Tag Archives: Yugoslavia

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.

Slovenia and the Ten Day War

I never travelled to Yugoslavia when it existed as a single state but since the break up in the 1990s I have visited Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro.  I visited Slovenia twice in 2007.

Yugoslavia had been created in 1918 after the First World War by the victorious western allies in the hope of bring some stability to the Balkans but this had been a hopelessly optimistic attempt to impose a solution on a disparate region of Europe who were never going to coexist easily as one single nation.

The Balkans is where east meets west in Europe and Yugoslavia was a mix of Orthodox looking to the east (Serbia), Christian looking to the west (Slovenia and Croatia) and Muslims who could not be reconciled to either (Bosnia).  Here was a recipe for disaster!  Slovenia is clearly more Central European in character than any of its Balkan partners and being more prosperous and increasingly resentful of providing support to its national partners it is not surprisingly that when the grip of Tito was removed in 1980 it was the first to break loose from the Yugoslav Federation in 1991.

Yugoslav tanks, troops and aircraft swept into the small republic of Slovenia forty-eight hours after it declared independence on 27th and 28th June. Federal forces moved to seize control of border crossing points with Italy, Austria and Hungary and launched an assault on the airport near the province’s capital, Ljubljana.  The Slovene administration rejected a call by the Yugoslav prime minister for a three-month truce to allow negotiations to take place, demanding that troops be withdrawn first.  Road access to the capital was blocked by police and paramilitary and the government in Ljubljana said they had seized or destroyed fifteen tanks and shot down six helicopters.

The Federal Government threatened to re-establish the status quo by force if necessary but the crisis passed and after a short Ten-Day War a truce was called, Slovenia’s independence was agreed and in October 1991 the last soldiers of the Yugoslav Army left. Luckily for Slovenia it was a bloodless separation following a vote for independence in 1990.  The Slovenian secession did however lead to a violent break-up of the country with civil war and ethnic cleansing in neighbouring Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina that persisted throughout the 1990’s.

a-life-in-a-year-22nd-may-yugoslavia-and-the-balkans

ljubljana-slovenia

slovenia-skofja-loka

ljubljana-bus-ride-to-lake-bled

Montenegro and Hercig Novi

In June 2010 we visited Montenegro for the first time and on the last day, 13th June, left the country and returned to neighbouring Croatia.   After a short drive from our hotel we arrived on the outskirts of the fortified town of Hercig Novi and although the main road was dusty and scruffy it seemed bad manners not to pull off into the side streets and visit the old town.

This was easier said than done because this is another town with a parking problem and we crawled in a queue of traffic as everyone was searching for a space.  Finally we found one as close to the old town as we were likely to get so we accepted that this was the best we would be able to do.  It said that it was a pay car park but there was no ticket machine or attendant so we were thoroughly confused.  I made enquiries in a couple of shops and finally established that tickets were on sale at the newsagents so I bought two hours and nervously left the car.  There were some conscientious parking wardens scrutinising windscreens and tickets and a yellow mini being towed away on a car transporter and I began to worry that I hadn’t understood the procedure and might come back to find the car removed and a long walk back to Mlini.

As it turned out, it was quite a long walk along the busy road and getting hotter under the late morning sun so were glad to reach the entrance to the Stari Grad old town and find some respite from the impatient traffic and the increasing heat.  Inside the old gate and within the confines of the walls there were a succession of basking squares with an unhurried pace of life and we walked from one to the other to take in the sights.  We were immediately glad that we had stopped off because this was really very nice and most probably a place easily missed by tourists heading for Kotor and Budva going one way and Dubrovnik going the other.

After the squares we climbed a stairway of worn shiny steps to get to the entrance of the fortress which stands at the top of the town overlooking the harbour below.  Inside there were walls to walk and views to admire, nothing like Dubrovnik of course, but pleasant all the same and worth the small admission fee.  It didn’t take long to complete the visit to the fortress so we walked back down and had a welcome cold drink in a bar in the main square next to the town’s old drinking fountain and the Serbian Orthodox Church in the centre.

After a short rest we walked the other way through twisting lanes and down steep steps towards the harbour but it was a long way, very hot and time was running out on our two hour parking ticket so we abandoned the walk at the half way stage and climbed back to the squares with their balconied buildings and tall shady trees and then retraced our steps back to the car which was exactly where we left it and no parking ticket tucked under the windscreen wipers either.

Getting out of Hercig Novi was no easier than getting in and we sat in a snarling traffic jam and followed the line of cars through the narrow one-way system and finding the right road included quite a lot of guesswork because although there was a sign for every hotel and grill bar the road signs had a curious absence of helpful information if you are looking for directions to the next town but eventually we threaded our way to the main road and prepared to leave Montenegro.

There was a wait at the border as the immigration police thoroughly checked the documents of a convoy of camper vans from the Netherlands and as we waited we reflected on the Montenegro experience.  We had liked it but not as much as we expected to, there was a clear sense of being somewhere different, even more so than Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2008 and to be honest we were glad to be going back to Croatia.

Stari Most Bridge, Mostar

Stari Most Brodge

Stari Most is a 16th century Ottoman bridge in the city of Mostar, Bosnia- Herzegovina that crosses the river Neretva and connects two parts of the city. The Old Bridge stood for 427 years, until it was destroyed on November 9th 1993 by Bosnian Croat forces during the Croat-Bosniak War. Subsequently, a project was begun to reconstruct it, and the rebuilt bridge opened on July 23rd 2004.

Between 1992 and 1993, after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the city was subjected to an eighteen month siege.  Amongst destroyed monuments were a Franciscan monastery, the Catholic Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace, with a library of fifty thousand books, as well as the Karadžoz-bey Mosque, Roznamed-ij-Ibrahim-efendija Mosque and twelve other Mosques and all of the bridges across the river.

During the Yugoslav wars, the objectives of nationalists from Croatia were shared by Croat nationalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina. What I didn’t know was that after the expulsion of the Serbs the Croats turned on the Bosnians and they proclaimed the existence of the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia, as a separate ‘political, cultural, economic and territorial whole’ on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mostar was divided into a Western part, which was dominated by the Croat forces and an Eastern part where the Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was largely concentrated. The Croatians controlled all roads leading into Mostar and international organisations were denied access and they took over the west side of the city and expelled thousands of Bosniaks from the west side into the east side and heavy shelling reduced much of the historic centre of Mostar to rubble.

The Croatian army engaged in mass execution, ethnic cleansing and other atrocities against the Bosniak people of Mostar and a fierce siege and shelling campaign on the Bosnian Government run East Mostar. Finally they committed the atrocity of destroying the famous Stari Most Bridge. I had simply not understood these ethnic tensions existed between Croatians and Bosnians.

Photo Studio HADŽIĆ Mostar

Photo Studio HADŽIĆ Mostar

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Yugoslavia and the Wars of Independence

When I was a boy the school atlas had a very different map of Europe to how it looks today. This was because there weren’t nearly so many countries to show. Everything east of Poland was included in the USSR so there was no Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, The Czech Republic and Slovakia was one country and on the Adriatic there was a single country called Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia had been created in 1918 after the First World War by the victorious western allies in the hope of bring some stability to the Balkans but this had been a hopelessly optimistic attempt to impose a solution on a disparate region of Europe who were never going to coexist easily as one single nation.

The Balkans is where east meets west in Europe and Yugoslavia was a mix of Eastern Orthodox looking to the east (Serbia), Christian looking to the west (Slovenia and Croatia) and Muslims who could not be reconciled to either (Bosnia).  Here was a recipe for disaster!

Slovenia is clearly more Central European in character than any of its Balkan partners and being more prosperous and increasingly resentful of providing support to its national partners it is not surprisingly that when the grip of President Tito was removed in 1980 it was the first to break loose from the Yugoslav Federation in 1991.  Luckily for them it was a bloodless separation following a vote for independence in 1990 but the Slovenian secession did however lead to a violent break-up of the country with civil war and ethnic cleansing in neighbouring Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina that persisted throughout the 1990’s.

As a consequence of the wars Yugoslavia was inevitably dismantled into its constituent parts and on 22nd May 1992 Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia joined the United Nations.  I have nothing personal against Yugoslavia but I am glad the country split up in this way because this has provided more travel opportunities to different countries and since 2007 I have visited all three and Montenegro as well.

In 2008 we visited Bosnia and although we were in Europe this felt like a different place altogether and being predominantly Muslim it felt as though we had crossed into Asia.  It was about sixty kilometres to Mostar and when we arrived there it was a total shock.  We drove past bombed out and abandoned buildings and parked the car in what looked a precarious spot next to magnificent old buildings that had been completely destroyed during the war of 1992 to 1993.  Walking around I was struck that this is what most of Europe must have looked like after the Second-World-War and it was sad and a very sobering experience.

