Symbol of Vukovar regains its beauty after 22 years
The best-known architectural monument in central Vukovar, Workers' Hall, which was demolished in 1991 during the three-month siege of the city, regained its former splendor under a €1.64 million project. The project, implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) over two years, completely restored the exterior facades of the building and conducted community-wide consultations on the future uses of the interior. Guests of honor at the celebration, hosted by Vukovar Mayor Željko Sabo and Head of the EU Delegation to Croatia Paul Vandoren, included President Ivo Josipović, European Parliament Vice President Miguel Angel Martínez, Speaker of the Croatian Parliament Josip Leko, Minister of Veterans' Affairs Predrag Matić, UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Vinton and Vukovar-Srijem County Prefect Božo Galić.
- From its opening in 1897 as the town’s Grand Hotel, until its wartime destruction in 1991, the Workers' Hall was the social and cultural center for the town's diverse population.
- This huge, two-storey building with an elaborate Neo-Baroque façade, was the first public building of its kind in the town of Vukovar.
- In 1919, the citizens of Vukovar purchased the Grand Hotel and it became the Workers’ Hall. It was considered the first example of an enployee-owner scheme in the region. That is why the name of the building has remained well known to the present day.
- The Workers’ Hall was the historical location of the 2nd Congress of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, held in 1920. At that time, the name of the Socialist Labour Party of Yugoslavia was changed to the CPY.
- The Grand Hotel was built in 2 years, from 1895 till 1897. Reconstruction of the facades alone took 2 years. Works started in May 2011 and concluded in April 2013.
- Since the building is an A-listed protected monument, the restoration of the Workers’ Hall demanded the strenuous work of more than 30 experienced restorers.
- The building contains over 1,500 decorative elements: balustrades, consoles, roof rosettes, gargoyles/heads, capitals, vases, amphorae, shells, indented profiles and pillars.
- The decorative elements on the facades were restored in a sculpting studio near Zagreb, then transported to Vukovar to be mounted and incorporated into the façade.
- The estimated cost to restore the interior and fully reopen the Workers' Hall is €3 million.
"From the Workers' Hall history we can easily conclude how painstaking and long it was to build it. On the other side, our history shows how easy it is to destroy. We all know that it is more difficult to build than to destroy and our responsibility lies exactly there," said Josipović. "The message of the restoration of the Workers' Hall is "never more", but also, if we are even a little wise, we should recall that the world's history in many occasions said "never more", and yet again it drove its children in hatred and in war. Here we are today, again, in a moment when we say "never more" and I truly believe that our generation has the strength and wisdom to realize that promise. Be sure that the strength of future generations depends on whether we here, today, have that strength."
"Twenty-two years ago, the biggest battle after the World War II happened in this region. Its consequences and wounds were huge and hard," said Matić. "The symbolism of the restored Workers' Hall is precisely in its restored exterior, while the interior requires yet a lot of effort and finances to be completely done. The same is with the citizens of this town. It takes a lot to restore the interior of these people's souls, and I ask you all to understand that."
The impetus to rebuild the Workers' Hall came in 2011 from the European Parliament, as part of a regional initiative to encourage post-conflict recovery and reconciliation through the restoration of architectural monuments destroyed in the 1991-95 war. The European Parliament provided €1 million in funding, while the Ministry of Reconstruction and EU Funds, working through the Vukovar Reconstruction and Development Fund, contributed the remaining €640,000.
"The Workers' Hall is an important symbol of the rich history of the multicultural Vukovar city," said Vandoren. "It will not remain in the hearts as a memorial of fatal destruction and division; its rebirth today signals the prosperous future of Vukovar in a spirit of reconciliation."
"When you look at this building, the project is self-explanatory. I have seen the old postcards of the building when it was the Grand Hotel, and I have seen, with despair, how the buidilng looked after the war," said Martinez. "So, if we have succeeded to cure some of the consequences of the war, I believe this is European tax-payers' money well used."
Managed by UNDP, the historically exact reconstruction of the facades and the roof and basement was started in May 2011 and completed in April 2013. Due to the building's protected status, reconstruction work required the painstaking labor of more than 30 skilled restorers to recreate the original decorative elements and carpentry. Some 1,500 sculptural elements were cast in an atelier near Zagreb, and then transported to Vukovar and mounted on the finished facades.
''We are immensely proud to have contributed to the reconstruction of this landmark building," said Vinton. "Radnički dom has every opportunity to regain its past role as the social heart of a diverse, harmonious community. But until sufficient funds are found to restore the interior, it will remain a beautiful but empty shell."
"For Vukovar and its citizens, this means a lot," said Sabo. "I am convinced that after this first phase of restoration has been completed, the Croatian Government's next priority for Vukovar will be the restoration of the building's interior, so it can be finally put in use, and serve all the purposes that it did before it was devastated during the war."
The Workers' Hall building is a registered high-A category architectural monument. From its opening in 1897 as the town's Grand Hotel, until its wartime destruction in 1991, it was the social and cultural center for the town's diverse population. An estimated €2.75 million is needed to rebuild the interior.