As tens of thousands of people marked the 32nd anniversary of the fall of the city that became a symbol of Croatia’s struggle for independence, the last commander of Vukovar’s defence called on politicians to keep quiet on the day of remembrance.
The last commander of the defence of Vukovar, Branko Borkovic, told reporters on Saturday at the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Vukovar event, marking the fall of the city on November 18, 1991, that politicians should suspend their campaigning on the anniversary.
“We expect this to truly be a pilgrimage for the martyrs of the homeland, because they are, and for the state leadership to respect the principles for which we fought,” said Borkovic, who is known as the Young Hawk.
“We are hoping for unity and for them to express it on this day collectively. In other words, politicians should be silent; this is not the time for campaigning,” he added.
Croatian politicians have already been campaigning ahead of parliamentary elections early in 2024, with European parliament and presidential polls to follow later in the year.
Ahead of the commemoration, there was a political row began between Ivan Penava, the mayor of Vukovar, and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who accused Penava of using the event to promote the right-wing Homeland Movement, which is in power in the city of Vukovar and hopes to make gains at the elections next year.
Borkovic was speaking as tens of thousands of people gathered in the wartime flashpoint city for the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Vukovar, which fell to the Yugoslav People’s Army and Serbian paramilitaries 32 years ago after a devastating three-month siege.
After a ceremony held in the hospital courtyard, the participants, including Vukovar battle veterans, led by members of the Croatian Defence Forces, HOS, who defended the city in 1991, marched for five-and-a-half kilometres through the city streets to the Memorial Cemetery in a procession known as the Column of Remembrance.
At the cemetery officials including President Zoran Milanovic, Prime Minister Plenkovic and the speaker of parliament Gordan Jandrokovic were also present laid wreaths and lit candles to honour the Croatian soldiers and civilians who lost their lives in the battle for Vukovar.
This year, the Day of Remembrance had the theme ‘Vukovar – my choice for better or for worse’” inspired by the words of Jean Michel Nicolier, a French volunteer and defender of Vukovar who was killed near the city in Ovcara, where over 200 people were murdered in mass executions after the city fell.
The city was occupied until January 15, 1998, when the Croatian Danube region, including Vukovar, was peacefully returned to the Zagreb authorities’ control.
During the battle for Vukovar, 2,717 Croatian defenders and civilians lost their lives. The city was completely destroyed and approximately 7,000 prisoners were taken away to Serbian detention camps. Around 22,000 Croats and other non-Serbs were also expelled from Vukovar.
Even today, there are still 374 individuals on Croatia’s missing persons list who disappeared in Vukovar in 1991.
There was further controversy around this year’s commemoration because the Homeland Movement, which is in power in the city of Vukovar, threatened to physically prevent members of the Independent Democratic Serb Party, SDSS, from throwing wreaths into the Danube, as they do every year on November 17 in tribute to the civilians, both Serbs and Croats, who were killed.
The SDSS, the party that represents Croatia’s Serb minority, decided not to go ahead with its wreath tribute this year because of the dispute.
“We should have been and wanted to be today, as in previous years, on the Danube for all the victims of Croatian and Serbian nationality who ended up there,” the SDSS said, expressing regret that it could not commemorate the victims.
Source : Balkan Insight