It has been long the 30 years, to this day, since the fall of the City of Heroes – Vukovar and the Town of Škabrnja. Every year on this day, November 18, all of Croatia remembers the heroic resistance of our people while faced with the mortal enemy they knew they couldn’t defeat. Nevertheless, the stood tall and defended their homes until they finally laid their lives at the altar of their Homeland, never doubting, never fearing. Celebrating the Remembrance Day for the victims of Vukovar and Škabrnja, as well as the Remembrance Day for the Homeland War victims, the emotions of sadness and pride unusually mix together as we remember those who lost their lives in some of the most horrific events of the modern European history.
The historic city on the Danube was under siege for 87 days, and the battle for Vukovar ended on November 18, 1991 with its heroic resistance broken and its people taken to Serbian concentration camps, suffering monstrosities that Europe hasn’t seen since the WW2. The Yugoslav army evacuated the wounded, veterans, and civilians from the Vukovar hospital, who were subsequently killed on the Ovčara farm, not far from Vukovar, with their graves unknow to this day. 2,717 Croatian veterans and civilians were killed and disappeared, about 22,000 Croats and other non-Serbs were expelled from the city, and 386 people are still being searched for, and the hope of finding their remains fading more each passing day. The occupation of the city lasted until January 15, 1998 and the peaceful reintegration of the Croatian Danube region after which Vukovar people finally returned to their homes.
Vukovar was defended by about 1,800 defenders, including many volunteers from all over Croatia. The aggressor stood 30,000 soldiers strong, aided by more than 600 tanks, the air force, hundreds of mortars and cannons, and yet our defenders managed to last almost three full months.
The march on Town of Škabrnja began on the morning of November 18, 1991, with an attack by the Serbian aggressor, aided by the former JNA air force, tanks, and the so-called infantry. After the collapse of the resistance of the brave but poorly armed defenders, women, children, and the elderly were expelled from their basements and houses in the most brutal way, and only on that one day in Škabrnja, 48 civilians and 15 defenders were killed.
The massacres and persecutions continued in the following years leading to an almost ethnical cleansing of the Croatian people, until Operation Storm final liberated the area in 1995.
Knowing all too well the horrors of war, in our own unique way here in Dubrovnik we pay our respect to all those who lost their lives in those horrible tragedies, but also everyone who left this world unfairly and prematurely during war time all over Croatia. The Dubrovnik trombonists are currently in Škabrnja paying tribute to all the victims. And while the bells from our churches rang in remembrance at exactly 18:11, the whole City of Dubrovnik shines in candle lights lit by our good fellow citizens, from the youngest to the oldest, especially along Vukovarska street, thinking of our lost ones. May we never forget them!
Photo/Video: Zvonimir Pandža