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November 19, 2008

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Yesterday’s news, but still today’s pain: the Vukovar massacre 17 years on

by quaesitor

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Most people outside the Balkans won’t remember Vukovar. And I must confess that I’d completely forgotten about it. But from the Croatian point of view, it was a tragic and terrifying turning point in the 90s Balkans war.

Vukovar was a city with an ethnically mixed community very near what is now the Croatia/Serbia border. On 18th November 1991, the city fell to Serb militias aided by the Yugoslav People’s Army. During the next 3 days, 264 people were massacred, including prisoners of war, hospital patients, children and the elderly. The Vukovar has been officially recognised as a war crime and various trials and investigations have taken place. (See the Wiki page for a general overview.)

I am currently back in Croatia for another Langham Preaching seminar. It’s wonderful to be back. But we had a few hours to kill yesterday before picking up someone from the airport, so my hosts, Toma & Ksenija, showed me around the centre of Zagreb last night. It was fascinating. But because yesterday was the 17th anniversary of the fall of Vukovar, there were all kinds of memorials of the atrocity.

  • A himg_0696uge boulevard in the city centre called Vukovar Avenue looked amazing stunning with candles in small coloured jars lining its whole length. 
  • Then at the base of a statue of some important historical figure in the central square was this small reminder (see both pics). 
  • And then as we were leaving, a huge chanting crowd poured out of the central railway station. They sounded like football supporters until we got closer and could hear what they were chanting. ‘Vukovar, Vukovar, Vukovar’. They’d just returned by train from big memorial demonstrations in the town.

It’s no surprise that feelings run so deep after something like this (understatement). How would we Brits react if something similar occurred in Canterbury or Chester or Carlisle? And it is totally right that the memory of such atrocities is kept alive.

What is amazing, in terms of our conference this week, is that yet again we are meeting together (a group of about 50) made up of Croats, Bosnians and a few Serbs. That is truly a testimony of divine grace.

But the place that has been rattling around my mind in the last day or so has been, bizarrely enough, Congo. The Balkans war was on our screens every night while it happened – because it was on our doorstep. But what of Congo? Not on our doorstep, so not on our screens that much. And the atrocities are far far far worse – and have been going on for YEARS. We’re talking thousands, no millions, dead over those years. Who will remember, who will chant, who will light candles? No one at the moment. It’s just too dangerous. See the latest BBC report here (from which the map comes).

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