The story of Vukovar is a heart-wrenching one full of immense courage and extraordinary resilience. It happened 25 years ago.
Serbian troops had just about overrun a third of Croatia. Only one city held out stubbornly despite great odds. The top Serbian General was sent to deal with Vukovar.
On 18th November 1991, Vukovar was surrounded by 36,000 Serbian troops along with 110 vehicles, tanks and a dozen planes. Somehow, by sheer force of the human spirit, the Croats within the city held. Despite being outnumbered and greatly outpowered, the Serbian troops had to fight for every inch of gain.
They still could not take Vukovar.
President Tudjman of Croatia had ascertained that the town was as good as gone. He refused to commit more of Croatia's insufficient troops. At that time, except for Germany, Croatia was not recognised by the international community as a sovereign country. No one came to help.
Desperate to save his town, the Commander of the Croat troops in Vukovar (Mile Dedakovic) walked for THIRTEEN hours, right through enemy lines with a small band of soldiers to personally plead with President Tudjman to send heavy artillery. President Tudjman made a strategic decision NOT to send troops, but told Commander Mile Dedakovic that he would send some troops.
Commander Mile Dedakovic then walked back through enemy lines for THIRTEEN hours, to save his town. No help came. He had no choice but to surrender his town to save his people. This story of courage against all odds moved people internationally and Germany was able to influence the other European nations to recognise Croatia as a country unto its own.
This is the part where my jaw fell to the floor. This man walked through enemy lines TWICE. Once to get out. Once to get back IN. He must have known he risked death getting out and then he went back IN to die with his people.
At the Zaghreb airport (even before learning anything about Croatia), I looked around at the Croatian men and remarked to The Daughter, "They look badass scary." They're big men with grim faces that don't smile. And it is true. Men or women, the Croatians do not smile. They may speak kindly and gently. They show their hospitality in action, e.g., an old woman helped The Daughter get to Sarajevo after she was dropped by the bus in the middle of nowhere... Perica (our landlord in Dubrovnich) carried our heavy bags to the bus station for us... Alena (our landlady here in Mali Ston) offered to drive us out for groceries... and they do it with no extra monetary charges...
... but they do not smile much whilst they are rescuing you out of your quandary.
Commander Mile Dedakovic later went to the press to accuse his own President of willingly sacrificing Vukovar to achieve international recognition of Croatia's sovereignty. What pain of betrayal this man must have felt and yet, he must have understood that Vukovar had to fall so that the whole of Croatia could be saved.
To this day, on every 18th of November, posters go up all over the country proclaiming every other town's love for Vukovar. See below a poster proclaiming Ston's love for Vukovar. It was the death of Vukovar that saw Croatia rise from the ashes of war to soar upwards phoenix like.
I think it is quite quite unfair that the man Mile Dedakovic, who fought so bravely and well for his motherland is not more honoured. There should be statues to him and more historical references to him. I mean, who does that... walk through enemy lines TWICE... like taking a walk in the park? Unfortunately, his story is not politically correct and his name is threatened with oblivion.