Yugoslavia Divided: 'Mass Migrations'

It could be a battlefield from World War II, but the scene is Vukovar, 1991. For three months Yugoslav Army troops besieged this pretty Baroque town in eastern Croatia. They bombarded it round the clock with mortars, rockets and artillery. Vukovar fell only after bitter--and bloody--street-by-street fighting. Hardly anything remains. Houses, hospitals and churches are rubble, as if Vukovar were Dresden. Trees stand charred and broken; 10 days after the Army's victory, bodies lie where they fell, fodder for ravenous pigs. Survivors emerged from cellars to confront new terrors. Bands of shell-crazed Serbian irregulars, many wearing sunglasses and wrapped in captured Croatian flags, herded civilians into ragged processions. With suitcases and bundles of clothes, they trudged out of town along muddy roads to an uncertain future as homeless refugees.

Vukovar may be obscure, but its misery is timeless. These are the horrors of Guernica, so nightmarishly depicted by Picasso. Yugoslavia's five-month-old dirty war has claimed at least 5,000 dead and many more wounded. It has also produced more than 500,000 refugees, mostly Serbs and Croats from the war zones in Croatia. They now make up a tenth of the republic's population; two thirds are children. Destitute, with little more than the clothes on their backs, they have taken refuge around the country: in hotels, in the houses of friends and relatives, in schools, gymnasiums and military barracks. Their numbers could easily double if the fighting continues, as seems likely.

No sooner had the shooting stopped in Vukovar than the Army moved on toward neighboring Osijek; most of the city's 160,000 people have had to flee, International relief agencies, stretched to the limits of their ability to help, say Yugoslavia dwarfs their experience in Kurdistan, Somalia or Ethiopia. Hans Hagging, relief coordinator for the International Red Cross in Belgrade, fears the worst. "We could see in Yugoslavia what we saw in India and Pakistan in 1947," he says. "Mass migrations of millions of displaced persons."

It's surreal to think of such human hardship in contemporary Europe. After all, says Hagging, "Yugoslavia is where you went on holiday: good wine, beautiful citiesa civilized part of Europe." But today barbarism rules. Around Dubrovnik, Army gunners cheer as their rockets slam into tourist hotels known to be sheltering refugees, mostly women and children. In Osijek last week, 19 people were reported killed and an additional 43 injured during a 24-hour artillery barrage.

At a monastery outside Belgrade, refugees from a Serbian farming village on the Danube fear they will never go home. "We left five months ago, when the shooting began," says Macinko Nevenka. "We thought we would be gone only a few weeks. But now..." She shrugs, unwilling to complete the thought.

Perhaps peace will come to Yugoslavia. Last week yet another shaky cease-fire took holdthe 14th, say those who keep count. More important, the United Nations Security Council committed itself to sending a "blue helmet" peacekeeping force of up to 10,000 soldiers. The catch: that there's a peace to keep,

Meanwhile, Yugoslavia's troubles are spilling over its borders. Fifty thousand Yugoslavs have taken refuge in neighboring Hungary; tens of thousands have gone to Western Europe on tourist visas, without any intention of returning. If the fighting ended tomorrow, many more would still leave. "The war has destroyed the country," explains Tanja Petrovar, a Belgrade lawyer.

Yugoslavia's economy has all but collapsed; hundreds of thousands of people will lose their jobs. Among Petrovar's circle of friends and business associates, nearly one in two has either left the country or plans to do so in the near future. "The exodus," she says, "is on."