[balkans] Croatian museum stripped of its art treasures
Croatian museum stripped of its art treasures
By Charles A. Radin, Globe Staff, 07/30/99
VUKOVAR, Croatia - The cool, dark entry hall of the Gradski Musej, the city museum, opens onto sunny, spanking white galleries. But plenty is wrong with this picture. The trees outside the windows are charred and dying. Some doors out of the galleries open onto rooms in ruin. Most importantly, there are no pictures, at least none of the historic oil paintings with Croatian religious and cultural themes that were the heart of the museum's collection before the 1991 war of Croatian independence. ''The museum was shelled and caught fire,'' says Ruza Maric, its director. ''Some roofs fell in, and one part of the collection was destroyed. Just before the war, we packed the most valuable pieces and stored them in the cellars of the Franciscan monastery, but after the fall of the city these were found and transported to Novi Sad,'' across the Danube from Vukovar in the Serbian province of Vojvodina. The near-destruction of Vukovar made its residents' last stand one of the enduring horror stories of the war. Now, a year and a half after the city's return to Croatian sovereignty, repair workers have replaced most of the radiators, the steam lines, the electric cables that the Serbs stripped from the museum walls. But the continuing absence of the collection makes this a truly hollow restoration. On its walls hang only contemporary works donated by artists across Europe who heard of the museum's plight. ''We learned from Belgrade TV that our collection was taken to Novi Sad, and the minister of culture of Croatia wrote the minister of culture of Serbia to ask for its return,'' Maric says. ''He responded that our letter was a joke.'' Through UNICEF and UNESCO, the Croatians were able to compile lists of Vukovar pieces found in Novi Sad and other Serbian cities, but nothing has been returned. Vukovar residents also discovered plans, created by the Serbs during their four-year rule, to knock down the city's few surviving baroque buildings and replace them with buildings in the Byzantine style. ''I thought when the first shell hit that it was the height of human perversion to damage such beauty,'' Maric says. ''But it was only the beginning.''
This story ran on page A14 of the Boston Globe on 07/30/99.
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