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Serbia's last stand

NATO aircraft leave jet trails in the sky (top left) as they bombed a thermal energy plant in the suburbs of Belgrade on 27 May 1999
NATO aircraft leave jet trails in the sky (top left) as
they bombed a thermal energy plant in the suburbs of
Belgrade on 27 May 1999. Photo: Reuters

The longer the air campaign lasted, the more precarious the position of Germany's red-green government became. Initially, military strategists expected Milosevic to capitulate after a few days of bombing, at most a couple of weeks. But a solid month into air strikes the Serbian leader stood fast and thousands of ethnic Albanians were killed, hundreds of thousands expelled. They fled to overflowing refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania.

Running out of targets, NATO was increasingly hitting Serbian infrastructure and industry. What was the point, critics asked, of bombing Serbia into the Stone Age? What would be left for a democratic post-Milosevic era? And the war seemed only to bolster Milosevic's popularity in Serbia while creating a living hell for ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. For no other state leader in the NATO alliance was the situation as high risk as it was for Fischer. His party would take only so much before it abandoned him. Without Greens support, the coalition would crumble - and turn the red-green administration into a quirky historical footnote.

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