Set amidst wheat and cornfields on the west bank of the Danube, VUKOVAR was until 1991 the most prosperous town in Croatia, with a quaint Baroque centre, a successful manufacturing industry based around the Borovo tyre and footwear factory, and an urban culture that was lively, open and tolerant. However, the town’s proximity to the Serbian border and ethnically mixed population (of whom 44 percent were Croat and 37 percent Serb) conspired to place Vukovar at the sharp end of the Croat–Serb conflict. The resulting siege and capture of the town by the Yugoslav People’s Army and Serbian irregulars killed hundreds of civilians, left the centre of town in ruins, and did untold emotional damage to those lucky enough to escape (see Đakovački vezovi folk festival). In January 1998 Vukovar was returned to Croatia as part of the Erdut Accord, though Croats driven away seven years earlier were initially slow to return, either because their homes were still in ruins or because the local economy wasn’t yet strong enough to provide sufficient jobs. There are currently about 18,000 Croats and 9000 Serbs living in Vukovar – about two-thirds of the original population – although social contact between the two communities is virtually nonexistent. Today, the town is a strange mixture of ruined buildings, restored facades and glitzy post-1995 shopping centres.
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