author and the Balkan in-site.

By Kateryna Shymkevych

Orthodox Easter is a special holiday for the Orthodox population of the countries that were part of federal Yugoslavia. On Easter during the 20th century the territory of the state – the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – was bombed three times. Each time it led to significant destruction of infrastructure, houses, and deaths of civilians. The Serbian media is very fond of writing about the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1941, 1944, and 1999, presenting it as attacks over Serbs in Western Europe. Coverage of only one aspect of this problem allows us to talk about the bias of the media and the manipulation of historical facts to confirm their own words. Such an argument unites Serbian society around the idea that the West has always been anti-Serb. And the so-called military Easter or Easter under the bombs, as Serbian journalists often call their articles, clearly demonstrate this position.

For Serbs, belonging to the Orthodox world is an important sign of their own identity, worldview, spirituality, part of history and culture. That is why they treat Easter and the church in this way and therefore perceive the German, Allied, and NATO airlines as an attempt to destroy them physically and spiritually. Every year, dozens of articles appear online and in the print media, retelling stories related to the bombing of Belgrade and other parts of Serbia.

The first “bloody” Easter came on April 6, 1941, when the troops of the Third Reich began to carry out massive attacks on the capital of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia – Belgrade (Operation “Retribution” or “Punishment”). Serbian media write that such actions of the German air force were provoked by demonstrations against the accession of Yugoslavia to Germany. Then in the streets, the people of Belgrade shouted “Better a war than a pact” and “Better a coffin than slavery.” On the first day of Easter 1941, bombs fell on churches, houses, warehouses, factories, roads, the post office, the railway station, the National Library of Serbia, and the airport.

The exact number of civilians killed in the airstrikes is unknown. It is estimated that German sources then killed between 3,500 and 4,000 people. The attack on the Kingdom’s capital began even after the country’s government declared Belgrade an open city on April 5, as there were no anti-aircraft guns. According to Article 25 of the Hague Convention on the Laws and Customs of War of 1907, the enemy army may not attack, bomb or storm an open city. The enemy army must simply enter without destroying the city. These principles were reaffirmed in the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1977. This is exactly what the Yugoslav government had hoped for, but the German Wehrmacht violated international warfare laws.

The second Easter bombing was on April 16, when Allied forces fell on Belgrade, like other Serbian cities. The bombing of the Yugoslav capital, as well as of several cities in Montenegro and Herzegovina, was carried out on Easter by US and British troops. The operation involved strikes on German targets and was part of a larger operation that began on October 20, 1943, and lasted until September 18, 1944. The bombs fell mostly on bridges across the Sava and Danube, churches, orphanages, markets, factories, schools, kindergartens. The bombs that fell on Belgrade that day were written in Cyrillic “Happy Easter” (Срећан Ускрс). Only Serbian media wrote about it. They also mentioned that the allied forces did not bomb Zagreb at all (opposed by J. Broz Tito) and Ljubljana (opposed by P. Kardel).

According to the Serbian publications Politika, Vreme, Danas, the situation with the inscriptions about Easter was repeated 55 years later. On April 11, 1999, NATO aircraft continued to carry out massive attacks on the territory of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In a statement by Mr. Alexander Lukashevich, permanent representative of the Russian Federation, at the 1221st meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council, the information from leading Serbian media was confirmed. Lukashevich noted that the bombs read “Do you still want to be Serbs?” or “Happy Easter!” scrawled by pilots from NATO countries on bombs and missiles. You can find photos on the Internet that confirm the words of Serbian journalists and scholars. But there is no information about the authenticity of these photos.

The Serbs believe that the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1941, 1944, and 1999 was directed against them. The Germans, the Americans, the British, and then NATO members fought against them as enemies.In the Serbian media and society are dominated by the idea that outside players during World War II and in the late 20th century invented enemies and see them in the Serbs. Therefore, the words “crime”, “suffering”, “bloody Easter”, “sacrifice” are present in all Serbian media, which should focus on the losses unjustly inflicted on Serbs in 1941, 1944, and 1999.

Serbian media reports on “Easter under the bombs” need to be criticized. There is no denying the fact of the bombing of a major Orthodox holiday and the attempts of the Germans and allies to demoralize their enemies. However, there is no clear evidence that air campaigns were carried out to destroy the Serb population, temples, shrines, cities, and infrastructure.

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