Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Defenders of Dubrovnik

To get a better sense of what the 1992-95 Siege of Dubrovnik must have been like (and, frankly, just to snag some views), we took the cable car to the fort high above the city on Mt. Srd.  Built by Napoleon during his brief rule over Dalmatian Coast, the fort never saw action until the Yugoslav Army began bombarding the Old Town of Dubrovnik when Croatia attempted to secede from Yugoslavia in 1992.

The Fort Imperial held out for the length of the siege (by all accounts heroically), but Dubrovnik was badly damaged by Yugoslav artillery firing indiscriminately from surrounding mountains.   What were they trying to accomplish by shelling UNESCO World Heritage Site?   It was hard to tell from the highly propagandistic accounts in the Fort's museum and many other war-related sites in the City, which uniformly referred to "Serb and Montenegrin aggression" as the sole cause of the conflict.   There was plenty of that, to be sure, but as we were to learn in coming days, it wasn't the whole story.

What is certain is that by shelling Dubrovnik in the early days of the Yugoslav civil war (or as the Croatians call it, the "Homeland War", the Serbs and the other remaining loyalists to the Yugoslav state took on the role of villains, which they would never shed and would do much more to earn.   But once that simple narrative took hold in the international media, many of the complexities of the conflict would be lost.   In fact, the "good guys" in one town or village could be the bad guys a few kilometers away, as we would see in Mostar and many other places.  In that sense, the Siege of Dubrovnik was the worst blunder that the pro-Yugoslav forces could have committed, one that fatally injured their cause, though it would take almost another decade to assess the damage.   Remember that, folks, if you find yourselves tempted at some point to commit a war crime.   It won't help.

Fortunately, though, Dubrovnik is far from a downer.


Aided by the EU and other international donors, the Old City has been repaired and there are few obvious physical reminders of the war there (aside from those the Croats have intentionally left in place).

Though you would never guess that these people had roofs over their heads given their predilection to dining al fresco.

Today, happily, the city walls are once again used to attract, rather than repel, foreign invaders.

So, Živjeli!  (Let's drink to that!)

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