I didn’t know much about the battles and conflict here on the Dalmation coast during the wars of Yugoslavian Seccession in the 1990’s. Some Serbian friends told me they don’t go here because of what happened. I wanted to learn more about it so I picked up the book, War in Dubrovnik, which was a collection of pieces written from that time. Obviously it is very pro-Croatian and I was disappointed in the book. I was hoping for more analysis of why violence broke out, but mostly what I got were essays lamenting the destruction of heritage of Ragusa. There was an excellent chronology of events as well as one piece by Hrvoje Kačić called, “Dubrovnik and the Calamities of War,” which was the best critical in-depth analysis answering my question of why would the JNA attack Dubrovnik.
Kačić brought up an interesting contrast between the USSR (Soviet Union) and the SFRY (Yugoslavia). I never thought of them as empires, but they were. They controlled a collection of formerly independent nations. Kacic asks why there so much war with the breakup of Yugoslavia and not of the Soviet Union. He hypothesizes that it was because the communist party of the USSR died in capital Moscow first, before countries started pulling out of the USSR. They also had two excellent leaders in Gorborchav and Yeltsin, who avoided civil war. In Yugoslavia however, the main communist party stayed together in the capital Belgrade while countries were seceeding. The party morphed from Yugoslavia to Serboslavia and had a strong military intact and ready to maintain the status quo. The leaders also were not interested in avoiding war like Gorborchav, and Milosevic, and three others mentioned by Kacic, (Jović, Kadijević, and Adžić) did not avoid conflict.
Getting back to my question, why Dubrovnik? The climate at the time was unstable because of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and a crash of the economy that went with it. There was also the fact previously mentioned, with the core communist party still functioning and controlling the army. There was not a large population of Serbs living in Dubrovnik. The Croatians in the essays in the book, mentioned the “two wings” being clipped. This refers to the shape of Croatia, which is like a boomerang or bird. The southern wing is the Dalmatian coast with Dubrovnik and the northern wing is the area Vukovar. Vukovar was undergoing heavy fighting and there was a large Serbian population in the city. One of the reasons posited by Kacic is the JNA (Jugoslav National Army) wanted to improve their morale and hurt the Croatians. They were not making progress in Vukovar like they had planned. Other possible reasons could be that Dubrovnik brings in a lot of tourist currency and it would expand the coast of Serbia. The satellite country of Montenegro is about 50 kilometers south of here. The author also met with a JNA general who offered the idea of Dubrovnik returning to its independent city-state status like Monaco.
I thought that the JNA only bombed the old city from the nearby mountains, but they also attacked all along the coast by ship. The apartment in Lapad, that I am writing this piece from was also attacked, and the Tirena Hotel, which is just down the road, was destroyed. I can imagine the trauma on the civilian population living here. They were unarmed and caught in the middle of a battle. They suffered the electricity and water being cut off for months. The Croatians did manage to form a defense and got weapons and soldiers here to protect the city. There was also much support from international aid agencies that got food, water, and medical supplies in and refugees out during the siege.
The first attack occured in October of 1991 and for almost the next year, regular bombings and firefights occured until finally in August of 1992, Cyrus Vance from the UN, negotiated with both sides to get a withdrawal of the JNA to Montenegro. Despite the withdrawal, sporadic attacks occured all the way up until the Dayton Accords of 1995.
Owen, Oliver and I climbed up to the former JNA artillery positions. We enjoyed the hike and the breathtaking views. We also saw two snakes and the boys loved the adventure of the climb.
Sadly, 92 civilians died as well as 129 Croatian soldiers. There is no mention of how many JNA soldiers died. Over 33, 000 people had to flee their homes, and over 7,000 buildings were damaged. Over 500 people were also injured and over 2,000 unexploded mines were removed. In our time spent in the Old City this week, we didn’t notice any war damage in the historic fortress and city within the walls. There was also a lot of looting of private homes in the occupied areas.
Today, the city and coast are controlled by Croatia. In speaking with the ticket guy in the old city, over 1,000 tourists paid 70 Kuna to walk around the walls of the old city. In the summer, between 6 and 7,000 walk around the walls. With the many cruise ships and tourists staying in the area, the city must be a cash cow for the nation’s coffers. I hope the tax revenue is going for helping the lives of the less fortunate citizens of the country.
I want to learn more about the wars of seccession in Yugoslavia and I’ll be reading more accounts and speaking with people and writing about my understanding of the conflict and its impact today on the Balkans.