location: Vukovar is the city at the north-east of Croatia, situated at the mouth of the Vuka in the Danube River and it is Croatia’s biggest port on Danube. The eastern, older part of the city is situated on the right riverbank on the slopes of the Vukovar plateau and the tall Danube riverbank. Western part of the city, New Vukovar and Borovo naselje lie at the lowland of the left bank of the Vuka River. According to 1991 census, ethnic breakdown of Vukovar was mixed and almost equally divided between two main groups: 31.445 (37,35 percent) of Serbs and 36.910 (43,8 percent) of Croatians. In city’s central part proportion was 47 percent of Croatians and 32 percent of Serbs. It is worth noting that according to census there were 35 percent of mixed marriages. According to 2011 census Vukovar had 27.683 inhabitants of which 57,37 percent were Croatians and 37,87 percent were Serbs. Since the city no longer encompasses the same territorial-administrative area as it did in 1991, direct comparison of data is impossible, but it is clear that in the relative sense there was no decline of the number of Serbs who live in the city, which is primarily result of the peaceful reintegration of the Danube region.
time of crime: June — November 1991
description of crime: Vukovar rightfully occupies special place in the public debate about the war in Croatia. But what is constantly and unjustly omitted are facts about killings, abductions, looting and expelling Serbs from this city which started in June of 1991, i.e. in the period when there had been no real war events in the city. These happenings are being connected with Tomisalv Merčep who between 10 June and 13 August held a position of the Secretary of the Municipal Secretariat for National Defence in Vukovar, and with the units that he had led. Even before flare-up of conflicts, during the spring of 1991, fear and mutual distrust reigned in Vukovar because of what has been happening elsewhere in Croatia. The situation was further aggravated after conflict and killing of 12 Croatian policemen in Borovo selo on 2 May 1991. Numerous citizens of Vukovar then left the city in fear for their safety. One witness gave her account about of situation in Vukovar at that time:
Already around 3 p.m., as soon as people were back from work, the city turned into a ghost town. As darkness fell, people would go their basements. There has been no night without sounding of an explosive or a sound of gunfire. When you heard a sound of car breaks near your house, you could be certain that in a few moments there would be an explosion. There was shooting at houses and constant telephone threats which caused many to leave Vukovar. These departures became mass occurrences when the word spread out about nightly arrests and disappearances of people.
First victim of war in Vukovar was Jovan Jakovljević (51) whose house was visited by a group of armed men on 29 June at about 11 p.m. They introduced themselves as policemen and invited Jakovljević to come out of the house. When he refused, asking them to return at daytime, they threatened to blow up his house. Jakovljević then came out and unknown men killed him with shots from firearms at the very entrance of his family home.
Uniformed Croatian National Guard (ZNG) members came to collect Savo Damjanović at his workplace on 25 July 1991 and took him “to an unknown destination”. Since that day Damjanovic disappeared without trace. Mladen Mrkić on 31 July 1991 presented report about the completed harvest at the Worker’s Council session as he has done every year. After the session, he started for home but never arrived there. Witnesses claim that six men in uniforms had forced him to follow them. In two vehicles without licence plates they drove to the Territorial Defence headquarters. Since that day Mrkić disappeared without trace. Željko Paić met similar destiny as ZNG members intercepted him on 10 August 1991 when he was on his way to town. These examples are certainly not the only ones, but serve as a good illustration of crimes committed in Vukovar in 1991.
Information about events reached the then Government Commissioner for the city of Vukovar, Marin Vidić, who in August 1991 wrote to the president Franjo Tuđman, prime minister Franjo Gregorić and the opposition leaders, warning them that Tomislav Merčep “surrounded by persons of dubious integrity and professional qualities, former criminals, absolutely took over control of everything in the Vukovar municipality, not shrinking form violent and repressive measures over citizens of Vukovar (illegal breaking into private flats, directing with verbal or written notes persons who sought accommodation to move into deserted flats, looting apartments, confiscating private vehicles, forced arrests for questioning and even executions)”.
In the interview for Feral Tribune in 1997 Vidić states that he was in a mined house of one of the Serb councillors, SDP members, and in the flat of one female employee from the municipality where armed persons broke into the house and looted it. Vidić also says that in the spring of 1991 “people would disappear never to reappear again”. Merčep’s activity, as is evident from the letter by Marin Bilić Bili, completely blocked the work of police, Croatian National Guard and administrative bodies, which had crated “general confusion”. At Josip Manolić’s intervention, in mid August, Merčep was brought to Zagreb by helicopter and then appointed as assistant to the minister at the Ministry of Interior. In an interview that he gave just after the fall of Vukovar, asked if during his stay in Vukovar (before his still unclear arrest and relocation to Zagreb at the beginning of August 1991, after which he becomes Minister Ivan Vekić’s adviser), he has done everything possible to defend that city, he said: “I have done as much as I could, but not as much as I had intended. We ought to have cleared Petrova Gora of people who have gotten arms; we should have put under control and stabilized territory between Bogdanovci and Sajmište. I had that on my mind, but did not have the time to do it. Everything else has been cleared.” In the same interview Merćep admits that there have been cases when people “lost heads” during actions that he had conducted, and asked about numerous corpses which had floated down the Danube he said: “I do not say that no corpse ever floated down the Danube. In such a big area, in such situation, everybody could have done whatever they wanted. But in Vukovar we had everything under control so that here such things were not happenings on a significant scale.”
victims: List of names, or the number of all Serb victims who were killed or have endured some form of harassment in the Vukovar area during the war events, has never been completely established, and big discussions are still led about it. Assessments range from several dozens to more than 120 persons killed. Here we list only some of the names of Serb victims in Vukovar:
- Zoran Filipović
- Vlado Skeledžija
- Savo Damjanović
- Branko Mirjanić
- Mladen Mrkić
- Slavo Dragašić
- Bogdan Bogdanović
- Željko Pajić
- Obrad Drača
- Miodrag Nađ
- Ljuban Vučinić
- Slavko Miodrag
- Slobodan Vučković
- Milenko Đuričić
- Bogdan Stupar…
judicial consequences: ICTY investigators came to Vukovar on four occasions in 1996 and in 1997 and dealt with war crimes committed against Serbs in the city and its environs. Their interest was directed at Tomislav Merčep’s activity and that of his group, which was addressing him as “Dad”, about which some 100 witnesses testified to The Hague court investigators. Some of these testimonies were collected in the book Crime Without Punishment which was published in Vukovar in 1997 and where precise data exist about 86 persons who went missing in Vukovar in that period. But Merčep never answered before the Hague court. In 2000, when Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) lost elections, Croatian state leadership received an anonymous letter from the “concerned citizens of Vukovar” which described in detail executions of Serb civilians. After that, informative talks were held with Stipe Polo and Zvonimir Radoš, head and deputy head of the Vukovar police in 1991, who claimed that police documentation about executions and disappearances of Serb civilians in Vukovar were lost after the city’s fall. However this documentation has not been found even after years of city’s occupation which was ended by peaceful reintegration of the Danube region on 15 January 1998, and investigation was discontinued. Only on 10 February 2012, after six months-long investigation, Zagreb County prosecution raised an indictment against Tomislav Merčep. But in the court process which is still ongoing, Merčep is not charged with crimes committed in Vukovar, but with those which his unit had committed in the second half of 1991 in the area of Zagreb, Pakrac and Kutina. No indictment has been raised yet for crimes committed against Serbs in Vukovar in 1991, nor has anyone been held responsible for these crimes.