Croatian war photographer Pavo Urban. Photo: Mara Bratos.
It was early in the morning on December 6, 1991, between seven and 8am, at the beginning of the heaviest shelling of Croatia’s historic coastal town of Dubrovnik, when Pavo Urban took his last photographs.
Before he was hit by a shell fragment, Urban took seven colour shots and five black-and-white photographs. He was 23 when he died.
Urban was from Dubrovnik, and at the time of his death he was taking photographs of the conflict for local newspaper Dubrovacki Vjesnik and Split-based Slobodna Dalmacija, as well as documenting the wartime suffering in Dubrovnik for the Croatian Ministry of Information.
“He acted, if one was observing superficially, as a war reporter. However, he was not a war reporter; he was a child of Dubrovnik who depicted the misfortune of his city,” said Antun Maracic, a visual artist and curator who has become an authority on Urban’s photography.
“In any case, in those two months, from October to December 1991 [when he was killed], he did such miraculous work that many would not do in a lifetime,” Maracic told BIRN.
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Last Despatches: about the series
BIRN’s Last Despatches series documents some of the 140 reporters and other media workers who were killed during and after the 1990s wars in the Balkans – some of them foreigners who came to the region to cover the conflicts, but most of them citizens of the warring republics.
Some were killed while reporting from the front lines, while others were gunned down in the streets of their hometowns, or murdered in their own offices. Amid the hysteria of nationalist unrest, journalists were seen by some as enemies who reported inconvenient truths.
So far, only one person has been convicted of responsibility for any of these killings – Serb paramilitary boss Dragan Vasiljkovic, alias ‘Captain Dragan’, who was found guilty of an attack in Croatia in which a German journalist died.
The lack of any other convictions shows that impunity for violence against reporters and other media workers has persisted for decades after the Balkan wars ended.
Last Despatches series tells the stories of some of these reporters, and highlights how attempts to secure justice for them have not yet succeeded – mainly because of official negligence or disinterest, or sometimes because their deaths still raise questions about people with connections to the highest levels of power in the Balkans today.
The Last Despatches series is part of BIRN’s Transitional Justice Initiative, co-funded by the Kingdom of The Netherlands and the European Commission.