It’s been a while that my photo exhibition „Kupari – Traces Of War“ closed.
So I like to offer you the opportunity to watch it online.
Of course I will give you also some background information and how everything happened. Last but not least, you'll find a very moving interview with a contemporary witness below.
How A Beach Holiday Became A Travel To The Past
In September 2015 I’ve visited the small village Mlini in Croatia for the first time. It seemed to be perfect for a selfcatering holiday close to Dubrovnik.
One day I walked to the next bay, that belongs to the village of Kupari. What I found left my mouth wide open.
It was a huge complex of abandoned hotels in a beautiful surrounding between palms and Mediterranean vegetation. These ruins were bigger than every lost place I’ve seen before. From the outside you could see bullet holes from smaller and bigger weapons, spread all over the walls. I hesitated but also was determined to explore this place.
After my „expedition“ I asked myself what might has happened to the hotels and what stories they could tell, if they were able to talk.
During my visit I figured out that the complex was destroyed in 1991 by Serbian army on it’s way to Dubrovnik.
To be honest, this place is well known to the local people but also to tourists. The buildings are tagged with graffities and inside you can find several marks from past paintball battles, fought by local teenagers. All together this place made me think a lot and it got it’s space in my subconscious.
Three years later the idea came up, that it would be very interesting to talk to somebody who witnessed the war in the region around Dubrovnik.
So I contacted the owner of a restaurant in Mlini, whom I met during my first visit and asked him if he knows somebody who could answer my questions.
Three weeks later I sat in a plane to Dubrovnik.
On the day of my arrival I met Pero for the first time. He invited me to his house to have breakfast on the next day. Pero showed me the house and the part where a shell hit the roof. He pointed at the nearby mountains and said that the Serbian army was up there and bombed the whole region. After that he showed me historical photographs from the hotels, which now are ruins and are standing like memorials in the bay. With this pictures and impressions in my head we started our walk through Pero’s past. He showed me the places of the shelters, where he and his family refuged in the first days of war.
After that he led me into the ruins while he told me stories about the history of the luxurious resort where many high ranking soldiers of the Yugoslavian army spent their holidays.
Later in a cafe we had the interview that you’ll find below.
Short Facts About The Region
- Kupari is about 9km south of Dubrovnik
- The name of the village has its roots in a factory that produced tiles for Dubrovnik since the 16th century (kupa = Croation for tile)
- 1919 Hotel Grand was build on the place of the old factory
- 1983 the resort was finalised with Hotel Goricina II
- The area of the five former hotels had about 12 hectare
- The capacity of all accommodations amounted about 4000 beds
- Michael Gorbatschow and Marilyn Monroe have been famous guests
- General Tito resided in a mansion close to the hotels
- In 1991 all hotels have been destroyed by the Serbian army
U: Hello Pero! How are you?
P: Not so good (laughing) (U: Pero was a little bit unconfident because of his first interview).
U: How long do you live in Kupari?
P: I was born in Dubrovnik, in October 1970 but I live here all my life long. I was 21 when the war started.
U: How did you handle the situation of being in the war? How did you live with it?
P: On the 1st October 1991 the Serbian army and the “unofficial” Serbian army, the Tschetniks, started the killing. They dropped bombs from planes and fired with mortars from the hills and shells from warships on the sea. We had to leave our house immediately because it was too dangerous to stay there. First we went to a shelter in a bigger building near to our house. We stayed there for two days. Then we changed to another shelter in Hotel Orlando for about 5 days. After that we went to the city of Dubrovnik. Our house was destroyed on the first day, a shell hit the roof. Another house of my family was burned down. When we went to the town we had no water supply and no electricity in the first three months. Water was brought to Dubrovnik by ship from Italy. Food went out in the supermarkets after the first week. Because the city was surrounded by Serbian troops all the supply had to come from the sea. Usually the town was under attack between 6am and 6pm. It was like working-time (laughing). During the time of the bombings everybody was in the shelters but when it was over you could go out. Sometimes even to a bar. The 6th December was the worst day of the attacks. They dropped more than thousand bombs and shells on the whole town. Very much historical buildings have been destroyed on St. Nicholas day.
U: How does it feel when you went out in the evenings after the bombing? Was it kind of normal or was it more strange and uncommon?
P: In the evenings was the police-hour but you could go out. So this was no normal life but you tried to imitate it. Sometimes it was really hard because in the first three months we had no electricity and no water supply. Every morning after you woke up you had to go to one place and wait for water. After that you had to go to another place and wait for food. Then you could make some coffee (laughing). After a while bars and coffee-shops had generators for their own electricity supply so you go there for a coffee or a drink. But the whole situation was very crazy because in the evenings you had no light in the street to avoid attacks during the night-time. Many people went up and down Stradun (the main-street of Dubrovnik’s old town) in good clothes, dresses our suites but no one could see it because it was totally dark (laughing).
