FRI, 24 NOV 1995 21:59:22 GMT
On the Spot in Vukovar
AIM, Belgrade, November 17, 1995
Vukovar is still demolished, Serb flags are still flying from the highest remaining roofs, and if anything at all has changed on the face of the city, it is, though few, but hence even more evident, the new fronts on some of the buildings. The Serbs from Eastern Slavonia are not too excited because of the agreement on reintegration of the region where they live. Not because they are now ready to return under the wing of the state they swore they would never belong to again. They simply claim that they do not believe that the agreement really means that reintegration will actually take place. Although it is possible to suspect a shadow of uncertainty behind their talkative denial.
- We shall see what will happen in the end - Zoran S. says, who is a salesman in the recently reconstructed and roofed Vukovar marketplace. - President Milosevic has still not had his say concerning this agreement, we will wait until he returns from Dayton, to hear his interpretation.
To a remark that people from Knin had also expected assistance from Milosevic until the last minute, he replies: - It is not the same thing, Krajina is far away and there is nothing there, just rocky land, we are more important for Serbia.
A Photograph as a Remembrance
Conviction of the current inhabitants of Vukovar that it is not all over yet is also fuelled by the local authorities. The newly opened city television station every evening broadcasts additional explanations which are intended to present the agreement in a different light than the rest of the world sees it - including the official Serbia. Namely, while Belgrade stresses that policy of President Milosevic has accomplished an epoch-making success by "protecting the rights of the Serbs in the region" with the agreement, leaders of the region claim that there will be no opportunity for any kind of jeopardy, because they simply will not return to live under the wing of Zagreb.
The chief negotiator of the Serb party, Milanovic, told the public that annexation to Croatia was completely out of the question. While reading the agreement on Vukovar television, one item at a time, he emphasized that reintegration was not mentioned at all. General Dusan Loncar, commander of Eastern-Slavonian Serb forces, on his part promised that there would be no disarmament of any kind (although it was prescribed by the agreement) until the Croat party was armed. In order to eliminate any doubt about the intentions of the political leaders, a denial of the news on withdrawal of Arkan's Guards from Erdut was also published. It was said that Arkan's troops were in fact just transferred to join special police units of Eastern Slavonia.
Majority of the people from Vukovar believe in these interpretations. Assurances in this sense are not just verbal. Apart from reconstructed market booths, now the building of the market administration is also being reconstructed. The sign reads: "Investor: Vukovar Municipality Assembly". One of the construction workers light-heartedly remarks: - It is important that the sanctions imposed on Serbia be lifted; we will easily take care of everything else afterwards."
Indeed, Eastern Slavonia does not give the impression of a territory ready to surrender. Military presence is more conspicuous and more evident than in the past years. In the villages all men seem to be in uniforms, and in Vukovar, all major facilities, for the first time since the Serbs have established control over it, are fortified with new white sandbags which are mounting up the walls in endless lines.
Considerable military forces across the border offer additional feeling of safety to the Slavonians. Namely, in Vojvodina, tanks and cannons are dug in along the highway, and the borders are swarming with police. Policemen from Serbia are present within the Eastern-Slavonian region as well, where some of them are having their photographs taken besides ruins as a remembrance of their stay here.
The inhabitants of the region are accepting all assurances about their future outside Croatia, both verbal and non-verbal almost without any reservations, because it is easier to believe what you wish to believe.
- I cannot even imagine that my sons will go to a Croat school and serve the Croat Army - Zoran S. says. - My parents were in a working camp in Berlin from 1941 until 1945, I am in the war for four years already. If we return to Croatia, the same will happen to my children, not in fifty, but in five years time.
Are they still there?
Many people from Vukovar say that both their and Croat television assure them that it is impossible to live in Croatia. They retell the news about the trial to the group of men from Lika and Banija who were sentenced from two to four years of jail for having participated in armed rebellion.
- If wearing a uniform is the criterion, we will all go to jail - Zoran S. says.
A group of twenty-year olds approves and confirms. They were also mobilized. A woman by the neighbouring booth joins in the discussion with a story about a Croat refugee who, as she claims, at a program of the Osijek Studio of Croat Radio-Television, asked concerning the agreement: "Are they still in Slavonia, aren't they ashamed to wait for us there?"
That the people are really convinced that there will be no reintegration is evident by construction works going on in privately-oned houses and stores. People are generally ready to admit that there is "a certain risk", and that everything might not end the way they believed it would, by union with Serbia. But, they also note that the buildings are in such a condition that any postponement of reconstruction would mean complete demolition.
- I first rented a store, I didn't want to invest money in reconstruction of my own - Mara P., the owner of a privately-owned butcher's shop, says. - But, four years have passed since then, and my house is dilapidating. Why not reconstruct it? After all, two more years will pass before any change occurs, and then we shall see. Anything might happen here even in a single day.
The essential difference from the times before the Erdut agreement is that the Slavonians are now ready to at least consider the possibility that in two years at the most they will be reintegrated into Croatia. Most of them say that in that case they would emigrate if they got "a just compensation". But, some do not believe that anything of the kind will be possible.
- I see what is happening - Slavka, the saleswoman, says. - I spent a month in the corridor of a building in the part of the city called Olajnik under shells of the Yugoslav Army. They destroyed my two houses and set my daughter's apartment on fire with a shell. They recruited my husband and my son-in-law. All that for the sake of annexation to Serbia. The Croats will try my husband and my son-in-law when they return. They'll throw me out of the apartment, because I was forced to enter an empty apartment that belonged to the Croats. I have nothing of my own. And all those immense police forces from Serbia have taken positions along the Danube not to protect us, but to prevent us from going into Serbia, if we start to flee. Serbia will not accept us, and Croatia won't have us, where shall we go? Into the Danube?
Most of the people gathered around Slavica, although they have previously vehemently explained that there would be no reintegration, passed over her words in silence.
(AIM) Dragan Cicic