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Saturday, 28 February 2009

War-torn Vulkovar, Croatia - Page 3

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.



I wanted to speak to someone, but how could I ask questions about the war and still remain sensitive? I sat alone at a table on a covered patio, the heat trapped inside by thick plastic walls. I was ready to go when a stranger came up to me with a question of his own..

“Excuse me, are you a foreigner?”

I’d noticed him when I first arrived. He’d been sitting with friends, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. There was a motorbike helmet on the chair across from him.

“Yes, how can you tell?” I asked.

“I can just tell,” he said. “What are you doing in Vukovar?”

“I’m traveling around Croatia and Vukovar is an important city, so I came to see it.”

“Why is Vukovar important?” he asked.

“Well, because of what happened here during the war.”

He lit a cigarette.

 

“Well, I was here during the war and I can tell you about it. I want the truth about     Vukovar to be heard.”

I’d been so afraid to bring up the past and here this man was, offering me it to me with a fresh beer.

I shouldn’t have been so surprised. I learned that you don’t need to be in a conversation for very long before a Croatian will almost always bring up the war. It’s still very much a part of their lives.

As I gathered my things and moved to his table, he continued, “I should also mention that I’m Serbian.”

His name was Nenad, which translated meant “to become suddenly.” His father was from Serbia. His mother, now widowed, was Croatian. He had lived in Vukovar all his life, except for five years when he had moved to Britain. That was in 1999, two years after Vukovar was returned to Croatia. Upon his return he no longer felt welcome.

As I spoke with Nedad,I was haunted by his eyes. When he told me about the war he spoke with his entire being. His body swayed and his hands moved with his descriptions of the fear of death. Everything about him was animated – all but his eyes which remained fixed on me. He told me about living for a year in his basement in Vukovar and about having to see a post-traumatic stress counselor in London. When he smiled with his tightly drawn lips his eyes never changed.  

Nedad described the dead bodies lying in the streets, the decapitations of both soldiers and citizens alike and about seeing people everyday who did these things during the war.

“So they killed a few people, who am I to judge?” he said, his eyes still staring.        
Needless to say, there wasn’t much laughter in our conversation -- even when he talked about the house he lived in just outside town. He described his mother and eleven stray cats and dogs, the hens that pecked their fill in the yard and the plum and apple trees that grew in the back. He also spoke of going for a swim in the Danube when he felt stressed. All were happy memories, but nothing could change the somber effect of his war stories.

 

(Page 3 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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