The day of remembrance on Vukovar as victim – 18 November – yesterday – saw an amazing display of determination to pursue with protecting the rights of victims of war crimes (the murdered and killed, the raped, the wounded, the disabled, the distraught, the still suffering masses from the horrors of Serb aggression in 1991) and their deserved memory. It also saw a shameful display of cowardice and hypocrisy by the Zoran Milanovic led Government and the President, Ivo Josipovic.
Yesterday, almost 100,000 people marched through the streets of Vukovar towards the Memorial Cemetery – led by multitudes of war veterans from all over Croatia, the members and activists for Vukovar as special place of piety (Committee for the defense of Croatian Vukovar), those who have been protesting against Serbian Cyrillic script of public signs for months, those who have been protesting against the lack of prosecutions for war crime of rape and murder, those who still after 22 years do not know where the Serb aggressor had murdered and buried their son, father, grandfather, daughter, daughter, mother, grandmother, sister, brother…friend, and those who still suffer the horrors and nightmares that come with profound mental health scars that are the consequence of having seen and lived Hell on Earth.
There is absolutely no doubt that Vukovar is still very much a traumatised city; the trauma of 1991 lingers on through government inaction and evident lack of sensitivity towards suffering of human beings (victims), through political twists that attempt equating the victim with the aggressor…
The majority of the 100,000 people marched in procession of remembrance towards Vukovar’s Memorial Cemetery where thousands of white crosses raised above the ground mark Croat life lost in the war of independence from communist Yugoslavia. The well known war heroes, Generals Ante Gotovina, Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak found marched with this “Croatian Vukovar” procession.
A smaller procession, led by Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and President Ivo Josipovic walked behind this so-called “Croatian Vukovar” procession until several of them lined up across the road red cemetery lamps, thus forming a boundary beyond which the government delegation was not welcome!
And, wouldn’t you know it!
The government delegation and the president decided swiftly to change their plans and go to nearby Ovcara monument instead of the Memorial Cemetery!
A visibly frustrated Milanovic said he had come to pay respects to the Vukovar victims and would not be drawn into politicking. He said that this was a game in which he does not intend to participate.
However, many who turned out on Monday appeared more sympathetic to the veterans.
President Josipovic said in interview for Croatian TV HRT that “remembrance for the killed veterans had been wounded in Vukovar, because we had witnessed today how a group of people abuses commemoration for daily politics and for that which they cannot achieve at elections. I was sad today and I think the whole of Croatia was sad today … we could have perhaps passed through with the help of police but that wasn’t the place nor the time nor should Vukovar be used for such things. We all came in good faith, we wanted the best, we wanted to bow to remembrance to those who had given the most, their lives for our freedom but they did not let us … yes the lamps on the road were a sort of a decoration but really many stood nearby and could only be removed by force and we did not want that because Vukovar does not deserve that … we knew something like this could happen but we came anyway because we wanted to show the citizens of Croatia that we are there, that we are with Vukovar … this what had happened today is against Vukovar, against piety…”
It’s eerie, the sense one gets from both Milanovic and Josipovic: it’s as though they talk of Croatian people in Vukovar as “them” not “us”; it’s as though they believe that piety and compassion with victims of horrid war crimes starts and stops on Remembrance Day – on 18 November.
Well, it does not!
One needs to live and breathe piety, one needs to fight daily for the rights of victims and not just arrive at a memorial service and think the “job is done”.
As far as I can see the people leading and supporting the Committee for the defense of Croatian Vukovar have been doing a great deal to fighting for victims’ rights and for the pursuit of justice against war criminals – they are the ones who keep piety alive and not the government nor the president. The government and the president have indeed done very little, if anything for this cause of Vukovar as a special place of piety and it seems they had the hide to expect a standing ovation in Vukovar on 18 November for doing very little, if anything, to further the cause of piety for Vukovar.
Despite the fact that many will call what happened in Vukovar yesterday a political stunt (of the conservative opposition) to my view it is nothing more and nothing less than just desserts for the government, which has had an appalling record of deed and word when it comes to understanding, acknowledging and alleviating the suffering of Vukovar as victim. The issue of Cyrillic signage is a strong example of how insensitive the government is to victims, many of which still live and live in deep pain.
The government and the president fled the scene like cowards and like those who have a guilty conscience. And are now crying: “Poor me, poor me – look what the people did to us. They did not want us there…”. How sad from a country’s leadership.
Indeed, the only hope for dignity of real remembrance for the victims is not in what this government will do but what people like those in Committee for the defense of Croatian Vukovar will continue to do. I reoterate, remembrance does not mean attending a memorial service once a year and bowing ones head for a few seconds, remembrance means living and acting for the right of victims every day. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)