Additional information Croatia (Croatian Returnees)

Situation in Croatia (1991 – 1995)

When Yugoslavia fell apart in 1991, the government of Croatia declared independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) and the Croatian war of Independence broke out between the Croatian army and the Serb-controlled Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and local Serb forces, with the JNA ending its combat operations in Croatia by 1992. Serbian forces gradually occupied villages and towns in areas that were more or less inhabited by Serbs. In these areas, the remaining Croats were being persecuted, houses robbed, bridges destroyed, and countless mines were being laid.

One of the most tragic battles was the siege of Vukovar which lasted 87 days and during which approximately 1,600 city defenders and 1,000 civilians were also killed. When the city was taken over by the Yugoslavian National Army and Serbian paramilitary forces, many Croatian defenders were killed and tortured and others were transported to Serbian prisoner of war camps.

About 500,000 Croats fled to the liberated parts of Croatia. Further refugees arrived in these regions when the war broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina in April 1992.

About 21,000 people died on both sides in the Croatian War of Independence, and 50,000 were disabled. Furthermore, years after, in 2010, 32,000 Croats were still suffering from a war-related post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Summing up, during the Independence War, many people fled their homes because they were being persecuted and their lives were under threat.

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Source: Balkans War 1991, Dubrovnik, Flickr Peter Denton, Wikipedia


2) Refugee route

  1. Vukovar, Croatia (starting point, hometown of Jelena) A
  2. Srijemska Mitrovica, Serbia (concentration camp in Serbia) for Croatian civilians B
  3. Pitomača, Croatia (first stop after return to Croatia) C
  4. Kumrovec, Croatia (second location in Croatia) D
  5. Zagreb, Croatia (capital of Croatia, the family stayed there for 9 years) E
  6. Vukovar, Croatia (family returned to their hometown in 2000.) F

The interviewee, Jelena Zera, was only ten years old when the war in Croatia began. She had lived with her family in the city of Vukovar. Jelena’s father was an ambulance driver working in the Vukovar City Hospital and for months she stayed in the bomb shelter with her mother and brother in the hospital basement together with other civilians. Her father was executed after the fall of the city and Jelena was boarded on a bus with her mother and brother and taken to Sremska Mitrovica prison, located in Serbia, which was used as a concentration camp of Croatian and Bosnian prisoners during the war. Here, the Serbian army tried to persuade the Croatian refugees to become citizens of Serbia, but since they refused, the group of civilians were released and they continued their route through eastern Slavonia. The next destination was Pitomača, a city in the north-eastern part of Croatia, where civilians were hosted in private houses of local residents. Jelena stayed there with mother and brother in a house with a family that hosted them. They were warmly welcomed and accepted there and Jelena went to school there for a while. After Pitomača, the family went on to Kumrovec, a village in the northern part of Croatia. The final point of their refugee route was Zagreb, the capital of Croatia the family built their lives and stayed for nine years. Here, Jelena graduated from highschool and felt a sense of belonging and home. In 1997, their hometown of Vukovar was returned to Croatia in a process of peaceful reintegration, including the reconstruction and renovation of the city. Since Vukovar was a city of mixed nationalities, Croats and Serbs needed to learn to live together once again in peace. In the year 2000, Jelena and her family returned to their hometown where they have lived ever since. Returning home to Vukovar was not easy for Jelena since this was a place where she had lived through a great trauma and a city which was now, nine years later, unfamiliar to her. The city still had not recovered from the wounds of the war and most of the people she had known before the war, including her childhood friends, did not live there anymore. But in the end, Jelena was able to build a good life for herself in her hometown despite all the hardship she had lived through.

Vukovar, November 1991 – a street in the once beautiful city center of Vukovar, completely destroyed by war

Source: Sipa Press