- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

The view from Belgrade

The mayor of Belgrade shuddered when French warplanes flew over Paris during Bastille Day celebrations last month that she attended as a visiting dignitary. She still flinches at fireworks.

Like many of the 2 million residents of her elegant old city on the Danube River, Mayor Radmila Hrustanovic acknowledges she suffers from a “kind of trauma” lingering from the U.S.-led NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999.

She still visits the grave of a 2-year-old victim of the bombing, which claimed 100 civilian lives and destroyed bridges and several key buildings.

Nevertheless, she told Embassy Row yesterday, Belgrade citizens hold no anti-American feelings from the war that led to the removal of dictator Slobodan Milosevic, who is on trial on war-crime charges from the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. President Clinton ordered the NATO bombing to stop Mr. Milosevic’s troops from carrying out an “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in Kosovo.

“The people of Belgrade are very rational,” Mrs. Hrustanovic said. “We know what led to that. We know the catastrophic policies of Milosevic brought on the bombing. Thanks to the policies of Milosevic, we had enemies all over the world. We found ourselves on one side and everybody else on the other.”

Mrs. Hrustanovic, one of the founders of the Civic Alliance of Serbia, was a political opponent of Mr. Milosevic during a time when opposition could mean prison or worse.

“Belgrade was the center of opposition to Milosevic. We all thought we were being collectively punished because he lived in Belgrade,” she said.

Today, Mrs. Hrustanovic is helping undo the damage from the war and rebuild the image of the city. She is also leading the cleanup of Belgrade from 15 years of neglect by improving sanitation, repairing roads and planning for a subway system.

She was in Washington this week to encourage business investment in and tourism to her country and to promote the rebirth of a city that next year will celebrate 600 years as the capital of Serbia and later Yugoslavia.

As Mrs. Hrustanovic explained, Belgrade is a new city under pro-Western democratic leadership. The country even has a new name. The former Yugoslavia is now known as Serbia and Montenegro, the names of the federation’s two remaining republics.

She discussed civic policies with D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and invited him to attend the Belgrade celebrations next year. She is traveling on to Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco and Sacramento, Calif., where two Serbs — Vlade Divac and Predrag Stojakovic — play on the Sacramento Kings basketball team.

Mrs. Hrustanovic said the parliament of Serbia and Montenegro has passed laws to encourage foreign investment with tax exemptions for business profits and to protect property rights.

Belgrade dates to the sixth century and sits at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers.

“For a good impression of Belgrade, people should come to see it,” the mayor said. “Many thought it was a chained-off area with barbed wire and terrible people.

“But when they come, they realize we are a beautiful people in a city with soul.”

Japan signs legal pact

Japan yesterday signed a legal agreement with the United States to improve joint criminal investigations.

“By signing this treaty, we are making a great leap forward toward more institutionalized cooperation,” said Mayumi Moriyama, Japan’s minister of justice, at a signing ceremony with Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Mr. Ashcroft said the agreement will “provide the basis for close cooperation” by improving the ability of U.S. and Japanese authorities to share evidence, locate fugitives and witnesses, and obtain official records.

Mr. Moriyama was accompanied by Japanese Ambassador Ryozo Kato and Sadakazu Tanigaki, chairman of Japan’s National Public Safety Commission.

Conference canceled

Nigeria’s vice president canceled a news conference scheduled for today at American University, a school spokesman said yesterday.

Atiku Abubakar had planned to hold a 2:30 p.m. press conference with syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected].

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