Over 22,000 Serbs sign petition to save bombed Belgrade landmark from Kushner development plans

Over 22,000 Serbs sign petition to save bombed Belgrade landmark from Kushner development plans
The General Staff building in Belgrade was bombed by Nato in 1999, and is now derelict. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews March 26, 2024

Over 22,000 people have signed a petition calling for the bombed General Staff building in central Belgrade to be preserved. 

Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of former US president Donald Trump, is understood to be planning to develop the site of the General Staff building, bombed during the Nato bombardment of Serbia and Montenegro 25 years ago, as a hotel. 

The General Staff building is still partly standing, but derelict. The building that once housed the Ministry of Defence of Yugoslavia is situated a busy intersection in central Belgrade. In its heyday it was seen as a prime example of Yugoslav post-war modernist architecture. 

News of Kushner’s plans to develop the site have sparked a backlash in Serbia. 

The petition’s organiser, the Kreni-Promeni (Go-Change) movement, announced on March 25 that over 10,000 signatures had flooded in within a mere 24 hours. 

“In less than 24 hours, 10,000 of you signed a petition demanding that the law be respected, which mandates that the building of the General Staff can only be returned to its original function, in which the Museum of Serbian History can be stored, which to this day does not have adequate space for a permanent exhibition,” the movement said in a Facebook post. 

“The construction of a hotel on the site of this building is illegal and represents the destruction of dignity.” 

A day later, the number of signatures stood at 22,677.

Kushner’s interest in the Serbian capital was initially revealed when opposition politician Aleksandar Jovanovic, of the Ecological Uprising movement, told a press conference on March 13 that Minister of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure Goran Vedic had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on behalf of the government gifting a building in Belgrade that was bombed in 1999 to two offshore companies, Kushner Realty and Atlantic incubation Partners LLC.

“The cultural and historical complex of the bombed General Staff of the Army in the municipality of Savski venac must not be given away or substantially altered,” Ecological Uprising said in a Facebook post.

Kushner, through his firm Affinity Partners, later unveiled initial design concepts for the project in downtown Belgrade. Affinity Partners also confirmed plans to integrate a museum and memorial into the development, designed by Serbian architects, to commemorate the site's significance in Serbian history.

As well as the project in Serbia, Affinity Partners is in discussions on property investments in Albania, the combined value potentially surpassing $1bn, the former White House senior advisor confirmed earlier in March. 

In Albania, Kushner aims to convert Sazan Island, previously a military base, into a luxury Aman branded eco-resort, he told Bloomberg.

There is a history in Belgrade of protests against the demolition of significant buildings to make way for new developments. Back in 2016, there was a wave of protests in the Serbian capital against the Belgrade Waterfront development after parts of the historic Savamala district were demolished. Thousands of people joined the protests organised by the Don't Drown Belgrade initiative, set up in response to the demolition. The symbol of the protests was a yellow duck.