Please note that, while I had been to Dubrovnik, Karlovac, Osijek… during the “homeland war” (“Domovinski Rat” as it is called in Croatia) I have not had the honor of visiting Vukovar during or after the war. This does not change the fact: Vukovar is My Viet Nam, our collective Vietnam, our weeping wound and a soul-shattering memory we still seem unable to heal from. (R.L.)

Everyone has their Vietnam” (Claude A. Thomas, a Vietnam Veteran turned Zen Buddhist monk and author of At Hell’s Gate. A Soldier’s journey from War to Peace.)

Some 1,800 Croatian guys – most of them not even trained soldiers – were defending the City of Vukovar. It was at the beginning of the war and our side did not have proper arms or trained soldiers, it was a horrid, bloody mess. Vukovar was attacked by 20,000 to 50,000 enemy soldiers, the numbers wary, but in either case our guys have been vastly outnumbered and overpowered. Over several hundred tanks, about 50 fighters from the Yugoslav Army’s Air Force were attacking, ravaging the City – it couldn’t survive. It was beyond miraculous that the guys managed to defend it for 90 days, out of which 56 days they did not have running water, electricity or any sort of communication. They were basically left alone.

So, in order to save the lives of the several thousands civilians still living in the City the most difficult, albeit the only possible, decision was made: a surrender of the City! Alas, immediately after they surrendered in order to be driven out of Vukovar, the Serbs slaughtered 12 doctors and nurses, slaughtered 261 wounded combat veterans lying in the hospital and murdered several hundred prisoners, all of them now combat vets!

Željka Jurić, a girl in a blue coat

Željka Jurić, a girl in a blue coat

One of the people survived was the famous Croatian “little girl in a blue jacket,” than a six (6) years old Željka Jurić. Why was she famous? During those 90 days she lived in a shelter, under constant attack of at least 30,000 grenades / bombs / tank shells falling onto the City and one of the soldiers, named Alexander, was her father and mother, her protector, her everything in that hellhole. She said that most of the people would not be able to understand it, but those days in the shelter, she claims, were the most happiest days of her lives!!

Why? She felt safe and secure with her Alexander, loved and protected.

The rest you may have guessed already. The Serbs took Alexander he was denounced — by the Serb woman that has been living next to Željka in the shelter for the duration of the siege and was also protected and fed by him and his comrades — as a combat soldier so they executed him in front of the little girl in the blue coat eyes. Reuters photographer took a photo or her crying and that was it.

So, now 22 years after the war, as Vukovar is again, as I type, boiling hot over the Serbian Cyrillic the government wants to be equal (official) to our Latin alphabet, she still lives in that day. She can’t forget or forgive, she and many surviving combat vets whose comrades basically saved Croatia (if Vukovar had felt before we obtained arms to fight back, they would’ve slaughter us all) but were slaughtered, can’t neither forget nor forgive…

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Luckily, Vukovar Without Hatred can be found here.