Serbian Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic announced on March 24, the eighteenth anniversary of the NATO bombing of Serbia, that his country would never join the military alliance. Since the bombing, anti-NATO sentiments run high in Serbia. The news comes as NATO expands its membership in the region with the addition of Serbia’s neighbor Montenegro.
At a ceremony in southern Serbia, Vucic said of NATO, “We will never be part of the alliance which killed our children, nor of any other alliance…. They wanted to destroy and humiliate small Serbia and kill its children.” The ceremony took place near a railway bridge where NATO missiles had struck a passenger train, killing 28 people and injuring dozens more.
In 1999, the NATO alliance bombed Serbia during an ethnic conflict over the breakaway region of Kosovo in southern Serbia. A rejected peace deal by former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic sparked the NATO response, as Serbia refused to end its violent crackdown on Albanian separatists in Kosovo. The bombing lasted for 78 days and led to the deaths of more than 2,000 people.
“There will never again be a repeat of an aggression against our country without a clear, strong and victorious response,” stated Vucic, who is currently seeking re-election in Serbia.
Prime Minister Vucic’s statement comes at a time when NATO expansion has been on the minds of many Eastern Europeans. On March 28, the United States Senate voted overwhelmingly to admit Serbia’s neighbor Montenegro to the alliance despite its growing tension with Russia over eastern expansion. Serbia is also formally seeking membership in the European Union, although it has been strengthening its relations with Moscow.
Kosovo Prime Minister Isa Mustafa also issued a statement in which he thanked NATO for its intervention and reiterated his “eternal gratitude to the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries that were with [Kosovo] in the most difficult moments.”