U: So you dressed up to represent normal live but nobody could see it?
P: Yes! (laughing out loud)
But actually it was a very bad situation. When the bombings stopped around 6pm you went to the fort and checked if there was light in the city and what has been destroyed. Then you called your friends to see if they’re still alive. I’m happy because nothing happened to my family or friends. Some were in the army, some were deported to concentration-camps but they were all alive. Some people I knew from the past have been killed but it was nobody I had contact with. In the war you can lose all material stuff in one day, one minute or one second. It’s hard but it doesn’t matter. The most important is that you live and are healthy. As far as your family and friends are ok, too everything is ok.
U: How was the relationship between the people in Dubrovnik? Did they help each other or did everyone his own business?
P: The people wanted to me more together than normally and helped each other. It was easier than to do everything alone.
U: What was the worst experience you had in the war?
P: My worst experience was the shelter in the beginning of the war. It was very wet and there were too many people in a much too small place. The hysteria down there was the worts. It was bad to leave your home but it was worse to come back. When we left it everything looked normal but when we came back the house was burned and destroyed and all our stuff has been taken away. This was a very bad situation. Also when you hear that some of your former school-mates has been killed and some friends has been deported to concentration camps in Montenegro. I think at this point it was the worst you could imagine in life.
U: What was the “best” experience? Has there been anything positive at all?
P: The best was to try to imitate normal life because that gave you optimism. In normal life you feel like you always must do something. You must go to work, you must get better, you must think about what to do in future… In the war you didn’t must do anything just must stay alive. Normally when you sit around for longer time and do nothing you don’t feel good with that. But in the war it was no problem to do nothing. I mean this isn’t good but it’s interesting.
U: In the time when you, how you described it, imitated normal life did you do something special like kind of “holiday” from the war?
P: You could not go on holiday but in April 1992 my cousin from California came to Ljubljana, the capital auf Slovenia and he asked me if I could come and meet him. I managed to get a permission for this travel. I was living a half year under attack so Ljubljana was like another planet for me. Everything was just normal but very special to me. You had water and electricity, you mustn’t wait for food, you couldn’t hear weapons and nothing was destroyed. It was a very good experience in that moment. He lived close to the airport and when I heard the planes I first thought I had to run away but then I realized that I was safe and not in Dubrovnik. In 1994 when the war already lasted for three years my friend and I went to a concert of Pink Floyd in Vienna. Nothing could be more spectacular than that. (laughing)
U: Why did you decide you stay in a region that was involved in a war and in a city that was under attack?
P: First it was not legal to go if you’re a man and old enough. Also I didn’t want to go because my parents were here, my friends were here… this was my life so it was no opportunity for me to go somewhere alone. So many people speak about patriotism but I don’t like it. For me patriotism was to protect and help my people. We also wanted to protect our house but we couldn’t. So we build it up again. I think you can go somewhere else if everything is ok but it wasn’t so we stayed here and believed that everything will be better. That made it easier. Four years in the war was a long time but I don’t live in the past. I’m always looking forward.
U: How did you feel when the war was over after 4 years?
P: I felt nothing special because the next 4-5 years it still looked like war just without the weapons. IN this region tourism is very important. But there was no tourism after the war because everything was destroyed and so we had not much money. The poverty made the people aggressive and many had weapons. The situation started to change with the beginning of the new century. The first guest came from Italy because it was very close. Later came the Germans, Austrians... etc.
U: What impact has the war to the people until now?
P: It has a very bad impact. You can easily rebuild houses and hotels but not the people. Before the war the people had kind of an easy-living attitude but now they are less relaxed and still carry the war in their souls. Young people talk a lot about the war even if they didn’t know anything about it. They are influenced by their parents. Here in Dubrovnik we are lucky because we have tourism and we meet very much people from other countries. It’s hard to be a nationalist if you have so many tourists and want to have their money. (laughing)
U: How does the war influenced your opinion about the other involved nations like Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Albania?
P: Here we were only in war with Serbia. Albania is too far away and we had no problems with Bosnia and Montenegro. It is not possible that everybody from one nation is guilty. There are guilty and innocent people everywhere. The things between Serbia and Croatia are getting better very slow and you a have a lot of bad political parties and politicians who try to slow down the process of concession. Making the situation better is a big job and takes a lot of time. I think in this region we have too much history and too much hate what stops the people from looking forward.
U: Thank you for the interview!
Many Thanks To
Pero, Dom, Vivado Travel Agency, Alex, Michaela T., Michaela M., Thomas, Martina, Amélie, Sascha, Robert and Galerie LIK