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Saturday, 28 February 2009

War-torn Vulkovar, Croatia - Page 2

Written by Andrea MacDonald
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As the bus neared Vukovar, a city known as the biggest river port in eastern Croatia, there was no getting around the fact that something bad had happened there. The giant tank parked on a nearby field leading the way into town was my first clue.


Vukovar was heavily populated by Serbs at the beginning of the breakup of Yugoslavia. This small city in easternmost Slavonia, an hour away from Serbia, became a target in 1991 as Serbia tried to claim as much territory as it could before Croatia declared independence. Since Croatia had no substantial army at the time, some two thousand Croatian residents defended their city, and Croatians around the country were glued to their televisions -- if Vukovar could hold back the Serbian invasion, there was hope for the rest of Croatia as well.

War-torn Vulkovar, Croatia, travel eastern Croatia, hospital museum, Slavonia, Serbia, breakup of Yugoslavia, Serbo-Croatian war, Hotel Dunav, Andrea MacDonaldThe Croatian citizens were able to defend Vukovar for eighty-seven days through a siege which caused destruction on a level that is often compared to Stalingrad. One thousand people were killed during the fighting; five thousand were taken prisoner.

Vukovar remained under Serbian rule until the war ended when eastern Slavonia was placed under United Nation control for two years. Vukovar was re-integrated into Croatia in 1998.

I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between Vukovar and Sarajevo. I knew very little about Sarajevo’s history when I arrived there, but within a couple of days I’d learned a good deal of its history. Sarajevo had a museum with photos, newspaper articles and artifacts that detailed, sometimes excruciatingly, what had happened there. ‘Sarajevo Roses’ were strewn along the ground: mortar holes filled in with red paint – and were impossible to miss.

In the city, a guided tour was offered to the tunnel that lead Sarajevans to safety when they were under siege. The tour guide, Mustafa, showed my group the spot in the mountains where part of the Olympic Luge swept down through the trees -- during the war this was the point from which soldiers fired down into the city. There were commemorative plaques everywhere, like the one on the former National Library that said: ‘On this place Serbian criminals in the night of 25th, 26th August 1992 set on fire National and University’s Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Over two millions of books, periodicals and documents vanished in the flame. Do not forget, remember and warn.’

Unlike Sarajevo, there were no signs on Vukovar’s buildings. No red markers calling attention to its wounds. The city remains divided. The ethnic communities split evenly into separate churches, schools and coffee shops. The justice process has been long and drawn-out, with new charges still being filed, almost two decades after the initial siege. The infrastructure has not been restored and unemployment is estimated at forty percent.     

After walking around for two hours amongst the shadows of death and rubble, I was more than ready for a drink. The last thing I wanted was to offend anyone by going into the wrong bar but I couldn’t tell which was Croat and which was Serb. In the end, I decided upon the bar nearest to my hotel.


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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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