Recovery and Remembrance Dubrovnik after War: Ten Years after Serb Bombardment, Croatia's `Pearl of the Adriatic' Has Rebuilt, but Deep Scars Remain. (Special Report)

By Patterson, Margot | National Catholic Reporter, November 2, 2001 | Go to article overview

Recovery and Remembrance Dubrovnik after War: Ten Years after Serb Bombardment, Croatia's `Pearl of the Adriatic' Has Rebuilt, but Deep Scars Remain. (Special Report)


Patterson, Margot, National Catholic Reporter


From the airport, the Adriatic coastal road that winds around the mountains to Dubrovnik offers spectacular views of bare, stony mountains dropping down to crystalline blue sea. When Dubrovnik appears in the distance, the sight is one more beautiful vista. Below, perched on the edge of the sea, the medieval city is enclosed by centuries-old city walls often considered the finest in Europe.

Dubrovnik up close is as stunning as from afar. The city dazzles when on a sunny day the marble pavement on the main street, the Placa, gleams underfoot. Despite its age, the city built of light-colored stone seems luminous, almost pristine, a place mellowed by time but not marred. Looking at the churches and palaces on the square adjoining the Placa, it's hard to believe that 10 years ago this fall Dubrovnik was engulfed in war, one of the first casualties of the Balkans wars that broke out in Croatia, then spread to Bosnia and Kosovo and now threatens Macedonia. The break-up of Yugoslavia following the collapse of the Soviet Union took the lives of many thousands of Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims and ethnic Albanians living in Kosovo.

"If you came here 10 years ago, you would only see grenades, shells, fire, wounded people. But now it's nine years past when the last grenade came. It's all been rebuilt," said Kregimir Bilic, who takes tickets at the museum in the Dominican monastery.

Twenty-six grenades fell on the Dominican monastery during the war. The 13th-century monastery was one of hundreds of buildings damaged by the siege of Dubrovnik. During the siege, the Yugoslav Army bombarded Dubrovnik by air, land and sea. Two thousand shells fell on the city. Seventy percent of Dubrovnik's buildings suffered direct hits, and many of Dubrovnik's most precious monuments and churches were bombed despite -- or, some say, because of -- UNESCO flags marking them. Little in Dubrovnik was left untouched by the war, neither the city walls, nor the city's fortresses, streets, churches, public buildings or homes. "In every house you'll find traces of the shrapnel on the walls," said Dubravka Zvrko, director of publicity for the Institute for the Restoration of Dubrovnik.

Today, few signs of the destruction wrought by the siege are visible. "You walk around the inner city, and there's nothing that reminds you of the war," marveled Bert Tiemes, a Dutch NATO official visiting Dubrovnik for the first time.

But engage people in conversation, and the wounds left by the war begin to show.

"There is a lot of mistrust. That is the biggest problem," said Marta Mihanovic, a doctor in Zagreb, who was in Dubrovnik during the siege. "It was terrible during the war," Mihanovic said, recalling children who walked to school dodging bullets.

"Forgive but not forget. For me, it is an important phrase," Mihanovic said. Minutes later, Mihanovic said that she works with Serbs in Zagreb but would not be friends with a Serb. "I do not trust them," she said.

"Serbs done to us big, big trouble," said Bilic. "All factories destroyed; tourism destroyed. Many, many years will pass before we get back to where we were."

Dubrovnik seems on its way, though. At dusk, tourists throng the cafes on the Placa. The languages heard on the street are Italian, German, English, French, even Japanese.

"Obviously, were back in business," said Antonijeta Nives Milos, the director of tourism in Dubrovnik.

Tourism is the mainstay of Dubrovnik, a city of about 55,000. The recovery of the tourist industry began in 1998, dipped in 1999 because of the crisis in Kosovo, and has since rebounded despite the continuing shortage of hotel beds due to the war, when half of Dubrovnik's hotel stock was destroyed.

The revival of tourism is linked to the reconstruction of the city, which began its, repair efforts even as it was being bombed. Since 1991, the Croatian government has spent $2 million annually on restoring Dubrovnik, a sum augmented by contributions from the international community. …

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