NATO bombing of the Radio Television of Serbia headquarters

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NATO bombing of the Radio Television of Serbia headquarters
Master RTS.jpg
The damaged headquarters of RTS
Location Belgrade, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Coordinates 44°48′41″N 20°28′12″E / 44.81139°N 20.47000°E / 44.81139; 20.47000
Date April 24, 1999
02:06 am (CET)
Target Radio Television of Serbia
Attack type
Missile attack
Deaths 16
Non-fatal injuries
Perpetrators NATO

The NATO bombing of the Radio Television of Serbia headquarters occurred on 23 April 1999, during the Kosovo War.


It formed part of NATO's aerial campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and severely damaged the Belgrade headquarters of Radio Television of Serbia (RTS). Other radio and electrical installations throughout the country were also attacked.[2] Sixteen employees of RTS died when a single NATO missile hit the building. Many were trapped for days, only communicating over mobile phones. The station returned to the air 24 hours later from a secret location.[3][4] NATO Headquarters justified the bombing with two arguments; firstly, that it was necessary "to disrupt and degrade the command, control and communications network" of the Yugoslav Armed Forces, and secondly, that the RTS headquarters was a dual-use object which "was making an important contribution to the propaganda war which orchestrated the campaign against the population of Kosovo".[2] The British Broadcasting Corporation reported that the station was targeted because of its role in Belgrade's propaganda campaign. Tim Judah and others stated that RTS had been broadcasting Serb nationalist propaganda, which demonised ethnic minorities and legitimised Serb atrocities against them.[5][6] A new building has since been built next to the bomb-damaged one, and a monument has been erected to those killed in the attack.

With the bombing of the Radio Television of Serbia headquarters, NATO recognized that media is a weapon during war.[7] France was opposed to the attack; there was considerable disagreement between the United States and the French government regarding the legitimacy and legality of the bombing.[8] Amnesty International stated that the NATO bombing was a war crime,[1] and Noam Chomsky views it as an act of terrorism.[9]

In 2002, the European Court of Human Rights threw out a case brought by six Yugoslav citizens against NATO.[10][11] Dragoljub Milanović, general manager of Radio Television of Serbia, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for failing to evacuate the building.[12] According to an Amnesty article published in 2009, nobody was held accountable for the attack itself, and no justice for the victims has been made.[1]

The building itself remains as it was left by the bombing.[13]


While giving a speech at the Overseas Press Club sixtieth anniversary dinner, held on Thursday evening 22 April 1999 EST at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City, US envoy to Yugoslavia Richard Holbrooke reacted to the NATO's bombing of the RTS headquarters almost immediately after it took place: "Eason Jordan told me just before I came up here that while we've been dining tonight, the air strikes hit Serb TV and took out the Serb television, and at least for the time being they’re off the air. That is an enormously important event, if it is in fact as Eason reported it, and I believe everything CNN tells me. If, in fact, they're off the air even temporarily, as all of you know, one of the three key pillars, along with the security forces and the secret police, have been at least temporarily removed. And it is an enormously important and, I think, positive development."[14]

Consequences and conclusions[edit]

A report conducted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) entitled "Final Report to the Prosecutor by the Committee Established to Review the NATO Bombing Campaign Against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" said:

Insofar as the attack actually was aimed at disrupting the communications network, it was legally acceptable ... NATO’s targeting of the RTS building for propaganda purposes was an incidental (albeit complementary) aim of its primary goal of disabling the Serbian military command and control system and to destroy the nerve system and apparatus that keeps Milošević in power[15]

In regards to civilian casualties, it further stated that though they were, "unfortunately high, they do not appear to be clearly disproportionate."[15]

In the case Markovic v. Italy, the European Court of Human Rights found that the government of Italy had not violated human rights. However, in 2002, Dragoljub Milanović, the general manager of RTS, was sentenced to 10 years in prison because he had not ordered the workers in the building to evacuate, despite knowing that the building could be bombed.[12]

Sian Jones, Balkans expert from Amnesty International stated the following about the attack:

The bombing of the headquarters of Serbian state radio and television was a deliberate attack on a civilian object and as such constitutes a war crime.[1]

Human Rights Watch also condemned the attack, stating that:

Even if one could justify legal attacks on civilian radio and television, there does not appear to be any justification for attacking urban studios, as opposed to transmitters.[8]

2011 apology statement[edit]

On 23 May 2011, Radio Television of Serbia (RTS) issued an official apology for the way their programming was misused for spreading propaganda and discrediting political opponents in the 1990s, and for the fact that their broadcasts had "hurt the feelings, moral integrity and dignity of the citizens of Serbia, humanist-oriented intellectuals, members of the political opposition, critically minded journalists, certain minorities in Serbia, minority religious groups in Serbia, as well as certain neighbouring peoples and states.".[16][17]

The American news agency, the Associated Press, wrote:

The station blatantly spread Milosevic's nationalist propaganda, portraying Serbs as the victims of ethnic attacks in the former Yugoslavia, thus whipping up nationalism that led to wars. At the same time, the television accused the Serbian opposition of being foreign mercenaries and traitors who were working against the country's interests.

