Dubrovnik survives siege but tourism falls as casualty of war

Tony Barber
Wednesday 05 August 1992 23:02 BST
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Ten months after Serbian forces began their siege, Dubrovnik is a silent city where bullet-riddled cars litter the streets and boats lie moored under tarpaulin in the harbour. Heaps of rubble, glass and planks of wood are piled against the stone walls of the historic Old Town, and newspaper kiosks and ice-cream stalls are gutted shells.

Dubrovnik has survived the siege, and its priceless architectural monuments are, for the most part, intact. But this is high summer, a time when tens of thousands of tourists should be filling the hotels, shops and restaurants. Instead it is a virtual ghost town, nothing like the bustling, sophisticated Adriatic resort that it was only 12 months ago. 'I thought it would be bad, but not this bad,' said one cafe owner.

The glass doors and windows of souvenir shops, clothes stores, video salons and hairdressers' have been blown to pieces. Almost all banks, car-hire outlets and tourist agencies are closed or doing no business. Along the Praca, the pedestrian street that forms the heart of the Old Town, shop after shop is boarded up. Some owners have plastered their windows with tape and padlocked their doors, hoping to return when Dubrovnik is back to normal. Their premises are covered with graffiti. One scrawled message says: 'Goodnight, people of Dubrovnik.'

Some big hotels have guests - not tourists, but hundreds of refugees from other parts of Croatia and from the latest fighting in Bosnia. The losses of the tourist industry run into tens of millions of dollars. Scores of small guest houses have closed.

Construction workers are busy repairing the roofs and walls of damaged buildings in the Old Town. Important sites like the three main fortresses - Minceta, Revelin and St John's - as well as the Rector's Palace have survived the siege intact. So have the museums, galleries, courtyards and steep stone streets. But some private houses with distinctive orange-tiled roofs suffered damage, as did the Orthodox Church of the Holy Annunciation, built in 1877. There, an employee named Jovo, who declined to give his surname, said: 'The church was hit by three shells from the Yugoslav army. Later it was hit by a Croatian shell.'

He pointed to a colourful iconostasis depicting St Nicholas that was torn in the middle. 'We haven't received any money to begin repairing the damage. This was a black tragedy, one that no one needed, least of all in Dubrovnik.'

Damage was also inflicted on a Catholic church at one end of the Praca where a giant Red Cross flag now hangs down the side next to a Unicef slogan saying in English: 'No war any more please.'

The UN considers Dubrovnik to be one of the world's cultural treasures, and the UN flag flies from the Old Town's fortresses.

Certainly, the scale of the damage is nothing like that which Dubrovnik suffered in an earthquake in 1667, and nothing like the whirlwind of destruction that the Serbs inflicted on the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar last year. The worst hit areas are residential districts outside the centre.

Serbian forces are still camped above the city, near the hills that overlook the coast. They have kept the airport closed. But the Croats control the road leading south to Dubrovnik down the coast, and the Croatian flag is prominently displayed around the town. For all practical purposes the siege has been broken.

Still, shells continue to fall on the city from time to time. There was one sudden explosion yesterday, just before noon. But everyone tries to get on with their business as usual. Fishermen sell their catches fresh on their boats, and the Croatian soldiers in camouflage gear drink in cafes under the shade of palm trees.

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