We have a good friend from our hometown that was born in Croatia and her parents still live there. We also met up with another family on their summer vacation in the village where Toni is from. We were so fortunate to be invited to visit and as Keegan wrote about in his blog we were invited to the wonderful baptism of their very cute daughter, Layla.
We started the weekend by taking a short trip up to the family’s wine vineyard. Many family’s have small wine vineyards in this village that they work as a hobby. This is a beautiful piece of land that also has a small house with an outhouse, sort of a studio apartment above the wine cellar where the barrels are kept. The views were incredible from all angles. After a very nice evening drinking some wonderful homegrown white wine a few of us adults went to the village festival (everything is walking distance as Keegan mentioned). We stayed out probably (ok not probably) a little later than we should have but we had a wonderful time in the big tent listening to live Croatian music and dancing the night away. It was a fun night with a lot of laughs and catching up with friends.
The next day our friend’s father, Zlatko, gave the two American families a wonderful tour of the sites in Croatia’s capital; Zagreb. We visited the church of Saint Mark’s and Trg Bana Jelacica, Zagreb’s main square, just to mention a couple. We also visited the Trakoscan Castle in northern Croatia. Zlatko was able to rent a large van from a friend that made it so convenient to have one vehicle for all of us. We had incredible hosts.
Zagreb is a wonderful city with not only old, rich history but recent history as well. The entire country has a population of about 4.5 million. It is, at this point, still not a member of the EU but it is said to be close to becoming a member country. Some would love for it to happen sooner than later because it would open the doors to new opportunities and growth however many would rather it not happen for those same reasons.
The recent war in this area is complicated to understand because it has so many factors spanning over such a long period of time. But the more I read and talk with the locals I realize this was a war in the making that was realized over many centuries of turmoil, with a strong springboard from World War I and II during the reign of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. After the death of Josip Broz “Tito” (Yugoslavia’s charismatic yet controversial leader) in 1980, economic, political, and religious difficulties started to mount and the federal government began to crumble during this decade. During this time the Kosovo War Crisis occurred as well as the rise of Slobodan Milosevic. So the area was unsettled all around. On Easter Sunday, March 31, 1991 the first fatal clashes occurred in the beautiful Plitvice Lakes National Park (we took a day trip and hiked this incredible park-we would recommend this visit) between Croatian and Serbian forces.
And then again during the same year, 1991, the Battle of Vukar took place, which lasted from the middle of August to November 16. At least 3,000 people were killed and this battle completely destroyed the city of Vukar (the largest complete city destruction since WWII). On October 1, 1991, the walled-city of Dubrovnik was attacked by the Yugoslav People’s Army, led by Slobodan Milosevic, he declared that Dubrovnik would not be permitted to stay a part of Croatia because it was historically a part of Montenegro. The casualties of this 7-month conflict were 166 people. In May 1992, the Croatian Army lifted the siege and liberated Dubrovnik (we also took a day trip to see this amazing city-we would recommend this visit as well).
Conflicts continued on a small scale and sporadically in Croatia until 1995.
On August 4, 1995, the Croatian Armed Forces in conjunction with the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina effectively carried out a large-scale military operation known as “Operation Storm”. They had received strategic instruction from the US based firm, Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI), this engagement was approved by the US Government. This conflict lasted about 4 days with complete victory for the Croatian forces.
The history of this country is so vast and still so fresh that I can’t help but wonder if the younger generations, from all sides, are strong enough to put these differences aside and move forward toward a more peaceful future.