Strange hold of Vukovar A town that's turned icon

BOSNIA Marcus Tanner on the town that became an icon

A RUINED city on the Danube ringed with vineyards may yet bedevil US hopes of pulling off a diplomatic breakthrough in former Yugoslavia's bloody conflict.

Almost four years after its fall, Vukovar remains to Croats a symbol of shame that cries out for revenge, while to Serbs it is a precious reminder that when it comes to a fight, Serbs can beat Croats.The fall of the Serb- held Krajina region has prompted excited speculation about trade-offs and deals between Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman of Croatia: Milosevic would let the Croats retake Knin, in return for keeping the belt of land around Vukovar, known as eastern Slavonia.

It is a neat idea, but the Balkans rarely conform to such schemes. Tudjman would face a political crisis if he surrendered the town, and to disabuse public fears on this account, he announced instead that Croatia would retake the town with force if necessary "within months".

The reason is because to Croats, Vukovar has become a myth - a terrible defeat, but also a symbol of martyrdom. The town was an unusual candidate as an icon. In Tito's era it was a rather Communist place, with a high degree of intermarriage between Serbs and Croats. Tudjmans' HDZ party failed to win it in the 1990 elections that brought him to power and the town elected a Serb Communist as mayor.

What transformed Vukovar's image was the siege by the Yugoslav army and Serb paramilitaries that began in September 1991 and ended on 17 November. While the battle raged, Zagreb radio echoed to ballads about "Croatia's Stalingrad", and posters proclaimed "Vuko-WAR" from street corners. Since it fell, Croats have not forgotten, or forgiven, the blanket shelling that reduced the town to rubble; the sight of thousands of Croats snaking out of the town to exile; nor the songs of the victorious Serbs: Slobo daj' salatu, klacemo hravati - "Slobo [Milosevic] bring the salad, we're cutting up the Croats"; nor the victors' revenge on Vukovar hospital, where all but 60 of the 420 patients were executed and hurled into a pit.

What makes the town such a hot potato is that Serbs are scarcely less hooked on Vukovar than the Croats. General Tus, the Croat chief of staff, told me the week it fell that by concentrating their forces on Vukovar, the Serbs lost the chance to overrun the rest of Croatia. "We may lose Vukovar but Vukovar has saved Croatia," he said.

The Serbs show no sign of being ready to part with their prize. The Vukovar region was the only part of the Krajina which Belgrade recolonised with Bosnian and Croatian Serbs, and while Mr Milosevic has committed Serbs to accepting the 49 per cent of Bosnia offered in the latest peace plan, he has made no hint of letting go of Vukovar. Instead, when the Croats attacked the Krajina on 4 August, the Yugoslav army rushed reinforcements to the border.

Whether it is the oil fields north of Vukovar that he cherishes, or merely a belt of territory insulating rump Yugoslavia from Bosnia and Croatia, it seems clear Vukovar will remain a thorn in the side of the peacemakers for some time to come.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football'Mr Marmite' faced the possibility of a 28-day ban
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
voices
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
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

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower