First train to Serbia keeps Balkan peace on track

The first trains in six years started rolling between Serbia and Croatia yesterday. Marcus Tanner says this marks a milestone in the slow reconciliation between the two former Yugoslav republics that went to war in 1991.

In the days of Josip Tito, Yugoslavia's Communist leader for 35 years, the Belgrade-Zagreb railway was one of the busiest lines in Europe.

Built under the Habsburg dynasty to bind their sprawling and restless Slav domains with Budapest and the great imperial metropolis of Vienna, the railway under Tito evolved into one of the great thoroughfares of the continent, ferrying travellers between the old Yugoslav (and Serbian) capital of Belgrade to the Croatian capital, Zagreb, in luxury express trains in less than four hours, as well as transporting passengers from Italy and Germany and northern Europe towards Greece, Turkey and beyond.

When the line closed in the summer of 1991 amid heavy fighting around the city of Vukovar in Croatia, it was a sure sign that the fierce quarrel between Serbia and Croatia over the direction post-Tito Yugoslavia should take was tumbling towards an all-out war.

Yesterday's reopening was a more humble affair - a mere three carriages trundled the few miles from Vinkovci in eastern Croatia to Sid, on Serbia's western border. The train was expected to make the return journey after a brief ceremony hosted by Serb, Croat and UN officials.

The event was historic, none the less. Since war broke out between the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army and the forces of the breakaway Croatian republic, Serbs and Croats have lived almost hermetically sealed off from one another.

The road border between the two states was, until recently, closed to all except UN peacekeepers patrolling the war-devastated and disputed, Serb-occupied stretch of eastern Slavonia. In Croatia, motorway signs that pointed to destinations in Serbia were taken down or painted over.

Buses and rail passengers wishing to reach one another's capital cities were forced to take vast detours through southern Hungary and even Austria. Telephone lines were similarly cut.

The slow resumption of ties and rail and land traffic, is, in a sense, an admission of defeat by the Serbs. It suggests they recognise the border between Serbia and Croatia is fixed and final and have given up any hope of annexing the Serb-populated Krajina region. After Croatia reconquered Krajina with relative ease in August 1995, those hopes were dashed, and the two eventually recognised each other in 1996.

Trains connecting Zagreb with Belgrade are expected to be restored by 1998. "Step by step, and we'll have again a four-hour journey to Belgrade," said Veljko, 33, whose private firm is working on restoring business ties with companies in Belgrade. "With passports in pockets this time," he said. "But that's life."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Robin van Persie leaves the field at the King Power Stadium last Sunday
football
News
In this photo illustration, the Twitter logo and hashtag '#Ring!' is displayed on a mobile device as the company announced its initial public offering and debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7, 2013 in London, England. Twitter went public on the NYSE opening at USD 26 per share, valuing the company's worth at an estimated USD 18 billion.
news

Arts and Entertainment
tvPresenter back after daughter's Halloween accident
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock
tv

Co-creator Mark Gatiss dropped some very intriguing hints ahead of the BBC drama's return next year

Arts and Entertainment
music Band accidentally drops four-letter description at concert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

£8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

£55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines