When I was 15, back in 1999, the United States led NATO into bombing Serbia (Yugoslavia) for 78 days. This was the first time bombs fell on this country since Nazis occupied it in 1941. To us, regular folks, it was a surreal experience mainly because Serbia was always an ally, both in WWI and II, and later on was among the founding members of the UN. Located in Eastern Europe, during the Cold War it successfully kept a fragile balance and was neither member of the Western nor Eastern block.
Being a military aviation fan since childhood, this air campaign called “Allied Force” (whose real goal, to be honest, was a secession of Kosovo Province from Serbia) was very interesting to me. During the 78-day war, regime propaganda fed us with daily reports of our brave troops taking down NATO aircraft (they did shoot down a F-117 stealth jet which was pretty cool, though) and afterwards even declared a “victory over NATO”. But in reality, facts on air combat were very vague. It was only in the years following the downfall of Milošević’s rule in 2000 that the public started learning the truth! Yugoslav Air Force met its NATO adversary (1030+ planes) with only 14 modern fighter aircraft – the Soviet-built MiG-29 purchased in 1987. But the years of embargo imposed upon Yugoslavia in the 90's, lack of fuel, flight hours and spare parts combined with general ignorance of military officials left those sophisticated machines in a poor state. Yet, each of those MiG pilots (some of them not being ethnic Serbs, even) loyal not to the regime that considered them expendable, but to its people - climbed into the cockpits of those half-operational jets with nothing but their pure hearts, knowing very well they are about to embark on a mission from which they may never come back. Some of them did not, indeed.
After the democracy broke out in 2000, the new set of Serbian politicians made peace with NATO, so many of those honorable men were discharged - for they were an unpleasant remainder of an era better forgotten. Retired and with Serbian economy in ruins, many of them turned to odd-jobs as security/night guards, bakers, working at car washes, etc. I though it was an outright shame and those stories were so inspirational to me, I started gathering info on those MiG-29 combat sorties having an idea for a comic book or a series of illustrations. I watched a couple of documentaries, TV appearances, went through books and magazine articles, visited aviation forum threads… Started taking notes, I put most of the pieces together. Now, I’m bringing these stories to you. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I have creating them!
The 2009 interview with colonel Perić broadcast on Serbian National TV (no subtitles or dubs, so it's of interest to Serbian/Croatian speaking folks only):
He seemed like a really nice and down-to-earth guy.