The propaganda was so intense that it led to anti-government protests in March 1991 in the capital, during which two people were killed in what was the first popular uprising against Milosevic's rule. It also prompted Nato in 1999 to declare the state TV a legitimate target. The RTS building was bombed during the air war that the alliance launched to stop Milosevic's onslaught against Kosovo Albanian separatists. Sixteen RTS employees died in the bombing.[18]

Comparisons to Charlie Hebdo shooting[edit]

Linguist and political analyst Noam Chomsky views the NATO bombing as an act of terrorism. In an article published almost two weeks after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, he commented on what he sees as the hypocrisy shown by media and politicians in the West, which in general viewed the 1999 bombing as legitimate. "There were no demonstrations or cries of outrage, no chants of 'We are RTV' [...]", he noted, pointing out the vastly different reactions by alluding to the popularization of the Je suis Charlie slogan in the aftermath of the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. Chomsky also suggested that it would be informative to set up an inquiry on what values NATO actually "defended" when bombing the Radio Television of Serbia building, something he has analyzed more closely in his book A New Generation Draws the Line (2000).[9]

Chomsky's article does not address whether or not he accepts that the TV station had been incorporated into the Command, Control and Communications network of the Yugoslav armed forces, which NATO originally stated as its argument for performing the bombing raid.[19] Some of the relatives to the victims have condemned apologists of Slobodan Milošević and "local propagandists" for having misused Chomsky's comparisons to further their own agendas. One woman criticized former manager Dragoljub Milanović for saying "I am Charlie, I didn’t know they were going to bomb RTS", and described him as a "criminal who was representing himself as a victim". She also accused the government for not providing adequate documentation about details surrounding the incident.[20]

In February 2015, President of Serbia Tomislav Nikolić gave Noam Chomsky the Sretenjski orden (sr) medal for his efforts.[21]

List of killed RTS workers[edit]

The Tašmajdan park memorial to the victims of the 23 April 1999 NATO bombing includes names, ages, and job descriptions of each person killed in the attack. At the bottom of the memorial there is a photo of the building taken just after the attack during rescue operations.
  • Aleksandar Deletić (30), cameraman
  • Branislav Jovanović (50), master technician
  • Darko Stoimenovski (25), visiting technician
  • Dejan Marković (39), security worker
  • Dragan Tasić (29), electrician
  • Dragorad Dragojević (27), security worker
  • Ivan Stukalo (33), technician
  • Jelica Munitlak (27), make-up artist
  • Ksenija Banković (27), vision mixer
  • Milan Joksimović (47), security worker
  • Milovan Janković (59), precision machinist
  • Nebojša Stojanović (26), master technician
  • Siniša Medić (32), production designer
  • Slaviša Stevanović (32), technician
  • Slobodan Jontić (54), director
  • Tomislav Mitrović (61), program director

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "No justice for the victims of NATO bombings". Amnesty International. 23 April 2009. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  2. ^ a b McCormack 2006, p. 381.
  3. ^ Claudio Cordone and Avner Gidron. "Was the Serbian TV station really a legitimate target?". 
  4. ^ "Nato challenged over Belgrade bombing". BBC News. 2001-10-24. Retrieved 2010-05-20. 
  5. ^ de la Brosse, Renaud (2003). "Political Propaganda and the Plan to Create a "State for all Serbs": Consequences of Using the Media for Ultra-Nationalist Ends" (PDF). Reims. [dead link]
  6. ^ Judah. The Serbs. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-15826-7. 
  7. ^ Neda Atanasoski (2007). Niall Scott, ed. Monsters and the Monstrous: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil. Rodopi. p. 73. ISBN 978-90-420-2253-9. Retrieved 27 August 2013. By destroying RTS, the alliance affirmed that it recognized the media as a weapon during times of war - though, paradoxically, they only acknowledged it to be a weapon in the enemy's hands. 
  8. ^ a b Human Rights Watch (2000). "CIVILIAN DEATHS IN THE NATO AIR CAMPAIGN / THE CRISIS IN KOSOVO". Archived from the original on October 22, 2014. Retrieved 21 January 2015. 
  9. ^ a b Chomsky, Noam (19 January 2015). "Chomsky: Paris attacks show hypocrisy of West's outrage". CNN International. Retrieved 20 January 2015. 
  10. ^ "Court throws out case against NATO". BBC. 19 December 2001. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  11. ^ (Italian) Giampiero Buonomo, Non sempre la guerra «offre» giurisdizione extraterritoriale: l'occasione mancata del caso Bankovic.
  12. ^ a b The New York Times, 22 June 2002, World Briefing | Europe: Yugoslavia: Ex-TV Boss Jailed Over NATO Bombing
  13. ^ Paletta, Karolyn (13 March 2016). "Remembering the 1999 NATO Bombing of Radio Television Serbia". Reporting Balkans. Retrieved 11 July 2016. 
  14. ^ Amy Goodman (23 April 1999). "Pacifica Rejects Overseas Press Club Award". Pacifica Radio. New York: Democracy Now!. 
  15. ^ a b "Final Report to the Prosecutor by the Committee Established to Review the NATO Bombing Campaign Against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia". UNICTY. 
  16. ^ RTS Apology
  17. ^ Tanjug (24 May 2011). "State broadcaster "sorry" for 1990s". B92. Retrieved 10 July 2012. 
  18. ^ "Serbia state TV apologises for Milosevic-era propaganda". The Guardian. 24 May 2011. Retrieved 24 May 2015. 
  19. ^ Tekwani, Shyam (2008). Media and Conflict Reporting in Asia. Singapore: Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC). p. 162. ISBN 9789814136051. Retrieved 27 January 2015. 
  20. ^ Ristić, Marija (23 January 2015). "NATO Victims' Families Condemn Charlie Hebdo Comparison". Balkan Insight. BIRN. Retrieved 27 January 2015. 
  21. ^ Ristić, Marija (16 February 2015). "Serbia Honours Chomsky for Criticising NATO Bombing". Balkan Insight. BIRN. Retrieved 17 February 2015. 


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