The Serbian forces, the Yugoslav National Army, which controls all the major artillery and air power, has caused considerable destruction to historic buildings and churches in the process of trying to subjugate and divide Croatian territory. According to a report sent to Unesco on 30 August, compiled by the Institute for the Protection of Monuments of the Croat Ministry of Education and Culture, six monuments of national importance, twelve of regional importance and eight of local importance have been damaged or destroyed. In a war characterised by blood-curdling propaganda and rumour-mongering, the precision and soberness of this document, which cites its sources of information, carries conviction.
When the civil war started, one English journalist said that it was as though war had come to the Cotswolds. Actually, to be more precise, it is as though it had come to Austria, for inland Croatia, which was under Hapsburg rule until 1918, is strewn with small villages clustering around baroque churches that would make you think you were near Vienna, if they were not so truly rustic. From the star-shaped fortress of Karlovac (Carlstadt) begun by Archduke Charles of Styria in 1579, to the baroque sophistication of the palace of Eltz, to the neo-Gothic brick of Osijek cathedral (all of which have been damaged), major Croat architecture owes everything to Austria. It is mostly inland Croatia which has suffered in this war, the Dalmatian coast, which is extraordinarily rich in Roman remains and culturally was in the Italian orbit, having escaped more lightly.
The façade of the beautiful Renaissance cathedral at Sibenic has been shelled and the beautiful medieval town of Zadar, with its romanesque churches reminiscent of Lucca, is surrounded by Serbian tanks and is constantly being shaken by low-flying bombers, but Dubrovnik and Split are untouched.
The Croat authorities are invoking the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (for the complete text, see The Art Newspaper No. 6, March 1991, pp.10, 11, 12), to which Yugoslavia is a signatory, and which applies also to civil war situations (Article 19). The Hague Convention shield-shaped device which, like the red cross, is supposed to provide immunity in time of war has been dutifully applied to monuments; none the less, two of those marked have been attacked (see box).
The large number of small churches damaged or destroyed may mean that there has been a definite intention to target them for being the focuses of village life, the embodiment of sectarian difference—both religious and ideological—and of nationalism: Croats are Catholic and reformist while Serbs are Orthodox and their government still Communist in all but name. At Hrvatski Cuntic (Petrinja district), the eighteenth-century parish church and Franciscan friary were both bombarded. Petrol was then poured on the church and it was burnt, together with the friary archives. At Karin in Central Dalmatia, the Franciscan friary and church were attacked with mortar fire and the friars then driven out.
Croat monuments of national importance damaged
•Stara Gradiska (Nova Gradiska district)
16-18th-century fortress with old city centre. Tower damaged by missiles 17 August. Marked according to Hague Convention
•Erdut (Osijek district)
Medieval walled town on the Danube; the wall holed by artillery fire 27 July
•Ilok (Vukovar district)
Richly furnished fifteenth-century church of St John Capistran with nearby Franciscan friary containing a library. Church and monastery walls damaged by cannon, mortar and machine-gun fire 26 July
One of the leading historic cities in Croatia, with important neolithic archaeological sites, a medieval and Turkish nucleus, and fine eighteenth-century town houses with parks incorporated into the urban fabric. The palace of Eltz, one of the finest Austrian-style residences in the country, contains the prehistoric finds from Vucedol. A large number of houses in the historic centre and the palace itself have been badly damaged by land and air bombardment since 1 August. Marked according to the Hague Convention
An exceptionally complete “ideal” fortress built against the Turks in 1579 with contributions from most European rulers. An hexagonal star-shaped ground plan with the grid-shaped internal distribution divided into defences, housing, and public buildings and spaces. Extensive damage from bombs planted within the city late July and early August.
•Karin (area of Obrovac)
Fifteenth-century friary renewed in 1736. Seriously damaged in the 1986 Central Dalmatian earthquake. Rebuilding completed 1990. Attacked by mortar fire 26 August.
The cathedral of St James. Masterpiece of Italianate Renaissance architecture, fifteenth and sixteenth century. The façade damaged by shelling from the sea 17 September.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'The other victims of Serbian firepower: Sibenic cathedral, churches, castles and historic buildings in Croatia'