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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Mock the tweet: Ukip leader Nigel Farage and comedian Frankie Boyle
peopleIt was a polite exchange of words, as you can imagine
Life and Style
fashion
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
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

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Glou...

Humanities and Economics Teacher - January 2015 - Malaysia

£18000 - £20400 per annum + Accommodation, Flights, Medical Cover: Randstad Ed...

SEN Teaching Assistant needed for long term assignment

£45 - £55 per day: Randstad Education Preston: We are looking for an experienc...

Primary Teachers Required in King's Lynn

Negotiable: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary Teachers needed in King's Ly...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain