LEST WE FORGET VUKOVAR AND SKABRNJA – CROATIA

Photo: Croatian Club “Braća Radić” in Sydney Australia members, children and teachers during 2018 commemoration of Vukovar and Skabrnja

On 18th November commemoration to honour the victims of brutal, genocidal, Serb and Yugoslav Army aggression will be held across Croatia and particular focus will be on Vukovar and Skabrnja who on that day in 1991 and days that followed suffered horrific destinies at the hand of the aggressor while the “world” via the UN pressed on with arms embargo against Croatia! I was particularly touched recently of the announcement from the Sydney, Australia, based Croatian Club “Braća Radić” (Radic Brothers) that they will hold a special commemoration on Friday 18th November in the evening for Vukovar and Skabrnja massacres victims, focusing on including school-age children to participate in this event – so that future Australian-Croatian generations know about these tragedies and never forget the victims. The children, parents and friends will confirm their knowledge and remembrance of significant milestones of these tragedies and places in Croatia. It will include the following lines of truths that will be useful for your children and grandchildren to know:

1.The town of Vukovar is situated in the north-east part of continental or mainland Croatia and sits on at the confluence of the Vuka River and the Danube. Its history begins in the 6th century AD when Slavic people settled in the area. Vukovar as a town was first mentioned in history books as Vukovo in the early 13th century AD and in 14th century it acquires the name of Vukovar. Vukovar occupies parts of historical provinces of Croatia. What are those provinces called?

Reply: Eastern Slavonia and Western Syrmia.

Map of Croatia and position of Vukovar

Map of Croatia with position of Vukovar

2. What is the name of the historical symbol of the city of Vukovar?

Reply: Vucedol dove.

Vukovar Vucedol Dove

Vukovar’s Vucedol Dove

3. What is the name of the modern symbol of Vukovar’s  suffering that was restored, with the help of Croatians living in the diaspora including Sydney, to its former glory of pre-Homeland War of the early 1990’s after it was significantly destroyed by the former Yugoslavia and Serbian aggressor armies’ bombing and shelling?

Reply: Vukovar Water Tower

Vukovar Water Tower

Vukovar Water Tower

4. Most Croatian people wanted independence from communist Yugoslavia so in May 1990 they held the first democratic elections and on 30 May 1990 Croatian Parliament was inaugurated. This was the beginning of the end the 45-year rule of communist Yugoslavia over Croatia. At the instigation of the first Croatian President, dr Franjo Tuđman, who led the political movement for an independent Croatia, on 19th May 1991 Croatians held a referendum and almost 94% of Croatian voters voted for independence from the oppressive communist Yugoslavia totalitarian regime. There was a Serb minority living in Croatia who opposed Croatian independence and loyal to Serbia they wanted Croatia to remain as part of Yugoslavia. These Serb minorities became to be known as Rebel Serbs in Croatia and in August of 1990 they blocked the roads around the town of Knin with logs and with the help of Serbia they proclaimed the Serbian Autonomous Region of Krajina and commenced banishing Croats living in that area, killing many. On 25 June 1991 the Croatian Parliament proclaimed Croatia as an independent state and commenced the path to separate itself from communist Yugoslavia. As a result, the Yugoslav Army opposed Croatian independence and sided with the Croatian Serb rebels and together from August 1991 they staged a cruel and brutal attack upon Vukovar and Borovo Selo at its outskirts. Then Began the heroic Battle for Vukovar on Croatian side amidst the siege of the town by the Yugoslav army and rebel Serbs in Croatia who lived there. On 18 November 1991, the battle of Vukovar ended after the city ran out of ammunition but the Serb rebels living in the area nevertheless committed more mass killings and genocide in the days that followed. The massacre of Vukovar Hospital medical staff and civilian patients and war prisoners at the nearby Ovčara farm occurred on 20 November. During the siege of Vukovar from 25 August to 18 November 1991 by Serbs and Yugoslav Army 1800 of civilians and Croatian soldiers were killed, thousands wounded, and over 2,000 missing, presumed killed by Serbs, thousands of Croatians held captive and tortured in Serbian concentration camps and others that made up all Croatians living in the area were banished and became refugees, Vukovar suffered catastrophic damage in the battle with 90 percent of houses either destroyed or damaged. It is worth noting that while majority were rebels and aggressors there were some Serbs in Croatia who joined the Croatian fighters to free Vukovar. In 1998, the largest mass grave in Europe since World War II was discovered at the New Cemetery in Vukovar, from which the remains of 938 victims were exhumed. Croatian soldiers and civilians were buried there by the Yugoslav Army after the occupation of the town. Vukovar remained occupied by Serbian forces until late 1998 when it was returned to Croatia during the so-called peaceful reintegration of occupied Croatian Danube area. In Croatia, after the heavy suffering in the Homeland War that included the Battle for Vukovar, what is Vukovar called?

Reply: Hero City.

Devastated Vukovar from Serb and Yugoslav Army aggression - November 1991

Devastated Vukovar November 1991

5. There was a woman from Vukovar who is known as a Croatian hero and nicknamed “The Vukovar Mother of Courage”. She lost four sons and a son-in-law in the Battle for Vukovar. She searched for her sons’ remains for 12 years. The last body, the oldest Niko, was found in 2003 in an unmarked grave at the cemetery in Srijemska Mitrovica in Serbia. Niko was her eldest son and was 49 years old when he was captured in the fighting before the fall of Vukovar. He was taken to the Srijemska Mitrovica concentration camp in Serbia. There he was brutally tortured and killed by a blow to the head in December 1991. He is survived by three sons. The second son Mijo, three years younger than Niko, managed to hide his family in Zadar, and he returned to Srijemski Čakovci, Croatia, to see what happened to his house. His Serb neighbours captured him and then killed him in a cornfield on the day of the fall of Vukovar on November 18, 1991. Kata’s third son Ivan, the commander at Mitnica near Vukovar for defence of Vukovar, better known as “Big Joe”, was 43 years old when he died. He started to break through from Vukovar, was ambushed by the Chetniks and tried to get out of the ambush. He jumped into the Danube and drowned in the cold and swollen river. He left behind three minor children. The fourth son Mato was killed at the beginning of the war during the attempt to seize the Yugoslav Army barracks in Vukovar on September 19, 1991.  She died in July 2008 at the age of 85. A Park in Zagreb was named after her to honour her courage in the Capital city. What is her name?

Reply: Kata Soljic.

Kata Soljic

Kata Soljic

6. There were many men and women who lived in other countries outside Croatia, some were of Croatian origins some were foreigners, who came to Croatia and volunteered as fighters to help Croatia defend itself against the aggressors in the Homeland War. There was a French man who fought across the Vukovar fields as member of Croatian military forces. He was wounded in battle in early November 1991 and was treated for his injuries in the Vukovar Hospital. On 20 November 1991 he was forcefully taken from the hospital and placed in a Serb a “Hangar” at Ovcara farm by members of the Yugoslav Army and Serb paramilitary after he gave an interview to a French TV journalist in which he stated that “Vukovar was a slaughterhouse”. He was dragged from the hangar by Serbs, viciously beaten and murdered. His remains have not been found and he was still in late 2021 among hundreds of Croatian men and women listed as missing although there are more recent claims that he was buried in a mass grave behind the hangars on Ovcara farm and these claims need verification. His mother and brother have moved to Croatia where they and continue searching for justice for him and his burial place. In 2015 Croatians in Vukovar build a statue of him, which now forms one of the important landmarks of Vukovar’s suffering during Croatia’s Homeland War. What was the name of this French volunteer, hero, who bravely fought to save Vukovar and was brutally tortured and murdered?   

Reply: Jean-Michel Nicolier

Jean-Michel Nicolier

Jean-Michel Nicolier

7. During the negotiations with the Serbs for the peaceful reintegration into Croatia of the area in which Vukovar is located, which was successfully concluded for the Republic of Croatia in January 1998, a special train of 21 wagons left Zagreb on June 8, 1997 for Vukovar. In that train were President Dr. Franjo Tuđman and top officials in the Republic of Croatia and church dignitaries. That train symbolically marked the return of the occupied city of Vukovar to the territorial integrity of Croatia. “The arrival in Vukovar, a symbol of Croatian suffering, resistance, aspiration for freedom and a return to the eastern borders, to the Croatian Danube, is a sign of our determination to want peace, reconciliation, to create a truce and to never let what happened to us happen again. happened to us in Vukovar. This panorama of Hiroshima in the middle of Europe, the city of Vukovar, will be easier to rebuild in a material sense, but difficult in our memory. This train to Vukovar is truly a symbol of peace, the return of exiles, victims of this war who spent more than six years outside of their hearths, but who are ready to return and to also lend a hand to those who did not bleed their hands like war criminals,” said Dr. Franjo Tuđman at the time. What was the name of that train?

Reply: Peace Train.

