ZAGREB, Nov 17 (Hina) – The 29th anniversary of the fall of Vukovar and the most dramatic battle of the Homeland War will be commemorated on Wednesday and this year it will be marked in special circumstances due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is also the first time the day will be a public holiday in Croatia.
This eastern town on the right bank of the Danube was under siege for 87 days. The battle ended on 18 November 1991 even though fighting continued in some of the suburbs for a few days after that. The town was occupied by former Yugoslav Army (JNA) forces and Serb paramilitaries, and the occupation ended on 15 January 1998 with the peaceful reintegration of the Croatian Danubian region.
Battle for Vukovar special phenomenon
According to demographer Drazen Zivic from the Vukovar branch of the Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences, of the 2,171 people killed in the aggression on Vukovar in 1991, 34 were children aged between 7 months and 17 years old. This number is not final and society has to do everything to shed light on the fate of every victim from Vukovar and to learn of the circumstances of how they ended their lives, where they are buried and if possible to punish the perpetrators of those crimes.
“Now, 30 years after the battle for Vukovar, we can say that based on scientific research, eyewitness accounts and memoirs, something truly special occurred here, something that is unforgettable in the history of Vukovar, Slavonia and Srijem, which was a sort of precedent in the process of creating and defending Croatia,” Zinic underscored.
According to Zinic, the events in Vukovar in 1991 marked a turning point not just in the military sense but politically too and led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia and to Croatia’s independence.
The symbolism of the battle for Vukovar is immeasurable and that can be seen to this day and in all the years until now when we see how many thousands of people attend the Remembrance Procession to pay their respects to the victims, said Zinic.
Had the aggression not occurred, Vukovar’s population would certainly have increased
Referring to human losses, Zinic recalled that pre-war physical plans estimated that the town’s population would increase to about 60,000 in the next few decades.
“There were 44,639 residents in Vukovar prior to the war, however, this included several thousand people who were abroad so that in 1991 Vukovar’s population was less than 40,000. There is no doubt that had there not been any war Vukovar’s population would have grown…and I estimate that by now it would have had about 50,000 residents,” Zinic concluded.
According to the 2011 Population Census, Vukovar had a population of 27,000, while unofficial data indicates that their number is 20,000.
According to the local government, about 10,000 people are employed in the town. After the return of displaced persons, employment has been increasing since 2011.
Remembrance Procession under strict epidemiological supervision
The town’s most important industry prior to 1991 was the Borovo shoe factory which at the height of its success in the 1980s had an unbelievable 23,000 employees and produced 23 million pairs of shoes a year. All that disappeared in the aggression against Vukovar when the JNA and Serb paramilitary forces occupied the town.
About 1,800 people defended the town and after three months Vukovar found itself surrounded by enemy forces.
The attack on the town culminated in November 1991 with dozens of air raids, with more than 11,000 shells falling a day. Vukovar’s defence was broken on November 18 and the town was occupied on November 20.
About 7,000 prisoners of war were taken to concentration camps in Serbia and about 22,000 Croats and members of other ethnic groups were expelled from the town. There are still 386 people unaccounted for.
This year’s Remembrance Day will be held under strict epidemiological supervision. Epidemiologists have recommended that the procession should not include more than 500 people, even though they are aware that it will be difficult to prevent anyone from attending and participating in the procession particularly since this year, November 18 is a public holiday.
This year there will not be any organised transport to Vukovar and many officials, including Vukovar-Srijem County Prefect Bozo Galic, epidemiologists and church dignitaries, have asked citizens not to come to Vukovar and expose themselves to the risk of being infected with coronavirus and instead to pay their respects at home by lighting candles and placing them in their windows.
Hospitality establishments in Vukovar to stay open until 9 pm
Hospitality establishments in Vukovar will be open until 9 pm on Tuesday and Wednesday, Mayor Ivan Penava said on Tuesday.
“During a meeting held on November 10 in Zagreb with representatives of the National Civil Protection Authority, a decision was made with regard to the epidemiological situation, according to which hospitality establishments in Vukovar will be allowed to stay open until 9 pm. Respecting that decision, the town authorities have decided to limit working hours for hospitality until 9 pm on November 17 and 18,” the town authorities said in a press release.
Last Sunday the county COVID response team suggested that hospitality facilities be closed on November 18. The town authorities then presented a proposal allowing hospitality providers to choose between two models, to be open until 9 pm or to remain closed on that day with the provision that they be compensated for.
“As we have not yet received a decision by the national authority, the town authorities are adhering to the original decision according to which hospitality facilities may work until 9 pm on November 17 and 18,” the press release, signed by Mayor Ivan Penava, said.