Day of Remembering the Victims of Croatian War of Independence and Vukovar and Škabrnja

Damage to Vukovar water tower after battle in the Croatian war for independence
Image by Ron Porter

On November 18, Croatia celebrates a national holiday called Dan sjećanja na žrtve Domovinskog rata i Dan sjećanja na žrtvu Vukovara i Škabrnje. A literal translation is the Day of Remembering the Victims of the Croatian War of Independence and the Day of Remembering the Victims of Vukovar and Škabrnja.

This holiday commemorates the memory of all the military and civilian victims of the Domovinski rat, officially called 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 cover:

The facts are these…

Day of Remembering the Victims of Croatian War of Independence and Day of Remembering Victims of Vukovar and Škabrnja

Battle of Vukovar – biggest battle of the Croatian War of Independence

Bitka za Vukovar (Battle of Vukovar) was the biggest battle in the Croatian War of Independence. Supported by the Serbian paramilitary forces, JNA laid siege to the city for 3 months.

Vukovar (view map) 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 died, including both Croatian military forces and civilians. 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). Since World War II, this cemetery has been the largest mass grave in Croatia and Europe. In 1998, the 938 bodies in the mass grave were exhumed and replaced with 938 white crosses.

Crosses at mass grave in Vukovar, Croatia
Image by inesmilic

Škabrnja Massacre and the idea of an independent Croatia

In addition, on November 18, 1991, Škabrnja (view map) 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 on 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. Before the massacre, Škarbnja was a village without Serbian nationals and one of the wealthiest villages in the area.

How is this holiday recognized in Croatia?

Even though this day only became a Croatian holiday in 2019, memorials and traditions have existed long before. Since this day is a national holiday, it is a non-working day in Croatia.

[Read: Guide on public national holidays in Croatia]

As 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, war veterans, residents, and journalists. More than 65.000 people usually visit the event. 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 beside the monuments to Croatian war veterans wherever they live.

Memory parades are also organized in other Croatian cities, including Pula, Zagreb, and Vodice. After all the parades and memorials, people usually attend mass to honor those who were lost.

View our other Croatian national holidays

Bitka za Vukovar – 26. obljetnica stradanja Vukovara i Škabrnje
Memorijalno groblje žrtava iz Domovinskog rata by

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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