The 29th anniversary of the fall of Vukovar has been commemorated just recently. The city had been under siege for several months, during and after which members of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and Serbian paramilitary forces exiled, executed or deported to camps thousands of Croats and other non-Serb Croatian citizens. During and following the siege, more than 3,000 combatants and civilians, mostly ethnic Croats, were killed—including 86 children.
This year, for the first time, Croatia is commemorating November 18 also as the Memorial Day for the Victims of the Homeland War and Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Vukovar and Škabrnja.
As is the case every year, on November 17 the Serb National Council (SNV) commemorated the ethnic Serb victims killed in Vukovar prior to the war, by throwing wreaths into the Danube. Its representatives then laid wreaths at Ovčara, where Croatian defenders and civilians from the Vukovar hospital were killed.
“We came to this city to be with those who are suffering and have been suffering for a long time—since the end of the war—because of the loss of their loved ones and their health. We feel for every resident of Vukovar and its vicinity who suffered and lost loved ones during those times. I am here, together with Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milošević, to show that regardless of when, on which day or where wreaths are laid, we neither divide nor separate the victims. They are all ours. It is our desire, with this initiative, to contribute to commemorative practices—both in this city and in all other places—not being practices which will divide, create conflict or continue the war through remembrance policies,” said SNV President Milorad Pupovac.
It was originally announced that State Secretary Zvonko Milas (Croatian Democratic Union – HDZ) would take part in the SNV commemoration on November 17, but following a protest by veterans and local authorities in Vukovar, it was explained away as a misunderstanding.
The initiative for the commemorations to be merged and for the throwing of wreaths into the Danube to become part of the Column of Remembrance made its first appearance in 2010, at the time when Ivo Josipović was President of Croatia and Boris Tadic was President of Serbia—but it was met with disapproval in the form of insults and threats, former Croatian War Veterans Minister, veteran and MEP (Socialist Democratic Party – SDP) Fred Matić told N1.
This anniversary was commemorated on November 18 with the traditional Column of Remembrance, attended by Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and other state officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milošević. Croatian President Zoran Milanović paid his respects to the victims by laying a wreath at the monument at Ovčara.
“It is a good thing—and we consider it normal and natural—for Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milošević to be with us in Vukovar today, as he was in Knin. These are messages for the future, focusing on the values that we share,” said PM Andrej Plenković, recalling that Croatia won the War of Independence and therefore offered its hand in coexistence to the ethnic minorities.
Afterwards, Boris Milošević posted on social networks about his presence in Vukovar, as follows:
“Today and yesterday I was in Vukovar with a deep feeling of respect for the city of Vukovar, its residents and all the innocent victims. Last summer, I said that I believe that respect and empathy for all the victims is a prerequisite for reconciliation and the cessation of hatred. Therefore, as an ethnic Serb citizen of Croatia and as Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia, I cannot finds words powerful enough to express my regret for what happened in Vukovar, because all the graves in Vukovar—both known and unknown—and all the suffering of the people who lost their lives, their loved ones, and their homes, speak louder than any words of mine.”
High-ranking Serbian state officials did not attend the commemoration. Veran Matić, special envoy of the President of Serbia, took part in the SNV commemoration and laid a wreath at the Memorial Cemetery in Vukovar, where he paid his respects by kneeling and saying a prayer—a personal act that was subsequently supported by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, while the Croatian Prime Minister took it to be “a message of confrontation with the past”. Veran Matić did not take part in the Column of Remembrance, despite his participation being announced previously.
In Belgrade, the 29th anniversary of the fall of Vukovar was commemorated by the Women in Black organisation, with a peace event entitled “We will Never Forget the Crimes in Vukovar”, which started at noon on Knez Mihailova Street in downtown Belgrade.
In commemoration of the 29th anniversary of the fall of Vukovar, the Humanitarian Law Center presented the Camps for Croats in Serbia Dossier, which is available in English.