In war, the time of destruction is also the time of classification. In its role as a bomber targeting a selection of urban artifacts, NATO faced a pro

NATO as Architectural Critic

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2024-07-09 15:30:08

In war, the time of destruction is also the time of classification. In its role as a bomber targeting a selection of urban artifacts, NATO faced a problem of identification: how to read architecture that neither looked Stalinist nor had the classical aspirations of the Third Reich. The empty administration buildings in downtown Belgrade in the vicinity of hospitals and schools, the empty Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs and the empty Army Headquarters built by a recipient of the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, all bombed by NATO, were important examples of Serbian post-war modernism.[1] The result was that during the air campaign NATO unwittingly demonstrated excellent taste in placing architectural landmarks from this century on its target list.[2] As part “of a new struggle against fascism,” NATO selected to destroy the very buildings constructed in the post-war period to symbolize the struggle of a “stubborn nation against fascism.”[3] While modernism that came from the West was bombed, some conservative examples were “preserved.” Beli Dvor for example, or the White Palace, an eclectic Palladian-type villa built in the 30s, where Milosevic, like Tito before him, normally greets guests but does not live, was considered off-limits as a target because of a Rembrandt canvas kept on its first floor.[4] In history books, Fascist architecture such as the Third Reich’s is always understood in relation to its conditions of creation. The architecture used by the current state in Serbia was built before the world found the Serbian state to be nationalist, but in bombing Serbia, NATO also branded examples of Serbian post-war modernism as Fascist. Once caught in the fire of the global media, this architecture, built under a pro-Western liberal influence, is now in danger of being branded as Fascist, of being remembered in relation to its conditions of destruction.

There is, however, a complication in laying sole responsibility for the bombing of these particular buildings on NATO. On the streets of Belgrade particular buildings were anticipated to be likely targets. “Most people believe that the urban centers will be ‘cruised,’ and official propaganda does as much as possible to support this belief. Indeed, civilian casualties would be a tremendous boost for the Serbian government’s propaganda war against the rest of the world.”[5] This is a sentiment that could be read in an analysis published on the Internet in October 1998, half a year before NATO bombing began. The government’s position was possible in part because it has not expressed any ambition to create its own architectural rhetoric. Fully appropriating the previous communist buildings and infrastructure, in its ten-year rule the government has neither built nor commissioned a single piece of architecture, except for a recent Neo-classicist monument which celebrates the one-year anniversary of the end of NATO bombing. Therefore the current regime had no difficulties sacrificing these buildings to NATO.

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