ZAGREB, Croatia — Black bricks for the dead and red bricks for the missing have been layered three feet high into a wall surrounding the headquarters of the U.N. Protection Force in this Croatian capital.
Construction of the "altar of Croatian victims" drew little more than raised eyebrows when it began weeks ago as a protest by refugees against the peacekeepers' failure to help them recover homes and territory seized by Serbian rebels two years ago.
But instead of fading from view as the backdrop for government-backed propaganda stunts, the structure has been expanded by hundreds of yards to encircle the mission, hinder movement of its troops and vehicles and provide a wailing wall for friends and relatives of the 10,000 Croats lost to the war.
"We built it because (the U.N. force) does nothing. These soldiers should do what they came here to do so that we can go back to our homes," said Maria Vukan, 66, who was expelled from Vukovar two years ago when Serbian rebels seized the town after a shattering, three-month offensive.
Vukan has since lived in a Zagreb hotel room and spends her days at the wall to press the cause of recovery of occupied territory.
While the wall was built and is ostensibly managed by refugee groups like Vukan's Mothers of Vukovar, it gets more than moral support from the Croatian government. A small office operated by the ruling Croatian Democratic Union is made available to memorial tenders across the street, where new loads of bricks are delivered every few days by government agencies, along with lists of names to be painted on them in memory of the victims.
The United Nations has made no official protest and concedes that the host country has the right to mourn its dead as it sees fit. "Officially, we don't have much to say, because they can do what they like to express their grief or sense of loss," said U.N. spokeswoman Shannon Boyd, who noted that the only approaches made to the Croatian government regarding the structure were to request that mourners cease blocking U.N. access.
Privately, U.N. officials are outraged. "We should have bulldozed the thing the minute it went up, but everyone was afraid of the public relations damage," one official said. "Now we have this permanent reminder that everything wrong with Croatia is (the U.N. force's) fault."
U.N. troops were deployed to Croatia only after the war in which one-third of this republic was captured by Serbian rebels and expunged of most non-Serbs. The force was supposed to separate combatants while their political leaders negotiated a peace with international help.
But because another Serbian rebellion broke out in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina just as the U.N. troops arrived in Croatia in the spring of 1992, diplomatic attention shifted to Bosnia and the U.N. troops have simply maintained the territorial status quo. That has angered Croats who agreed to the U.N. deployment mostly because they expected the foreign troops to oversee disarmament and the return of Croatia's 500,000 refugees.
The brick wall, laced with floral tributes and candle lanterns, serves as a silent reminder to all passersby at the busy intersection that the presence of 14,000 U.N. troops has done nothing to restore order to their country.
Few seem to acknowledge the political gain for the leadership of President Franjo Tudjman in allowing--some say instigating-- construction of a barrier that would be deemed a distractive traffic hazard in any Western country.
"It is built so that it is not in anyone's way," policeman Marko Misic said.
But Nives Kesegic, 20, whose boyfriend disappeared after the November, 1991, fall of Vukovar, said she resents the political corruption of Croatian grief.
"We built the wall because we don't know where the bodies are of those we lost," said the Zagreb student, who visits the wall each day. "But people are being manipulated, there's no doubt. They are led to believe (the U.N. force) is to blame, but it's not. I think we need (the troops) here. We had terrible chaos before they came. But people don't see that because they are blinded by pain and disinformation."