Collapse of Tudjman's model of reconstruction of Vukovar

Drago Hedl

MON, 14 AUG 2000

Zagreb, August 4, 2000 - When in June this year Vukovar city administration decided to draw up the balance sheet and see how the plan was proceeding according to which 21 buildings should have been reconstructed by all Croatian districts, the city of Zagreb inclusive, the result was quite disappointing. Out of the 21, just four have been reconstructed, and out of these four only one - the school in Mitnica - serves its purpose. The other three - former Hungarian school, the building of Borovo railway station and the kindergarten in Borovo - will not serve their purpose for a long time: they are locked up, resembling film scenery, and the sombre Vukovar background makes their vivid colouring even more surreal.

It was three years in June since late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, who liked pompousness and parades, arrived triumphantly in Vukovar by the Peace Train, similar to the the Freedom Train in which he had two years before that visited Knin. In the Peace Train, given unprecedented publicity by controlled media, the very top leadership of the ruling team arrived in Vukovar with Tudjman, and between toasts with Champagne in celebration of the recent completion of the process of peaceful reintegration of Podunavlje, they talked among other about reconstruction of the heavily destroyed city. That is when it occurred to someone that reconstruction of Vukovar was an excellent opportunity to show the all-Croatian solidarity, so it was decided that every one of 20 Croatian districts, the city of Zagreb inclusive, should reconstruct one building destroyed in the war and in this way contribute to faster normalisation of life in this city, but also to return of the banished persons when the time came for it.

The very idea was quite degenerate in its very conception. The districts are finnaced from the state budget because they have no income of their own, so they can pay only what the state previously ratifies for them. But as if this typical example of distributing and redistributing of one and the same amount of money was not enough, yet another absurdity was added to it - majority of the districts forwarded the money first allocated for reconstruction of Vukovar to the Ministry of Reconstruction and Development which then, according to a logic of its own, distributed them independently of the will of those who had given the money. That is how the money was transferred from one state account to another just in order to create an illusion among banished persons from Vukovar that whole of Croatia, its every district, was giving its contribution to their quick return.

But that was just the minor part of the problem. Perhaps the champagne in Tudjman's Peace Train had done its bit, but it did not occur to anyone to include the citizens of Vukovar in this whole story and ask their representatives what should be given priority in reconstruction of the completely destroyed city. Representatives of the district - or somebody instead of them - acted as if they were competing who would make a more preposterous proposal for reconstruction, so among priorities were the Olympic swimming pool, the sports centre, the building of the employment office, the mentioned railway station (through which no trains are passing to this day), the Fransiscan monastery and chapel. Of course, a city needs all these buildings, but to a person whose home has been burned to the ground and who you wish to help live in it again, you would quite certainly not bring a bird cage or a fish aquarium.

That somebody has extremely clumsily started this job is best illustrated by the case which is almost like an ancdote retold by city leaders of Vukovar. The Vukovar-Srijem district' s task was to reconstruct the Home of the Retired better known as Villa Fatima. The one who had reached this decision obviously had no idea that this was in fact the Club of the Retired, the premises in which the pensioners could spend their leisure, playing chess or cards, watching TV. But, more than anyhing else, Vukovar needs a real home of the retired with accommodation facilities and accompanying buildings, because there is not a single bed for such purposes. Instead, the town got its club of pensioners, so that the elderly citizens now have a place where they can play chess, but they have to provide a place to live on their own!

The kindergarten in Borovo which was reconstructed by Krapina-Zagorje district and on which five million kunas were spent, looks quite ordinary. But when you come closer to its brand new windows, you will see that the rooms, playrooms and toilets are quite empty. Except for the walls there is nothing in them, and the city of Vukovar - in order to make the kindergarten serve its purpose - must find almost the same amount of money for its equipment which was used for reconstruction of the building. The impoverished city has no money for it, just as there is no money for the salaries of the employees of the kindergarten. To make it even more absurd, a little money was found for the salary of the watchman who is guarding the kindergarten day-and-night from the neighbours who saw the reconstructed building as a convenient opportunity to steal a tile here and there off its roof, a door, a part of the iron fence or the satellite antenna.

One of the priorities Vukovar needs - if reconstruction of its economy is disregarded, which Tudjman's regime was concerned for the least - is certainly the building which is the seat of the district, because the entire administration is still in Vinkovci, including the district prefect who just occasionally drops by the seat of his district. It was planned that this building be reconstructed for eight million kunas by Split-Dalmatian district, so reconstruction began but was quickly interrupted. The problem was not just the fact that only half of the planned sum has actually been paid and just half of that half was actually paid to the construction company, but that reconstruction of the roof was done so badly that it will have to be done all over again. Reconstruction of the building of the district has been interrupted altogether, and nobody in Vukovar knows when it will be continued and completed, because the city still has no influence on the job.

Just as everything was in reconstruction of Vukovar thus conceived was improvised, the amounts of money needed for reconstruction of individual buildings were arbitrarily determined - without any estimates and calculations. Primorje-Goranska district prefect Milivoj Brozina who has recently visited Vukovar in order to see what state the sports' hall was in since his district was supposed to reconstruct it for 9.5 million kunas, was unpleasantly surprised when experts he had brought with him told him that there would hardly be any games with that money. The hall is in such a state that with 9.5 million kunas it will be possible just to compensate for the damage done to it, but it will be by no means possible to provide everything needed for its reconstruction and equipment. If this job is not undertaken as it should be - it might happen again that the hall will just formally be proclaimed as "reconstructed" but it will not serve its purpose. Just like the kindergarten in Borovo or the railway station in Borovo naselje.

Out of the total of 112 million kunas Croatian districts should have collected, three years after the multitude of promises that arrived along with the Peace Train - hardly 42.6 million have been collected so far. It is surprising that the new regime has shown absolutely no interest to replace the abortive and senseless model of reconstruction conceived by Tudjman and his cronies while drinking champagne during their euphoric visit to Vukovar by a reasonable program of reconstruction in which the list of priorities would be founded on actual needs of this city which has suffered so much, so the money which is scarce as it is will not continue to be spent on "bird-cages" and "fish-aquariums".

Original article