Deluge in Serbia and Bosnia

On May 13, an unusual weather pattern began hovering over the Balkans, dumping unprecedented amounts of rain on Bosnia, Serbia, and parts of Croatia. Satellite imagery showed a full-blown tropical cyclone, which the weather-watchers dubbed "Tamara." By May 16, the rains had stopped – and the flooding began.

The rains and the flooding were without precedent in the area’s history. Worst-hit were the lower reaches of the Bosna, Sava, Drina, and Kolubara rivers, in north-central Bosnia, parts of northeastern Croatia and northwestern Serbia. In Bosnia, Doboj was completely underwater, while Maglaj and Zavidovici were cut off by the raging rivers that swept away bridges and roads. In Serbia, round-the-clock efforts by volunteers to shore up the improvised levees helped save Sabac, but the town of Obrenovac, on the outskirts of Belgrade, was completely lost to flooding. Reports out of Serbia are conflicted as to why – a faulty dam that collapsed, contradictory orders from the local government, or something else – but there has been an ominous blackout on news from the town.

The official death toll so far is 40, but it may rise rapidly as waters recede and rescuers can check for bodies. Over 1,7 million people have been directly affected, while the damage to property and agriculture is estimated in the billions.

The Good

Cataclysms tend to bring out the best, and the worst, in people. While the ethically challenged legacy media reported on the flooding with a mixture of sensationalism and pathos, the social networks were abuzz with stories of heroism – but also conspiracy theories and false alarms.

One silver lining in the tragedy is how the affected communities showed solidarity was not dead. In Serbia – ravaged socially, economically and politically by 15 years of "democracy" – tens of thousands stepped in to help their neighbors, evacuate the elderly and the infirm, and shore up the levees. Many volunteers came from Serb enclaves in occupied Kosovo, which the current Serbian government abandoned to the Albanian regime last year. Also among the volunteers were asylum-seekers from Africa and Asia, who ended up stuck in Serbia while trying to reach the EU.

In Bosnia, Serbs, Croats and Muslims helped each other cope with the disaster, even though the media has kept them at each other’s throats ever since the war officially ended in 1995. Likewise, Croatia has sent rescue crews to both Serbia and Bosnia. Russia sent three planeloads of rescue personnel and supplies. Many European countries and Israel have sent aid as well. And in Macedonia, Serbia’s southern neighbor, citizens have organized a massive charity drive, collecting some $165,000 over the weekend, as well as 20 tons of food, 60,000 liters of drinking water, baby food, milk, blankets, clothing, shoes…

The Bad

Raging waters in central Bosnia have swept through several battlefields from the war, dislodging landmines or burying them in landslides. While some of the devices may have detonated or been disarmed in the process, the unexploded ones will pose a major threat to both rescue crews and residents. That has certainly attracted the attention of the Western media, if the floods themselves had not.

There have been reports – though few and far between – of merchants hoarding water and overcharging for necessities, and looters trying to strip the damaged homes. A major scandal seems to be developing in Obrenovac, where the local authorities reportedly ordered citizens to stay in their homes – then tried to cover it up and issued a belated evacuation order. Between that and an apparent effort to suppress the news from Obrenovac, there are fears that many have died due to government error or incompetence.

Floods caused by "Tamara" have shown the disastrous effects of military "reforms" implemented by a succession of quisling governments on NATO orders. The gutted Serbian Army did what little it could, but the bulk of the relief and rescue effort fell to the volunteers. Serbia’s President Nikolic was nowhere to be seen, but PM Vucic and his ministers made sure to pose for the cameras at every opportunity and appear important and competent.

The Western media initially ignored the flooding. Serbia’s tennis ace Novak Djokovic complained to the reporters covering the Italian Open on may 17:

"Unfortunately there’s not enough awareness of what’s going on," Djokovic said. "I see on CNN and BBC and other big networks there’s a lot of talk about the miners in Turkey and so forth and it’s another disaster. But no broadcast about Serbia and this is the biggest flood that I’ve ever seen and maybe that Europe has ever seen. This is incredible. So I hope people can find the common sense and broadcast this a little bit and spread the awareness of what’s going on."

Djokovic went on to win the tournament and donated his entire winnings – $750,000 – to flood relief. Meanwhile, the U.S. Ambassador to Belgrade, Michael Kirby, offered $100,000 from the Embassy’s discretionary fund.

The Ugly

When the flood relief campaign finally made it into the social media in the West – as a hashtag fad similar to #BringBackOurGirls – it did so only when the hashtags were arranged to mention Croatia and Bosnia first, and Serbia as an afterthought.

No actual aid has been forthcoming from the US government, or the Leviathan in Brussels. The EU has promised "experts" and committees, and maybe a loan or two – eventually. So it is appalling – but not surprising – that the government of Serbia has sought to minimize the very real aid coming from Russia, in favor of phantom promises of aid from the EU, seeking to preserve their reputation as good servants of Brussels. Meanwhile, it has been reported that Ukraine and Romania tried to deny airplanes bearing Russian aid flyover rights, but were ignored.

And while in Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia and Croatia solidarity was the order of the day – with Serbian soccer fans calling for aid to Croatia, for example – in occupied "Kosovo" some Albanian fans called for "Death for Serbia".


After the Rain

While the outpouring of neighborly solidarity by (almost) all has been touching, it is unlikely to overcome the long history of real conflict reinforced by media conditioning. When an eager college student in Serbia wrote a touching poem about the floods as a call to restoring Yugoslavia, a counter-poem appeared within a day, saying, "Thanks, but no thanks". Being neighborly is one thing, going back to an abusive relationship that lasted a century and was very nearly fatal, quite another. At best, the newfound solidarity will cool the flames of hatred for a while.

The waters are slowly beginning to recede. The devastation wrought by the floods will be repaired, though that may take a long time. What will remain is the memory of how people dealt with the cataclysm; of words and deeds, good or ill.

The response of individuals and governments to the flooding may also help dispel some myths and delusions, in Bosnia and Serbia alike. Those affected will know who actually offered them aid, and who offered only empty promises. EU and Empire’s oft-expressed concern with the well-being of "Bosnians" has been shown as hollow. Perhaps some will even realize the EU is not the promised paradise, and that the media and the governments have been lying to them – whereupon the said media and governments may wish they had drowned.

Right now, however, there is mud and rubble to clear, bodies to bury, and lives to put back together.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.