In 1990 multi-party elections were held in the republics
of former Yugoslavia. For the first time in the 20th century, a
multi-party Parliament of elected representatives, members of the
newly founded political parties, was established in Croatia.
Similar events took place in the other republics with the exception of the Serbia, where the Communist party, which had changed its name to the Socialist Party, remained in power.
A propaganda campaign, based on the detailed program of a Greater Serbia according to the ideals originating in the 19th century was started. It was claimed that the Serbs were in danger and that all Serbs should live in the same state. The Serbian population in Croatia, which made up 11 to 12% of the total Croatian population, was persistently intimidated which stories about the alleged threat to the Serbs. At the same time the Yugoslav People`s Army was transformed into a Serbian army. In collusion with the Serbian government, the Army armed the extremist Serbs in Croatia.
The newly established Croatian Parliament voted to abolish communist laws, simultaneously guaranteeing the same civil and ethnic rights to all the inhabitants of Croatia, folowing the example of the best democratic practices elsewhere .
The extremist part of the Serbs in Croatia, openly aided by Serbia, started arming themselves as early as the summer of 1990. The first road blocks were set up around the town of Knin. The Chetniks, as the exponents of the Greater-Serbian idea, presecuted the Croats and the peacable part of the Serbs, who refused to join them. The Government of the Republic of Croatia attemped to defuse the situation, but negotioations at the federal level did not yield any results because the Serbian side would not desist from its plans of conquest.
The Vukovar area also lived trough these dramatic events of
enemy propaganda and the organisationing of the arming of the
local Serbian population. Not only weapons, but Chetniks from
Serbia arrived in villages with a majority Serbian population.
Borovo selo, in the immediate vicinity of Vukovar, became a Serbian stronghold. It was here that first two, and then 12 policeman were ambushed and killed, while many were wounded, in early May 1991. Those who were killed were massacred according to the worst Chetnik tradition.
This was the beginning of the armed war of conquest waged by Serbia against Croatia in the area of Vukovar and eastern Croatia. The enemy strategy was to occupy, by armed force, all the villages that were not defended, i.e. all the villages, to massacre and drive away the non-Serbian population, and to bring heavy weapons there, as well as mobilizing Chetniks and soldiers from Serbia.
Baranja fell in August 1991 and almost all the villages of the Vukovar district were occupied. At the same time Vukovar was bombarded with heavy artillery. Air raids followed, as well as attempts to break in with infantry. The first buildings to be demolished in Vukovar included the hospital, the Workers` Club, the Catholic church and the water tower. At the time there were already 300 wounded in the Vukovar hospital. Vukovar was entirely surrounded by Serbian forces. The enemy plan was to conquer Vukovar and than go on to fresh conquests.
In the area around Vukovar there were over 600 tanks and armoured carriers, as well as several thousand well-armed Chetniks and mobilized reservists. There were large numbers of all kinds of artillery weapons, the enemy had an abundance of ammunition, and there was no way to stop the Serbian warplanes.
On the other side, Vukovar was defended by several hundred Croatian Guardsmen and policemen, as well as about 1000 volunteers with no military experience. The defenders had modest weapons: semi-automatic and automatic guns, several machine guns and artillery guns, and some simple armour-piercing weapons. Weapons, food and medical supplies were brought in for a time through a narrow corridor through the maize fields near the villages of Marinci and Bogdanovci.
The imbalance of military power was such that, according to military theory, Serbia should have overrun Vukovar within a few days. However, the besiged town resisted the overwhelming military force for an almost full 3 months.
The inhabitans and defenders of Vukovar lived in the hell caused by hundreds of thousands of projectils devastating the town. Numerous tragic testimones of survivors, as well as daily reports of the Vukovar Radio, bear witness to incredible heroism and suffering of all those who stayed in Vukovar until the end. Civil life, as well as hospital work, took place in the cellars. The Vukovar hospital was the largest wartime clinic. There was a shortage of food and medical supplies. The dead could not be buried because of the constant shower of shells.
Attempts to break in with tanks and infantry were stopped by the defenders, who had organized themselves into a brigade during the fighting. The enormous motivation and inventiveness of the defenders, who were few in number and poorly equipped, made it possible for them to resist the intimidating military hardware and the far more numerous Serbian army. It was only when defenders were left out without single armourpiercing piece of ammunition, on 18th November 1991., that the agressor`s army entered the devastated town of Vukovar.
Data of military statistical character help to explain the contribution of Vukovar to the defense of Croatia and illustrate why Vukovar was in the focus of media attention from all over the world and why it is beeing studied as a special phenomenon by military therorists.
About a 1800 defenders took part in the defense of Vukovar while it was under siege. About 60% of these were citizens of Vukovar, while the rest were patriots from other parts of Croatia and from Bosnia and Herzegovina. A third of the defenders managed to break out of Vukovar in small groups, about 500-600 were killed, while the rest were imprisoned or wounded. Fascinating results were achieved in battle using the meagre weapons described above: over 300 tanks and armoured carries were destroyd, about 25 warplanes were shot down, while the number of dead Chetniks is estimated at 5000 - 7000, with 20000 - 30000 wounded.
By tying down the enormous Serbian military force in the Vukovar area for several months, the defenders of Vukovar gave Croatia precious time and space to create the army need for the survival of the state, and by destroying enormous amount of Serbian military potential, they weakened the aggressor military, politically and psychologically.
Occupying Vukovar, the Serbian army opened the second act of the Vukovar tragedy. Contrary to all international norms and agreements reached with the International Red Cross and Europian observers, when the Serbian army and the Chetniks entered Vukovar they perpetrated crimes. They tortured and committed atrocities against the civilian population, prisoners of war and the wounded. During the firs few days of occupation of Vukovar, several hunderd civilians and wounded were taken from the hospital and executed. The mass graves were discovered several months later by foreign journalists, and the findings were confirmed by international commissions. The world was shaken by pictures of Ovcara, where mass executions were carried out.
Over 5000 people were taken to numerous prison camps in Serbia, where they suffered extreme ill-treatment. Many never came back. Many of the camps have not been discovered yet, so it is still unknown how many people have disappeared forever.
Several thousand refugees from the Vukovar destrict are now scattered, in organized groups or individually, throughout Croatia and abroad.
Today Vukovar is in ruins. The destruction was disastrous. Homes have been rased to the ground or looted. Schools, hospitals, and valuable monuments of culture have been destroyed: the Eltz manor-house, the town hall, the grammar school, the churches and the monastery. It should be pointed out that all the monuments of culture were clearly marked according to international conventions. The natural environment has also been devastated. The trees lining the streets and growing in the parks have been cut down.
Everything that made Vukovar what it was has been destroyed. Today the town is an image of madness.
International forces took control over the occupied areas of Croatia. However, the expulsion of the non-Serbian population from the Vukovar area and ethnic cleansing continued. Thus the population of the town of Ilok was exiled and prosperous Croatian villages were devastated.