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Review/Reseña

Vukovar. The Final Cut. La Guerras de Secesión de Yugoslavia en el cine.

Marcos Ferreira Navarro


Estudiante de 4 º de Grado de Historia, Universidad de León, Universidade Nova
de Lisboa y Universidad de Granada

Key Words: Vukovar, Wars of Yugoslavia, Serbia, Croatia.

Palabras Clave: Vukovar, Guerras de Yugoslavia, Serbia, Croacia

From the geographical point of view Vukovar is a medium-sized town located in


Eastern Slavonia, near to the frontier with Serbia. Nevertheless, from the historic
and symbolic point of view, Vukovar is one of the most important towns in the
recent past of the Republic of Croatia. Between August of 1991 and November of
the same year the town was entirely destroyed by the Yugoslav People Army
(JNA) with the important aid of the Serbian paramilitary forces such as White
Eagles leaded by Vojislav Šešelj or the Tigers of Arkan leaded by Željko
Ražnatović, also known as Arkan. The destruction of the town took place in the
big picture of the Croatian War (1991-1995), the second war of those which
compose the Disintegration Wars of Yugoslavia1.
Vukovar. The Final Cut is since the 2005 (the date when it was released to the
public eye) a compulsory reference for those who want to comprehend the
immediate process that leaded into the War of Croatia in general and the battle of
Vukovar in particular. One of the strongest points of the documentary is found out
in its creators. I consider that it is necessary to point out that the documentary was
born and created by a joined effort carried out by a Serb (the filmmaker Janko
Baljak) and a Croatian (the journalist Drago Hedl) with the sponsorship of the
Serbian radio station B92. In other words, this is the first Serbo-Croatian

1
Those armed conflicts began in Slovenia with the Ten Days War (1991) and ended up with the
fights between members of Albanian NLA and the forces of Macedonia (2001). During those
ten years three other conflicts took place: the War of Croatia (1991-1995), the War of Bosnia-
Herzegovina (1992-1995), and the War of Kosovo (1998-1999)
production about the war in Yugoslavia since the death of the latter. Moreover, the
film is not conducted by a narrator, but with a great amount of testimonies about
the events and several footage and videos from that time, some of them showing
important players in the events such as Tomislav Mercep, Mile Dedakovic,
Vojislav Šešelj or Martin Špegelj.
The documentary is divided in three different parts, all of them are connected to
each other. On the hand, the first part relates from the first grievances between
Serbs and Croatians in Vukovar and surrounding areas to the beginning of the
battle of Vukovar. In this sense, this first part explains that Vukovar was an easy-
going and peaceful town at the river Danube where nobody cares about the ethnic
of the people who lived there. In addition, the testimonies added that people
started to think about their nationality when the nationalism started to rise rapidly
and powerfully from both sides. However, it is not explained why the nationalism
increased and why it was so popular among the Croat population even to divide
people into two sides: the Serbian population from Croatia and the Croatian
population2. It is right that the economic crisis is thought as the main factor that
fostered the rise of the nationalism, but I consider this is not enough. In my
opinion, it would have been much better if the authors had explained briefly the
legitimize elements of the Tito's Yugoslavia and how these fell apart since the
death of the Marshal3 and the triggers which lead to the Disintegration Wars of
Yugoslavia4, in order to give to the spectator the tools to respond why and how the
rise of nationalism occurred.

2
Between 1990 and 1991 different low and small armed clashes happened between Serbia brand
and Croatian brand such as the “Log Revolution”, the ambuscade of Borovo Selo where 12
Croatian police guards were killed or the low armed conflict in Plitvice where two people died
and 20 were wounded. All those events are treated in the documentary. In addition, it is showed
in the documentary how the two brands armed illegally. For further information: Vid. NATION,
R. Craig, War in the Balkans, Washington, Strategic Studies Institute, 2003 and VEIGA,
Francisco, La Fábrica de las Fronteras. Guerras de secesión yugoslavas (1991-2001),
Madrid, Alianza Editorial, 2011.
3
Those elements are: The Partisan Resistance; The Yugoslavia-Soviet Union split; Alternative
Socialism System: Self management Socialism; Brotherhood and Unity; Non-Aligned
Movement and The figure of Josip Broz “Tito”.
4
In this sense I mean the failure of Federal Prime Minister Ante Marković in his economic
program to resolve the economic crisis, the breakup of the Yugoslavia Communist League, the
elections to the republican level but not to the federal and the fall of the collective presidency.
Those three events took place between the beginning of 1990 and the middle of 1991.
Nevertheless, the documentary, through the testimonies, put on the table a truly
interesting and disturbing question: Did the Serbian population, who left Vukovar
and other places from Eastern Slavonia in the prior moments to the battle of
Vukovar, know what was going to occur there? This question, impossible to be
responded entirely, is really good because it introduces a dilemma in the spectator.
Did the Serbian people run away from Vukovar and other parts of Croatia because
they were afraid of the Croatian nationalism or did they escape because they had
some kind of privilege information? If the spectator thinks that the second one is
the correct answer, the question about how powerful can affect the nationalism
forces to people, especially to split people who were living together peacefully, is
going to stay in their heads for a long time.
Another remarkable point of this first part is the explanation that the Serbian
population who decided to ignore the nationalism and stayed in Vukovar suffered
the persecution just for the fact of being Serbs. In total, the documentary relates
that there are 126 reports of Serbian persons from Vukovar who were abducted
and there is no trace of them nowadays. Furthermore, it is showed in the film that
the abductions were ordered by Tomislav Mercep about who is supposed, in the
moments prior to the battle of Vukovar, to be controlling the city and people who
was living there according with his desires5.
The second part of the documentary deals with the battle of Vukovar and its
development. It can be watched in this part how the Serbian troops were much
superior in the number of soldiers and weapons in comparison to the Croatian
forces in the Vukovar field. But specially, this second part of the documentary
points out the process that every war needs: the dehumanization. Dehumanization
of the soldiers who fought and killed without knowledge about why they were
fighting for. Dehumanization of the generals and captains who ordered to attack
and bombard innocent people when the bombs and the missiles were launched

