Dubrovnik. The Siege



Fragment of the homonym tale by Joan C. Roca Sans



“Only the laws of God and nature are above the right to self-determination of the Croatian people.” Stephan Radic



The Beginning

–We could hear explosions. They were bombing the Arboretum –Ivica explained. Some trees were on fire. We couldn’t believe our eyes. It looked like mortar fire. We thought there must be a mistake, because the whole area has been demilitarized since Tito’s time. But when a coastguard joined the party, we knew it was serious. I took the car towards Split to see what was going on. When I rounded a bend I ran into a column of JNA tanks (Yugoslav People’s Army) coming our way, followed by infantry squads. I was lucky to turn around in time before they shot me.

The Siege of Dubrovnik

There were just over a thousand of us to defend the entire perimeter of the city and there were seven thousand of them, as well as some twenty thousand Montenegrin reserves. This was an outrageous number to attack Dubrovnik, which was demilitarised, meaning that they intended to occupy and annex the entire region with a later change of borders. There were so few of us that we could not even have a proper line of fire. This is why they classified us as terrorists and responded with bombings that were disproportionate to the resistance.

Right from the beginning of the siege, the supply of electricity, water and provisions had been cut off.

To make things even more difficult, the city was full of refugees. To break the blockage, we based everything on speed. We left Korcula Island and crossed over to Sipan, Lopud and Kolocep Islands. By the time they saw us and reacted, we had gone. Our launches were much faster. In fact, during the siege, we did not lose a single person from my squadron. We did later, though.

In Korcula, there were two 88-mm anti-aircraft guns, the famous German Flak 37s, which were highly effective as anti-tank guns, but they required mobile gun carriages. We took them to Dubrovnik and made the gun carriages ourselves in a car workshop.

The siege got increasingly harder, particularly for the civilians. On the 30th of October they bombed hotels full of refugees. In the hospital, thanks to the generators, they managed to continue offering services. On the 6th of December, they changed their objective and bombed the area to the northeast of the old city, the Franciscan Convent, with heavy mortars and rockets.

The images that reached the rest of the world, both from the Serbian and the Montenegrin televisions, as well as from the correspondents, lead to a give and take of international condemnation. The Serbs suggested surrendering to “the Ustashe forces and foreign mercenaries” which were allegedly in the city. The television also said that the bombings were not real and that it was the Croats who were burning tyres to simulate the destruction of the city.

The absurd siege of Dubrovnik and the Vukovar massacre helped redefine the perception of the conflict. It was as if Vukovar had furnished the dead, and we had furnished the setting.

However, the suffering of the city lasted for nine months until, in May, the siege was completely lifted. It cost us 300 victims, almost a hundred of whom were from the civilians. The price of independence was to be much higher.

© JC Roca Sans 2010

Download the full tale (catalan):



The Siege


Dubrovnik. The Siege. 146×209 cm. Planta 1ª, nau C. Fundació Vila Casas. Museu de Pintura Contemporània de Can Framis. Barri @. Barcelona. 01/09/2011 – 23/07/2012.




DUBROVNIK. Oil on canvas



When barbarism was unleashed in the lands of the former Yugoslavia, I took the side of the victims, whatever side they were on, unable to understand the reasons for that immorality. Now, I have gone to the countries that suffered from it, without a doubt influenced by the growing discomfort that exists between my country, Catalonia, and the rest of Spain. Afterwards, I have simply tried to explain what I have seen and felt, how I saw it and what sensations it caused me.

In Yugoslavia everything failed: the EU failed and the UN failed. Why? One of the protagonists of this story says that “no country has ever gained its independence without weapons and without war”. Gaining independence has cost the people of Croatia fifteen years of their time and depopulation from which they have still not recovered. They are proud to state “But we won!” I ask myself if this is the only way to do it. Human beings only learn from disaster, from massive slaughter. Conflicts are inevitable. However, international mechanisms should have learned the lesson. But have they?

JC Roca Sans



This narration reflects on the real possibility of the sovereign processes in the Europe of the future. To challenge the conventional concept of exposition, I use diverse formats of image and I reduce the visibility of the project to elements: an analogical piece of 146 x 209 cm painted in oil on jute sacking and a complementary video which explores the digital possibilities of the painting.

The analogical piece, Dubrovnik: the siege, pays homage to the landscape painters at the beginning of the last century, with special reference to the group of the Catalan Association of Artists and to its most symbolist members, such as Galwey, Tamburini, Brull, Alexandre de Cabanyes, Ros y Güell. This painting tells a story: the bombing of Dubrovnik by the Serbian forces at the end of 1991.

The complimentary video explores the digital possibilities of the painting and also pays homage. It is a tribute to the Impressionist painters who are interested in the evolution of atmospheric light, such as Claude Monet when he painted the façade of Rouen Cathedral at different times of day and which has an equivalent in image edition programs where, by altering the characteristics of the analogical work, we can imagine the nocturnal progression of the fires caused by the Serbian bombing on the city of Dubrovnik.



Anthony, a young American who had just graduated in political sciences, wanted to show Helen, his girlfriend, the land of his ancestors. After flying from Los Angeles to Zagreb, they took a trip to the places that Anthony had not seen when he had visited Croatia accompanied by his parents, Ante and Dora.

They explored places such as Osijek, Vukovar, Jasenovac and Bihác, until reaching the village of Trsteno, in Dubravocko Primorje, where his Uncle Ivica had a restaurant. There they came across Darwin Butkovic, who had come from Varazdin and who had fought with Ivica in the Siege of Dubrovnik.

For three days, the restaurant was the setting of passionate conversations about past wars and possible future scenarios. The couple were able to verify, first-hand, the price that Croatia has had to pay to gain its independence, the resentment felt by the Croatians towards the EU for not having told Milosevic in time that there are some things that cannot be done and other aspects which paint a future which will never be straightforward or easy for the Balkans.