Today is the 28th anniversary of the fall of Vukovar, one of the darkest chapters in the story of our region.
Previous to the collapse of Yugoslavia, Vukovar was a prosperous city with a mixture of ethnic Croats and Serbs living there in relative harmony. But Yugoslavia began to splinter after the death of Tito, and Croatia followed Slovenia in declaring independence.
In response, the JNA (Yugoslavian Peoples’ Army), under Serbian control, occupied, blockaded, and attacked Croats throughout their historic territory.
On this day in 1991, the Croatian city of Vukovar surrendered to the JNA. This was after an 87 day siege in which the JNA, under Serbian control, fired 12,000 shells per day into Vukovar.
During the siege, about 1,800 Croatian irregulars and national guardsmen held off 36,000 JNA troops with heavy artillery and armor.
As night fell on Vukovar 28 years ago today, the JNA turned over custody of several hundred prisoners from Vukovar, men and boys, to Serbian paramilitary. By 20 November 1991, these prisoners were dead, executed at a sheep farm outside Vukovar.
At the time, it was the worst war crime committed in Europe since the end of WWII, only to be surpassed by the massacre of 8,000 Bosniaks by Bosnian Serbs at Srebrenica in 1995.
Vukovar remains a deeply divided city, with separate schools for Croats and Serbs. The churches are also divided, with the Serbs being almost entirely Orthodox and the Croats Catholic. These churches do nothing to lessen the ethnic tensions there; in fact, they apparently do the opposite.
Beth and I were in Vukovar this past weekend. While there, we met a woman (a Croatian of Serbian descent) who had been married to an ethnic Croat in the 1980’s. After her husband’s death, she lived with her Croatian mother- and father-in-law.
After the fall of Vukovar, her in-laws disappeared. They were apparently arrested and executed and their bodies dumped. She has never seen their bodies nor received official word about their fate.
1991 isn’t really that long ago, especially if the very streets you walk are constant reminders of your suffering. As William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
What can bring healing to Vukovar?
Only churches where there is no Jew nor Greek nor Serb nor Croat.
Only the gospel of salvation by grace through faith, that transcends our pretenses of being “good people”. That strips away personal and ethnic and nationalistic pride.
Pray with me today for Vukovar, and for the work of Biblijski institut alumnus Vlado Psenko there.