Two tin cups cling in the soldier’s hand before he places them on the weathered wooden table. First he fills Nenads cup, then mine, with the steaming black liquid.
“Zuger” he asks me with his thick Serbian accent. I respectfully decline. “This is Turkish-style, but we drink like this for centuries too, it's meant to be served strong,'' he informs me before taking a sip.
The olive green tarps that make up the walls of the tent flutter violently as the wind passes through the camp. Flags hang all along the walls of the tent, some from Serbia's monarchist days, others like the Greek and Russian flag due to a historic brotherhood partially brought together by the Orthodox faith.
The barrack sized tent is filled with a few more tables, a field style kitchen, a large patterned rug covers the earth floor and of course two icons hang prominently in the center: Mother Mary and Miloš Obilić, a Serbian soldier who killed an Ottoman Sultan in battle. If one didn't know any better he might think he was in a field tent during the 1990s Yugoslavian war.
Instead, this encampment is sitting in Belgrade's Pionirski park, across the street from Serbia's parliament building.
This is part of an ongoing demonstration against the government and its campaign to cut the pensions of veterans like Nenad Stanic. As we make small talk, a well rounded soldier with a cold reddened face passes through the tent flap to enter. He wipes his boots and looks up almost when he sees the small crew of young guys sitting at the table with Nenad.
He asks something in Serbian as they exchange a quick few words. I'm only able to understand two of them, “American journalists,” which naturally provokes visceral distrust and a bitter taste in the mouth. It looks to have the same effect on the big guy, his black eyes narrow down onto me but quickly he moves on with the puff of a cigarette. “Not used to getting many American visitors through here huh?” I said with a bit of a smile, “none” he responded sharply.
His intense blue eyes assess me over, This look is familiar. It reads what kind of man are you? Honest or deceitful, brave or cowardly. This all takes place in seconds. He smiles for the first time. “Where did you get those scars like the one in your eye?” he points to himself where mine is “ boxing that one, the others I forget” I say a bit embarrassed speaking to a man that has seen real fighting. “I have some scars.. But some not so nice… their from bullets”
Nenad left his small mountain town in Cevak to volunteer as an army soldier in Bosnia, at the young age of 18. He served for a a year. He saw battle in 1999, when NATO and the United States acted against UN authority and began a bombing campaign that resulted in the deaths of over 3000 civilians, the youngest being a 2 year old girl.
Nenad volunteered in the name of his country and faith. This time he was sent to Prokletija mountain region where the fiercest fighting was going on against an overwhelming confederation of enemies. From American special forces, NATO, the state of Albania, the Islamist terrorist group KLA, forgeign jihadists and a hodge podge of organized crime synidcates.
“It was us against the world...they could get away with burning churches and killing Serbian civilians throughout Kosovo but when we fought back we were met with the hammer of NATO and United States." Sharp wrinkles cut into the features of his face as he grimaced at memories of his dead comrades. I asked him what his mother thought when he volunteered to serve at the front, he responded calmly “she gave me a heart , a brain and the blood of my ancestors, what could she say?”
He's eager to move on past the war stories and wants to hear about what Americans back home think of the war. Sadly it was just another bombing campaign to add to our long list, just some more wasted tax dollars going to arming and training terrorists. Just some more "democracy" being spread at the tip of a bayonet. Shamefully, but we think nothing of a war that caused so much pain and misery to an entire nation in Europe. .
Today, the injustices in Serbia are now coming from its own government, which is eager to win the favor of the Europoean Union (even though not a member) and is willing to betray its veterans to do it. “There is no respect for the sacrifices we made. Instead we are slandered as monsters and criminals on tv, when all we did was defend our people and our faith… now we have been abandoned by those we fought for.'
He goes into problems of the veteran community “dealing with the horrors of war already takes a toll on the mind, coming back to be portrayed as criminals and accused of the actions our enemies did, all this talk of ethnic cleansing, yet look at what has happened to the native of Serbs in Kosovo and tell me who was really wiped out?” He takes a second sip of his coffee thinking over his thoughts. “This is a different type of stress on the mind... fighting the lies has been the toughest war of all.”
While Nenad and his comrades camp through the winter waiting for for the Serbian government’s response to the demand of saving their pensions, inside of parliament the traitors greedily accept grants from the EU and NGOs to build housing for immigrants to keep them permanently in Serbia.
This is the harsh reality of the new Europe -- those that bled for her so quickly are totally abandoned to please those that tread on her.