Between 1992 and 1993, after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the city was subject to an eighteen month siege during which the objectives of nationalists from Croatia were shared by Croat nationalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  What I didn’t know was that after the expulsion of the Serbs the Croats turned on the Bosnians and they proclaimed the existence of the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia, as a separate ‘political, cultural, economic and territorial whole’ on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mostar was divided into a Western part, which was dominated by the Croat forces and an Eastern part under the control of the Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The Croatians controlled all roads leading into Mostar and international organisations were denied access as they took over the west side of the city and expelled thousands of Bosniaks into the eastern side.  Heavy shelling reduced much of Mostar to rubble as a consequence and finally they did something that even the Serbs hadn’t done and destroyed the famous Stari Most Bridge.  I had simply not understood these ethnic tensions existed between Croatians and Bosnians.

In 2009 and again in 2010 we visited Dubrovnik in Croatia and on the second occasion travelled to the city by boat. The water taxi left from the little harbour in the village on Mlini as it followed the coast towards the city we saw something unexpected and nothing like we had seen before on previous visits to Croatia, a string of war damaged shelled 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 advanced across the border into 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.

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’ and belatedly intervened to stop the hostilities.

A Life in a Year – 1st October, 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.

A Life in a Year – 29th June, Slovenia and the Ten Day War

I never travelled to Yugoslavia when it existed as a single state but since the break up in the 1990s I have visited Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro.  I visited Slovenia twice in 2007.

Yugoslavia had been created in 1918 after the First World War by the victorious western allies in the hope of bring some stability to the Balkans but this had been a hopelessly optimistic attempt to impose a solution on a disparate region of Europe who were never going to coexist easily as one single nation. 

The Balkans is where east meets west in Europe and Yugoslavia was a mix of Russian Orthodox looking to the east (Serbia), Christian Orthodox looking to the west (Slovenia and Croatia) and Muslims who could not be reconciled to either (Bosnia).  Here was a recipe for disaster!  Slovenia is clearly more Central European in character than any of its Balkan partners and being more prosperous and increasingly resentful of providing support to its national partners it is not surprisingly that when the grip of Tito was removed in 1980 it was the first to break loose from the Yugoslav Federation in 1991. 

Yugoslav tanks, troops and aircraft swept into the small republic of Slovenia, 48 hours after it declared independence on 27th and 28th June. Federal forces moved to seize control of border crossing points with Italy, Austria and Hungary and launched an assault on the airport near the province’s capital, Ljubljana.  The Slovene administration rejected a call by the Yugoslav prime minister for a three-month truce to allow negotiations to take place, demanding that troops be withdrawn first.  Road access to the capital was blocked by police and paramilitary and the government in Ljubljana said they had seized or destroyed fifteen tanks and shot down six helicopters.

The Federal Government threatened to re-establish the status quo by force if necessary but the crisis passed and after a short Ten-Day War a truce was called, Slovenia’s independence was agreed and in October 1991 the last soldiers of the Yugoslav Army left. Luckily for Slovenia it was a bloodless separation following a vote for independence in 1990.  The Slovenian secession did however lead to a violent break-up of the country with civil war and ethnic cleansing in neighbouring Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina that persisted throughout the 1990’s.

a-life-in-a-year-22nd-may-yugoslavia-and-the-balkans

ljubljana-slovenia

slovenia-skofja-loka

ljubljana-bus-ride-to-lake-bled

A Life in a Year – 13th June, Montenegro and Hercig Novi

In June 2010 we visited Montenegro for the first time and on the last day, 13th June, left the country and returned to neighbouring Croatia.   After a short drive from our hotel we arrived on the outskirts of the fortified town of Hercig Novi and although the main road was dusty and scruffy it seemed bad manners not to pull off into the side streets and visit the old town. 

 This was easier said than done because this is another town with a parking problem and we crawled in a queue of traffic as everyone was searching for a space.  Finally we found one as close to the old town as we were likely to get so we accepted that this was the best we would be able to do.  It said that it was a pay car park but there was no ticket machine or attendant so we were thoroughly confused.  I made enquiries in a couple of shops and finally established that tickets were on sale at the newsagents so I bought two hours and nervously left the car.  There were some conscientious parking wardens scrutinising windscreens and tickets and a yellow mini being towed away on a car transporter and I began to worry that I hadn’t understood the procedure and might come back to find the car removed and a long walk back to Mlini.

It was quite a long walk along the busy road and getting hotter under the late morning sun so were glad to reach the entrance to the Stari Grad old town and find some respite from the impatient traffic and the increasing heat.  Inside the old gate and within the confines of the walls there were a succession of basking squares with an unhurried pace of life and we walked from one to the other to take in the sights.  We were immediately glad that we had stopped off because this was really very nice and most probably a place easily missed by tourists heading for Kotor and Budva going one way and Dubrovnik going the other.

After the squares we climbed a stairway of worn shiny steps to get to the entrance of the fortress which stands at the top of the town overlooking the harbour below.  Inside there were walls to walk and views to admire, nothing like Dubrovnik of course, but pleasant all the same and worth the small admission fee.  It didn’t take long to complete the visit to the fortress so we walked back down and had a welcome cold drink in a bar in the main square next to the town’s old drinking fountain and the Serbian Orthodox Church in the centre.

After a short rest we walked the other way through twisting lanes and down steep steps towards the harbour but it was a long way, very hot and time was running out on our two hour parking ticket so we abandoned the walk at the half way stage and climbed back to the squares with their balconied buildings and tall shady trees and then retraced our steps back to the car which was exactly where we left it and no parking ticket tucked under the windscreen wipers either.

Getting out of Hercig Novi was no easier than getting in and we sat in a snarling traffic jam and followed the line of cars through the narrow one-way system and finding the right road included quite a lot of guesswork because although there was a sign for every hotel and grill bar the road signs had a curious absence of helpful information if you are looking for directions to the next town but eventually we threaded our way to the main road and prepared to leave Montenegro.

There was a wait at the border as the immigration police thoroughly checked the documents of a convoy of camper vans from the Netherlands and as we waited we reflected on the Montenegro experience.  We had liked it but not as much as we expected to, there was a clear sense of being somewhere different, even more so than Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2008 and to be honest we were glad to be going back to Croatia.

A Life in a Year – 22nd May, Yugoslavia and the Balkans

When I was a boy the school atlas had a very different map of Europe to how it looks today. This was because there weren’t nearly so many countries to show. Everything east of Poland was included in the USSR so there was no Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, The Czech Republic and Slovakia was one country and on the Adriatic there was a single country called Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia had been created in 1918 after the First World War by the victorious western allies in the hope of bring some stability to the Balkans but this had been a hopelessly optimistic attempt to impose a solution on a disparate region of Europe who were never going to coexist easily as one single nation.

The Balkans is where east meets west in Europe and Yugoslavia was a mix of Russian Orthodox looking to the east (Serbia), Christian Orthodox looking to the west (Slovenia and Croatia) and Muslims who could not be reconciled to either (Bosnia).  Here was a recipe for disaster!

Slovenia is clearly more Central European in character than any of its Balkan partners and being more prosperous and increasingly resentful of providing support to its national partners it is not surprisingly that when the grip of President Tito was removed in 1980 it was the first to break loose from the Yugoslav Federation in 1991.  Luckily for them it was a bloodless separation following a vote for independence in 1990 but the Slovenian secession did however lead to a violent break-up of the country with civil war and ethnic cleansing in neighbouring Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina that persisted throughout the 1990’s.

As a consequence of the wars Yugoslavia was inevitably dismantled into its constituent parts and on 22nd May 1992 Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia joined the United Nations.  I have nothing personal against Yugoslavia but I am glad the country split up in this way because this has provided more travel opportunities to different countries and since 2007 I have visited all three and Montenegro as well.

In 2008 we visited Bosnia and although we were in Europe this felt like a different place altogether and being predominantly Muslim it felt as though we had crossed into Asia.  It was about sixty kilometres to Mostar and when we arrived there it was a total shock.  We drove past bombed out and abandoned buildings and parked the car in what looked a precarious spot next to magnificent old buildings that had been completely destroyed during the war of 1992 to 1993.  Walking around I was struck that this is what most of Europe must have looked like after the Second-World-War and it was sad and a very sobering experience.

Between 1992 and 1993, after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the city was subject to an eighteen month siege during which the objectives of nationalists from Croatia were shared by Croat nationalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  What I didn’t know was that after the expulsion of the Serbs the Croats turned on the Bosnians and they proclaimed the existence of the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia, as a separate ‘political, cultural, economic and territorial whole’ on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mostar was divided into a Western part, which was dominated by the Croat forces and an Eastern part under the control of the Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The Croatians controlled all roads leading into Mostar and international organisations were denied access as they took over the west side of the city and expelled thousands of Bosniaks into the eastern side.  Heavy shelling reduced much of Mostar to rubble as a consequence and finally they did something that even the Serbs hadn’t done and destroyed the famous Stari Most Bridge.  I had simply not understood these ethnic tensions existed between Croatians and Bosnians.

In 2009 and again in 2010 we visited Dubrovnik in Croatia and on the second occasion travelled to the city by boat. The water taxi left from the little harbour in the village on Mlini as it followed the coast towards the city we saw something unexpected and nothing like we had seen before on previous visits to Croatia, a string of war damaged shelled 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 advanced across the border into 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.

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’ and belatedly intervened to stop the hostilities.