How I felt was hard to pinpoint. Awkward? A little. Nervous? Not really. Uncomfortable? Slightly. Angry? Just barely. Remorseful? Not much. Happy the Serbians had just left the room so I could look at it all in detail? Yes.
I went through this list while I snapped some pictures.
Right in front of me was physical proof that there had been a war. An American flag adorned the sleeve of a shirt identified as clothing from a captured enemy. Different from other wars, this one was 12 years ago.
The room I was standing in contained items from a conflict that’s a recent memory to everyone who lives there. I remember hearing about it, although I didn’t understand what was happening. I was more interested in playing baseball.
This was the Serbian military museum, and it was an awesome place. Starting around the time of the ancient Romans, it had uniforms, weapons, photographs, and models from all of the former Yugoslavian countries.
I’m a guy, so I was lured in by the tanks outside. There were a lot of them. I couldn’t say no.
The most recent, and final, exhibit was the one that I was most interested in. I wanted to see how this conflict was portrayed. My assumption was that they would either present themselves as an innocent victim or apologize for what they did and say it was wrong (as in German WWII museums).
They did neither.
Sympathy is usually gained by giving statistics of how many civilians died and showing pictures of mothers holding their dead babies. Remorse is usually demonstrated by highlighting the crimes of former leaders and telling how they were brought to justice.
This museum detailed Yugoslavia’s participation in UN peacekeeping missions. Then it explained how they stopped participating in those because of their own war. There were uniforms and weapons from both sides. They had the remains of detonated bombs, bits of a shot-down stealth fighter, and – making me uncomfortable – something labeled with only Serbian writing and a radioactive symbol. I didn’t stand too close to the last one.
There were no statistics. No pictures of victims or dead babies. It was mostly depicted as a military dispute, and they left you to decide who you thought was at fault. However, they pushed you in one direction by only showing things from when they were attacked. With the exception of a few things like the “Weapons and Equipments of the Illegal Armed Formations of the Republic of Croatia,” there was nothing else said about the other locations of the war during the 90’s.
I left the museum and walked through the fortress to think it all over. The weather has finally become nice, and I found a great café with a perfect view of the river. I sat down and one of the delicious Lav beers that I came to love. The waitress was polite, efficient, and spoke English.
Many of the former Yugoslavian leaders are on trial for war crimes in the Hague. Why didn’t they mention that? Surely the kind and helpful people who made me feel very welcome in their city aren’t proud of that. I just don’t understand.
But seriously, that Lav beer was really good. It was time to drink more, a lot more, and that’s something Belgrade was happy to offer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t strong enough to make us decide to go steal one of the tanks. That would’ve made for a better story.
It’s now time for me to learn more about this war. I’ve visited Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia, but I still don’t know much about the breakup of Yugoslavia. Perhaps I should do my research in Serbia, after all, they have plenty of Lav.
Serbian word of the day (to switch it up from the normal Hungarian word):
Pronounced Pee-voe. This is a very, very important word, because it means “Beer” in every Slavic country I’ve been to.