President of Croatia Dr. Franjo Tudjman at arrival in Vukovar of 1997 Peace Train

President of Croatia Dr Franjo Tudjman arrives in Vukovar on Peace Train 1997

8. On the same day as the fall of Vukovar, Škabrnja massacre was perpetrated as the most brutal massacre killing of 63 Croats, 15 defenders and 48 civilians by the self-proclaimed Serbian Autonomous Region Krajina (SAO Krajina) Territorial Defence troops and the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) in the villages of Škabrnja and Nadin (near the Dalmatian city of Zadar) on 18–19 November 1991. Every family in Škabrnja was “wrapped up in black” after that attack. By the end of the Homeland War, the number of people killed in Škabrnja had grown to 80; another 6 died after the war from land mines placed around the village by Serbs This terrible crime was planned and timed, at the same time when the Serb Chetnik hordes were rampaging in occupied Vukovar, as well as in other areas of Croatia where the Chetniks were killing all Croats (Kostrići, Saborsko, Slunj, Nadin, Vrhovine and elsewhere). After the massacre of Croatian civilians, the Serbian aggressor wrote on a wall of a large building in Škabrnja in large black letters “Welcome to the dead village”, which, in itself, says how very brutal and savage the Serbs who fought against Croatia were against the Croats. What is the name of the province in Croatia where the villages of Škabrnja o Nadin are located?

      Reply: Ravni Kotari.

Map of Croatia and position of Skarnja and Nadin

Map of Croatia with position of Skabrnja and Nadin

9. Even before the 18 November 1991 massacre, Serbs from neighbouring villages and the Yugoslav Army attacked Škabrnja, wanting to kill and expel all the inhabitants of that Croatian village. The attacks were fierce on September 17, 1991 and October 5, 1991. In September, the residents were evacuated to Island of Ugljan, but they returned after a signed armistice. In the period from October 4 to 10, more than 2,000 grenade bombs fell on Škabrnje. Škabrnja was rocketed from an airplane; large bombs were thrown on the village, the so-called “Sow” bomb. The massacres in Vukovar and Škabrnja and throughout Croatia were part of Serbia’s plan and strategy for the destruction of Croats and the final breakdown of the defenders in order to create the genocidal creation of Greater Serbia, to which Serb s wanted to join Croatian lands and populate them with Serbs. Who was President of Serbia at that time who headed the terrible aggression against Croatia and Croats?

      Reply: Slobodan Milosevic.

10. The United Nations Security Council, based in New York, United States of America, formed in 1993 the United Nations court of law base in The Hague, Netherlands, that dealt with war crimes that took place during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia including Croatia in the 1990s. During its mandate, which lasted from 1993 – 2017 after that the role of war crimes justice was passed onto a new body called the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals [IRMCT]), it irreversibly changed the landscape of international humanitarian law, provided victims an opportunity to voice the horrors they witnessed and experienced, and proved that those suspected of bearing the greatest responsibility for atrocities committed during armed conflicts can be called to account. While many war criminals who perpetrated crimes against Croatians in Vukovar and Skabrnja have still not faced court judgment and their victims have still not received justice it is noteworthy to know that Serb leaders of the time Vojislav Šešelja, Jovica Stanišić i Frank Simatović, Slobodana Milosevic, Goran Hadzic, Slavka Dokmanovic, Mile Mrksic, Veselin Sljivancanin i Miroslav Radic were indicted, and most were convicted. The notorious Goran Hadzic and Slobodan Milosevic both died in the Hague prison while the criminal court proceedings were continuing. What is the name of the International Criminal Court in the Hague that prosecuted war criminals in relation to war crimes perpetrated in Vukovar, Skabrnja and the entire Croatia during Croatia’s Homeland War or War of Independence during 1990’s? 

     Reply: International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

Prepared by Ina Vukic

CROATIAN LANGUAGE VERSION: DA SE NE ZABORAVE VUKOVAR I ŠKABRNJA (PDF):

Comments

  1. Dear friend Inavukic ! Story of Kata Soljic is quite painful . The Great Mother had lost all of her four sons one by one and at last she anyhow managed to find out remains of one of her sons only in 1983 . The pathetic history of Croatian onslaught of 1991 you have depicted shows that Vukovar had become Slaughter House Of The Then Europe . Thanks for sharing !

    • It was a slaughterhouse Arbind, so much torture, rape, killing, maiming, ethnic cleansing, destruction and to think that UN had imposed arms embargo as a way of trying to protect communist Yugoslavia from crumbling was a horrible fate. But thanks be to God Croatia had a very strong diaspora who helped with aid, some even sold their homes in the West to donate the funds to alleviate the suffering. At least Ukraine has all the help it may need and it is going through exactly what Croatia went through when Serbs wanted to take 25% of Croatian territory from Croatia like Russia is doing now to Ukraine. Simply unthinkable suffering.

  2. We will never forget Vukovar!

  3. I appreciate and thank you writing this post. I knew about the devastation of Vukovar but not Skabrnja.

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