5
This suggestion is supported by a clip where Mercep told some persons to write down the name
of that people they think is not reliable. In addition, the best historian of the Disintegration of
Yugoslavia in Spain, Francisco Veiga, also supported the thesis that Mercep was an important
figure in Vukovar who ruled the city like if He was a “cacique”. Vid. VEIGA, Francisco, La
Fábrica de las Fronteras. Guerras de secesión yugoslavas (1991-2001), Madrid, Alianza
Editorial, 2011.
against the hospital of Vukovar or when the convoy was not allowed to enter in
the city. Dehumanization of the media and politicians which fostered the hate
against the other side reminding the events that occurred in the Second Word War.
Dehumanization in the authorities that ordered and the soldiers that carried out the
ethnic cleansing. And dehumanization in the civilians who only objective was not
more than survive all that hell. A dehumanization of the soldiers and Serb civilians
from Vukovar that after the end of the battle started to steal the objects from those
(Croatians) who left as much possible as they could. In short, this second part
denounces the stupidity and the cruelty of the war through showing the
dehumanization process that all the participants, direct ones or indirect ones,
suffer in a war.
The third and last part of the film is dedicated to the Ovčara Massacre and the
legal fate that their perpetrators followed in the International Criminal Tribunal for
the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). One one hand, the Ovčara Massacre occurred
two-three days after the end of the battle of Vukovar (the battle ended the 18 th of
November with the surrender of the Croatian troops to the Serbian and JNA ones)
where between 255-264 people, among them were civilians and war prisoners,
were killed by Serbian (not JNA) troops. This part continues to show the process
of dehumanization treated in the second part of the film and mentioned in the
paragraph above. On the other hand, taking into account the trials for the crimes
committed in Vukovar during the battle and those committed in the Ovčara
Massacre, I consider interesting to see how most of those who were under
indictment for war crimes always tried to take away importance to the actions they
were judged for or even tried to take legitimacy away from to the court6. Even
more interesting is to see how depending on the society one figure can be either a
hero or a war criminal. It is showed in the documentary the case of Veselin
Šljivančanin whose detention (in Belgrade) was followed by some unrest of

6
The only important figure who accepted responsibilities for their acts was the first president of
the “Republic of Serbian Krajina” Milan Babic. Other important figures during the war such as
Vojislav Šešelj, Slobodan Milosevic, Goran Hadzic, Mile Mrkšić, Miroslav Radic and Veselin
Šljivančanin (three of them condemned for the events in Ovčara) always tried to underrate their
actions during the war.
people who tried to avoid being arrest7.
To sum up, this documentary is a fresh and well documented vision (interviews
with direct characters such as soldiers, intelligence workers, politicians, generals,
etc.) of the Battle of Vukovar or the Croatian War. There you can find talks to
witnesses of the events in the front of Vukovar or other parts of Croatia whose
vision is really important to help us comprehend the development of the events.
Extended TV and footage material based on investigation in local TV station
archives, on national TV and radio station archives, on world journalist agencies
such as Reuters or ITN and on private archives and footage which offers to the
spectator the two sides of the story, not with the objective to equalize between
both brands the responsibility of what occurred in Vukovar in the summer of 1991
(it is out of any doubt that the Vukovar battle was an armed campaign started by
the JNA and the Serbian paramilitary forces and whereupon, the responsibility for
the destruction of the town belongs to the Serbian side), but with the target of
providing the spectators the necessary tools to know and comprehend one of the
most terrible events that marked profoundly the collective memory of the
inhabitants of Croatia and Serbia in general and the inhabitants (either Croats or
Serbs) of Vukovar.

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Further information about the views of the past by the societies from the former republics of
Yugoslavia can be read in “Ethnic Divisions Set in Stone”. Balkan Insight, 25th June of 2012.
http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/ethnic-divisions-set-in-stone
Documentary file:
Name: Vukovar. The Final Cut
Year: 2005
Country: Croatia and Serbia
Length: 103 minutes
Direction: Janko Baljak & Drago Hedl
Script: Janko Baljak & Drago Hedl