Every November 17th, Croats remember one of the most tragic days in their history. It is the date that marks the fall of Vukovar, a beautiful and influential city in the country’s eastern regions that was occupied by Serbian forces in early nineties of former century. The conflict between two nations has emerged following the dissolution of Yugoslavia, leading to open warfare and many atrocities against civilian targets.
The siege of Vukovar lasted almost three months. During this time, Croatian defenders had to counter major military offenses of mechanized Yugoslav army and supporting reservist units. Several thousand people lost their lives on both sides, but fundamentally Serbs managed to enter the settlement. What followed were gruesome murders of local residents, especially those that were combat-capable. It was one of the largest systematic exterminations on European Continent after the bloodsheds of World War II.
Although achieving victory, the Serbian armies paid a large price in Vukovar. Croats have fought with such determination that invaders suffered immense casualties. The Serbian push on Croatian territory was halted and defenders had time to prepare their next move. In addition, the international community was shocked by images of destruction and put strong diplomatic pressure on aggressors.
The effects of Pyrrhic victory have fundamentally concluded seven years later. Croatian armies have achieved several grandiose goals and returned much of the conquered territory to their control. In order to assure cease fire, peace treaty was signed, one of the terms being return of Vukovar to Croatian side. Ever since, the city is recovering from its dire past and aims to have a much brighter future. It is even developing a blooming tourist offer since it is a river port with lovely landscapes and interesting cultural events. Long story short: despite its past, Vukovar has already become a symbol of peace and a city with hopes of better future.
However, every November 17th Croats across the world remember the sacrifices made to defend Vukovar. A City of Heroes that won’t be forgotten, it is a symbol of Croatian patriotism and passion to preserve one’s home. The common way of expressing remembrance is lighting up candles and putting them in windows or predetermined public spaces.
The photographs in this article show how residents of Zagreb, Metkovic, Dubrovnik and Vukovar itself showed their respects. The film covering the topic and featuring talent of Eric Bana is expected in the near future.
Hopefully, we’ll write only good things about Vukovar in upcoming decades. With so much effort given to protect it, it is the only suitable way.
Feature Photo: Denis Jerkovic / CROPIX