November 28,1994 Vreme News Digest Agency No 166

Croatia: Vukovar vs. Vukovar

A Sort of Homecoming

by Gojko Marinkovic (AIM)

The Croatian authorities are promising a return to Vukovar, something that is still only possible on film

That Vukovar is once again necessary as a symbol around which to unite Croats was shown by the formal premier of the film "Return to Vukovar", by director Branko Schmidt and screen-writer Pavao Pavlicic, a native of Vukovar. The premier was held in Zagreb's "Europa" movie theater and the film was watched by almost all of Croatia's leaders, including President Franjo Tudjman, who stated that Croatia had an obligation to regain Vukovar. Defense Minister Gojko Susak, the main speaker at the ceremony, declared: "In front of this gathering of the highest officials of Croatia, with full responsibility I promise you: with the help of the international community or without it, Croatia will enter Vukovar".

Moreover, the film utilized documentary material from the worst period of the city's siege, with pictures of its destruction and depopulation, and the central character is a young boy from Vukovar who lives in old freight car with his fellow townspeople and at one moment sets in motion a locomotive which symbolically sets out in the direction of his city. The film is the Croatian "Oscar" candidate in the competition for the best non-English language film. It therefore occurred that both the Serbs and the Croats chose a film dedicated to Vukovar as their best film, since Bora Draskovic's "Vukovar - post restante" will also be a candidate for best film. Branko Schmidt says: "I have not seen Draskovic's film, but he does not fall into the circle of directors over there that I once respected. If what I have heard about the film is true, I believe that that is first of all his moral problem. It will be interesting to find out how the respected film judges will decide when faced with the "Oscar" competition phenomenon which could be called Vukovar vs. Vukovar".

Pavao Pavlicic calls this move by the Serbian government "the theft of a symbol", because "the wild Serbian soldiers destroyed much more than a city in Vukovar. Vukovar, with its central European culture, with its multiculturalism, multiethnic make-up and tolerance, was a symbol of that which Europe is aspiring to. That is why, by allowing the destruction of Vukovar, Europe really destroyed itself and the only idea by which it can survive".

Because of this, it is a good idea to now remind oneself of some numbers. Before the war, Vukovar municipality had 84,189 residents. 36,910 were Croats and 31,445 were Serbs. The city of Vukovar had 44,639 residents, of which 21,065 were Croats and 14,452 were Serbs.

But, even if the day of Vukovar's homecoming is far away and the day when Serbs and Croats and all others here will once again live together is even further away, the new battle for Vukovar has already begun. This time through film, but judging by statements from the Croatian side, this is only a "logistical" preparation for a real return, which, based upon the way things stand now, will not happen without war. After all, does an historical example of someone voluntarily giving up something they conquered militarily exist? And even if they have, it has always been as part of a trade, as Tito did with Trieste since that was the only way that he was able to get Istria. Therefore, regardless of Tudjman's, Janko Bobetko's (leading Croatian general) and Susak's threats and promises, the residents of Vukovar are returning to their homes only on film. Maybe this sounds exaggerated, but it is hard to lose the impression that their tragedy is once again being misused.