China's Martyrs' Day: Chinese cultural center in Belgrade under construction
Construction of the 53 million US dollar Chinese Cultural Center in the Serbian capital Belgrade began on September 21. The new building will sit on the site of the former Chinese Embassy, destroyed in May 1999 during the NATO bombardment of what was then Yugoslavia. Three Chinese journalists in the Embassy at the time were killed. CGTN's Aljosa Milenkovic is in Belgrade and has this report.
In the heart of New Belgrade, heavy machines are preparing the ground for the foundations of the new 32-thousand square meter Chinese Cultural Center. It will be the biggest institution of its kind in the Balkans, and one of the biggest in Europe. The center will consist of classrooms, an exhibition hall, an entertainment hall and many other spaces. All of them designed to help visitors learn more about China and its thousands of years of history and culture. Both Chinese and Serbian subcontractors are jointly working on this project, seen as important for both countries.
CAI KUN, MANAGER EUROPE DIVISION, SHANDONG HI-SPEED GROUP "As you can see in front, our project already commenced. So, we plan to complete the whole project, we think in 18 months. It means that in 2019, February, beginning of February, we will be completed this project."
Just meters away from the heavy machines, a reminder of the horrifying events of May 7th, 1999. A small plaque with fresh flowers lying beneath it, and a never-ending influx of those coming to pay their respects.
ALJOSA MILENKOVIC BELGRADE "This place became a true pilgrimage site for many Chinese nationals arriving in Serbia. Every day, dozens come here to pay their respects to their fallen compatriots. In that light, it is no wonder why both China and Serbia decided to build the Chinese Cultural Center right here."
This is original footage from that night. The Chinese Embassy in flames. Fireman trying to rescue survivors. The man with the bloodied face is Serbian director Ljubisa Ristic, a frequent guest at the embassy.
LJUBISA RISTIC MOVIE DIRECTOR "It was a desperate situation. I saw the Chinese ambassador crying, I saw dead and wounded people being carried out of the embassy, and many TV crews were there. At that moment I felt anger, bitterness, and fury. "
That feeling resonates event today.
TIAN YISHU, COUNSELOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS, EMBASSY OF CHINA IN SERBIA "Our diplomatic institution is equivalent to our territory. It was brutally bombarded by a foreign country and three journalists lost their lives. Then I felt very sad, because we lost three excellent compatriots. After that I felt angry because our territory and rights had been brutally trampled and aggressed. All Chinese people were enraged by those events."
During NATO's 78 day bombing of Yugoslavia, thousands of civilians and military personnel were killed. Depleted uranium ammunition used by the US bombers still has an effect on the people here, and according to various estimates, the value of the material damage ran into the tens of billions of US dollars. Building the Chinese Cultural Center on this site will serve as a constant memorial of those dark days for both China and Serbia. Aljosa Milenkovic, CGTN, Belgrade.