From Belgrade, Serbia

The “grand finale” of our visit to Belgrade

This evening, our last in Serbia, my nephew Stasa arranged for us to have a special private cruise on a speedboat captained by his childhood friend Vlada and assisted by his daughter Masha.

Our route took us under all the Belgrade bridges to the point where Sava flows into the Danube. From there, the two great European rivers continue their ride toward the Iron Gates and its two cauldrons where we sailed yesterday.

After that, we sailed into the Danube and all around the War Island in the middle of it. We returned toward Belgrade on the southern channel of the Danube which flows right under Zemun, Belgrade’s western suburb.



The bridge under which we sailed on June 16 (lower right photo – below) is called Brankov bridge. This is where citizens of Belgrade held vigil night after night during NATO’s bombing of Serbia. They defended their bridge with nothing but their own lives. I joined them for one night during my stay in Serbia as a war correspondent during the bombings.  I took the photos you are seeing below myself on Apr 18, 1999.

As usual, the Serbs turned even tragic events like the bombings into a party. There was music, singing and dancing on the bridge throughout the night.  “When my number comes up, might as well go out singing and dancing,” these “human shields” seem to be implying.

Their number never came up. NATO lost its nerve here on Brankov’s bridge. And their bridge is still standing. But many others were hit and destroyed.

Here’s a letter/OpEd I received back then (April 1999) from a fellow-American, Randall Major from Texas, who was at the time based in Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia. Novi Sad was also a frequent target of NATO bombs and missiles. In fact, that’s where NATO did destroy a bridge over the Danube which, even after the war, later blocked the traffic on Europe’s longest river for months.

I experienced some of those Novi Sad “fireworks” myself when I was leaving Serbia later that April to go to Budapest and then fly back to the States (the back roads we took led through Novi Sad after crossing over another Danube bridge which NATO had not destroyed – Pancevacki, which you can also see in one of our cruise pictures).

Dancing on the Bridge (By Randall Major)

NOVI SAD, Apr. 18 – The informed world is astounded. The crazy Serbs have turned out enmasse, to stand in the dark on their bridges, disregarding the air raid sirens, to sing and dance, to shout cries of rebellion at NATO, the most incredible superpower ever to exist. Are they insane? Are they just victims of a propaganda war? What is, indeed, wrong with these people?

As a Texan, as someone who lives among the people of Novi Sad, I can claim with confidence: there is nothing wrong with them.

Imagine for a moment that, for whatever reason, a massive air armada was threatening YOUR bridges. Stop and think. If someone were to demolish London’s Tower Bridge, how would your lives be affected? How would the people of New York feel if some horrid force destroyed not only the Tri-Burrows Bridge, but also the Brooklyn Bridge? How would your lives be changed then? Or the Golden Gate Bridge. How would you feel if a MIG suddenly appeared and shot out the center section?

As a Texan who grew up in a family of hunters, I must admit: my first thought would be to take the .243 Remington my daddy gave me as my first hunting rifle and go stand on that bridge. To shoot at whatever terrible flying machine that might approach it. Or the .270 Winchester my brother and I both used to hunt deer in our childhood. By God, even my daddy’s old 16-gauge shotgun. I would defend those bridges with my whole heart, lay down my life if necessary.

Take a map. Look for yourself. Where would you have to go to reach your destinations if those bridges were suddenly gone? How would you get to work, return home, or go shopping? Then understand. These people are fighting for their bridges, because their bridges are their lives.

Is the Brooklyn Bridge a “military target”? A similar bridge in Novi Sad, Yugoslavia, was proclaimed so. It is now a crumpled mass in the swirling Danube. Is travelling to see loved ones in Mill Valley a military operation? How many times have you seen tanks on the bridges of your town? Ever? The very same is true here. In thirteen years here, I’ve never seen even a military jeep on those bridges. Never.

It is not that the people of Yugoslavia don’t have guns. They do. They are hunters and sportsmen very much like many of the people of my native Texas. But they leave their guns at home. They sing and dance, they celebrate their bridges, fighting against brute force with their love for life and for their bridges. Are these the “Serb butchers” as proclaimed by NATO and the mass media? I hardly think so.

As an American, it just makes me stop and wonder. Where would WE be without our bridges? The next time you drive over a bridge, think of it laying crushed by a Tomahawk missile. How will that make YOU feel?

The very fact that NATO is blowing up Yugoslavia’s bridges is symbolic in a way. Each time a bridge goes down, a tie with the West is broken. A childhood memory is obliterated. Loved ones are separated. And anger grows towards the ones who have done it. By blowing up the bridges, NATO countries are cutting all ties between themselves and the ordinary citizens of Yugoslavia. How will those ties be reestablished in the future? And who will rebuild the bridges? How long will it take? Every bridge and each victim in this nonsensical war widen the gap and extend the time it will take for the wounds to heal, for the bridges to be rebuilt.

Randall A. Major, Novi Sad, Yugoslavia (see


We finished the sailing by turning back to the river Sava and the original mooring spot on Ada Ciganlija.

When we took off from there two hours earlier, the sun was still high up and breaking through the threatening clouds that were approaching from the northwest.

When we docked back at the same place after our return ride, light rain was falling. We stayed on the boat for another 15 minutes engaged in an animated conversation. It was mostly in English, and mostly about history, past lives, spiritual enlightenment and other things we experienced during this short visit to Serbia and on our other trips to Europe.

Light rain was falling by the time we disembarked. Nobody cared, Not even Elizabeth (who tends to fuss about umbrellas and things like that). 🙂

It was a wonderful end to our brief visit to Belgrade. I have never before seen my birthplace from the water. And seeing in on the same day we watched the two mighty rivers from high up on the Kalemegdan Fortress, made it all the more special.

Here’s now a brief video from aboard the boat. Look for a particularly funny sequence “get your finger off the camera.” 🙂

SALING AROUND BELGRADE, ZEMUN ON SAVA, DANUBE RIVERS – a film by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic – June 16, 2017 – The grand finale of our Belgrade visit

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