As of 2019, Croatia has a new national holiday celebrated on November 18. It is called “Dan sjećanja na žrtve Domovinskog rata i Dan sjećanja na žrtvu Vukovara i Škabrnje”. This literally translates to the Day of Remembering the Victims of the Croatia War of Independence and the Day of Remembering the Victims of Vukovar and Škabrnja. This is a state holiday, so all government offices are closed.
This national holiday commemorates the memory of all the military and civilian victims of the Croatian War of Independence. On November 18, 1991, both Vukovar and Škabrnja were attacked and defeated by the Jugoslavenska narodna armija – JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) and Serbian army.
In this post, we’ll briefly cover the events honored by this holiday:
Bitka za Vukovar (Battle of Vukovar) was the biggest battle in the Croatian War of Independence. JNA supported by the Serbian paramilitary forces laid siege to the city for 3 months.
Vukovar was defeated on November 18, 1991. The city was completely destroyed and almost razed to the ground. The destruction of Vukovar was the largest in Europe since World War II.
During these 3 months, more than 2.500 people including both Croatian military forces and civilians died. People were also forced to leave their homes and the city. Some ended up in prison camps in Serbia.
Vukovar commemorates this holiday with a parade through the city that ends at Memorijalno groblje žrtava iz Domovinskog rata (Vukovar Memorial Cemetery). This cemetery is the largest mass grave both in Croatia and Europe since World War II. In 1998, the 938 bodies in the mass grave were exhumed and replaced with 938 white crosses.
Also on November 18, 1991, Škabrnja in northern Dalmatia was targeted. This event is called “Pokolj u Škabrnji”, which means Škabrnja Massacre.
JNA, the Serbian army, and local Serbian insurgents attacked Škabrnja in the morning of November 18, 1991. Croatian soldiers were poorly armed and ultimately defeated.
Women, children, and elderly people were brutally expelled from their homes and basements. More than 60 people died, both civilians and members of the military. Most of them were also tortured and abused. Massacres and persecutions continued for several days.
The purpose of this attack was to intimidate Croats and eliminate the idea of Croatia as an independent country. Prior to the massacre, Škarbnja was a village without Serbian nationals and one of the richest villages in the area.
Even though this day only became a Croatian holiday in 2019, memorials and traditions have been in place long before .
As we already mentioned, there is a big gathering and a commemorative program in Vukovar every year. A parade called “Kolona sjećanja” (Parade of memories) passes through the city and ends at the Memorijalno groblje (Memorial cemetery).
This event is attended by prominent Croatian politicians, Croatian war veterans, citizens, and journalists. The event is usually visited by more than 65.000 people. Kolona sjećanja is also organized in Škabrnja.
Across the country, there is a tradition of lighting lanterns in memory and respect for the victims of Vukovar and Škabrnja. Croatians also lay wreaths besides the monuments to Croatian war veterans wherever they live.
Memory parades are also organized in other Croatian cities such as Pula, Zagreb, and Vodice. After all the parades and memorials, people usually attend mass to further honor those that were lost.
Learn about other Croatian national holidays
- All Saints Day
- Anti-Fascist Struggle Day
- Assumption of Mary
- Labor Day (International Worker’s Day)
- St. Stephen’s Day
- Statehood Day
- Victory and Homeland Thanksgiving Day
You can see a full list of Croatian holidays here.