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Tourists don't exactly flock to this once-lovely baroque city that was reduced to rubble in 1991 in one of the most notorious events of the Yugoslav war. On May 2, 1991, 12 Croatian policemen were ambushed and killed in the suburb of Borovo. By September, Croat refugees had fled from outlying areas to the city center, which came under siege by the JNA (Yugoslav People's Army). After weeks of heavy bombardment that left the city in ruins, Vukovar fell on November 18. Of the thousands of Croatian residents who were captured—many had fled to the hospital, where they were awaiting the arrival of the Red Cross—a substantial number wound up in a mass grave outside the village of Ovcara, 7 km (4½ mi) to the southeast. All told, some 2,000 Croatians perished in the siege of Vukovar, with roughly the same number still reported as missing. As of this writing, two Serbs were on trial in The Hague for allegedly carrying out the massacre of those who'd fled to the city hospital. Vukovar was named after the ancient Vucedol culture that inhabited a site 5 km (3 mi) downstream along the Danube from the present-day city some 5,000 years ago. The area near the present-day town was later the site of a Roman settlement, and by the 11th century a community existed at the town's present location; this settlement became the seat of Vukovo County in the 13th century. After Turkish rule (1526-1687), almost all of Vukovar and environs was bought by the counts of Eltz, a German family that strongly influenced the development of the town for the next two centuries and whose palace, severely damaged in the 1991 siege, is home to the local museum. In a poignant reminder of what happened here not long ago, the visitor cannot help but notice a steady, somber stream of pedestrian traffic to one of present-day Vukovar's most conspicuous sites: a tall, simple concrete cross situated at the tip of a narrow causeway overlooking the Danube. While this war memorial honors all victims on both sides, with inscriptions in both Cyrillic and Roman letters, within eyeshot of here is another conspicuous sight that presumably does not win the hearts of local Serbs—a bust of the late Croatian leader Franjo Tudman on a square bearing his name.
Vukovar is as much the scene of urban renewal as it is of destruction. A steady influx of European Union reconstruction funds has been changing the face of the city; Vukovar may very well be Croatia's only town with an ulica Europske Unije (European Union Street). Although at least half of all structures are damaged to some degree, new houses and ongoing construction are much in evidence; and you have the sense that most of those heavily damaged buildings that are still standing are there precisely because their reconstruction is planned at some point. As a walk around the town center in later afternoon or early evening will amply show, public life is again taking shape here, and new public spaces are gaining vitality and purpose—even if the underlying tensions between the town's Serbian and Croatian residents remain.
Vukovar at a Glance
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