The Siege of Dubrovnik

There was an excellent breakfast on the sunny terrace with local specialties, fresh bread and home made marmalade and jam and Doris sold us tickets for the water taxi to Dubrovnik, which I think was probably another part of the family business.

The taxi left from the little harbour in the village and we waited in the already hot sunshine until it arrived at ten o’clock and then selected seats on the upper deck and sat and sweltered while we waited for it to leave.  Eventually the crew cast off and followed the coast towards the city and then we saw something unexpected and nothing like we had seen before on previous visits to Croatia, a string of war damaged bombed out hotels at regular intervals all the way to Dubrovnik.  This we learned later was the legacy of an invasion by Montenegro during the secessionist wars of the 1990s.

Montenegro played a disastrous part in the break-up of the former Yugoslavia because in 1991 its army, urged on by Slobodan Milosevic, advanced across the border into neighbouring Croatia, destroying villages, looting and stealing on the way and then shelling the ancient city of Dubrovnik.  The city was attacked by the Serbian-Montenegrin army and besieged for six months during which time about two thousand shells rained down on the walled city, damaging seventy percent of its buildings and two-thirds of its famous red roofs. Dubrovnik’s ancient heritage was threatened with destruction and a plaque within the city now shows all of the major strikes on public buildings and churches, cobbled streets made of Dalmatian stone and irreplaceable statues and monuments and it doesn’t hold back on saying who was responsible!

Early in 1991 the political leaders of Montenegro and the Yugoslav Peoples’ Army, the, JNA, justified the attack and siege of Dubrovnik as a necessary move towards protecting the territorial integrity of Montenegro and Yugoslavia and preventing a potential conflict along ethnic lines, as well as stopping the so-called unconstitutional secession of Croatia.

The Montenegrin Prime Minister rallied the country with the rabble rousing statement that the ‘Croatian authorities wanted to have a war and they will have it.’  He continued by saying that ‘if Croatia wants to secede then the internal borders must be revised,’ while interpreting the war in Croatia as an inevitable outcome of the totalitarian policies of Zagreb: ‘One million Serbs in Croatia are deprived of their rights and are forced to respond with arms.’  He assured the people of Montenegro that the time had come to ‘draw the demarcation lines vis-à-vis the Croats once and for all,’ and that ‘the new borders with Croatia would be more logical and just than those drawn by the old and poorly educated Bolshevik cartographers’

In the early hours of 1st October JNA soldiers and reservists began military operations in the southern Croatian region of Konavle.  Just after five o’clock the people living in the village of Vitaljina and throughout the region of Konavle were woken up by heavy artillery fire coming from the JNA positions at Prevlaka Peninsula, Prijevor, Mojdez, and also from the JNA’s naval vessels anchored off the Croatian coast.  The artillery fire was then followed by an infantry thrust into Croatian territory.

The invaders evicted people from their houses and engaged in massive looting, pillaging, and the destruction of private and historical property, actions which had no justification or any strategic military objective.  The airport was attacked and equipment stolen and heavy looting occurred in Kupari, where the hotel complex Vrtovi Sunca was virtually cleaned out of all its furniture and equipment, pieces of which were later either sold on the black market in Montenegro or given as ‘gifts’ to various state-run institutions and organizations in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro.  After the looting of the hotels they were then destroyed by heavy shelling, an action designed to destroy the economy of the region and to prevent them being used for refugees and people bombed out and displaced from their homes.

Europe and the World watched most of the dreadful events of the Yugoslavian wars on television screens but took no action but, for the west at least, the destruction of Dubrovnik overstepped the mark and brought pressure on the warring factions to stop.  It was almost as though the World was prepared to watch ethnic cleansing, death and destruction in cities with unfamiliar names that meant little to them but when a UNESCO World Heritage Site was attacked and a city that was seen to belong to the World and not a single place, collectively they said ‘enough is enough’.

The ‘War for Peace’ turned out to be one of the most disagreeable episodes in recent Montenegrin history because Montenegro disgraced itself by putting itself in the service of the Yugoslav army and Slobodan Milosevic.  After the war Montenegro became a virtual pariah state, and the later bombing of nearby Kosovo reinforced this isolation.

After the end of the war in 1995 Montenegro remained closely allied to Serbia but declared independence in June 2006.  In 2007 the Montenegrin President apologized for involvement in attacks on Dubrovnik, which caused several hundred civilian deaths and destroyed countless homes, and agreed to pay damages. Some estimates place the value of the damage at around €35 million.  So far, Montenegro has paid up only €375,000 as compensation for looting the area’s cattle.  Reparation is going to take a long time and in the mean time the bombed out hotels which disfigure the coastline remain as a dreadful reminder of the war.

Really, I should have found out about this before the holiday and I suddenly began to feel a bit uneasy about visiting Montenegro the next day for fear of offending our Croatian hosts.

One response to “The Siege of Dubrovnik

  1. My grandfather was from the village of Cepikuce,We have been told we still have relations around Dubrovnik.I feel so sad.He was my fathers’ Father.I don’t even know if the village still exists.

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