Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Today we went to the beautiful town of Mostar, about a two-hour drive from Sarajevo. This old and very scenic town is located on the Neretva River, and it is this location that played a tragic role in the 1990s war.
Mostar had a beautiful stone bridge, built in 1566 by Suleyman the Magnificent, and this Old Bridge, or Stari Most, was a World Heritage Site.
In 1993 the Croats blew up this world-famous bridge. This bridge, which had been standing for 497 years, was turned into rubble in one of the most pointless incidents of the war. The entire town was reduced to nothing, almost a 1990s version of Dresden after the bombings in World War II.
There are three major ethnic groups in this region, as I’ve mentioned before. They combined in every combination to fight against one another in almost every part of this country during the war: Serbs fought Bosnians; Croats fought Bosnians; Croats fought Serbs. In Mostar, the Croats and Bosnians had initially fought together against Serbs in 1992. A year later, the two former allies became enemies as the Croats expelled Bosnians from their homes, interned people in detention camps, and tried to obliterate the town. The bridge was blown up and the town was destroyed.
Of the 27 beautiful old mosques, only one remained.
Today, the town is divided, with the western half Croat and the eastern half Bosnian. The schools are separate, the services are separate, and it’s only the police force, trained by the UN after the war, that serves both ‘sides’ of the city.
Although much of the town has been rebuilt, there are still shocking reminders: gutted houses, pieces of rubble from the bridge, and trees growing inside once-busy offices and apartment buildings. The holes from shells and bombs are evident in nearly every block.
The rebuilt Old Town is charming, with lovely little cafes alongside the river, shops selling beautiful ceramics depicting the bridge, watercolors of the town, and handmade fabrics and jewelry. But there is still almost no industry, fifteen years after the war, and a city that is divided – within a country that is divided.
The bridge was rebuilt with support from donors around the world. Engineers attempted to reconstruct it using the materials and techniques of the 16th century.
But of course it’s not the same. The story is tragic. Tourists walk on the bridge in the sun, pausing to take pictures of young boys diving recklessly into the river below, but it’s not the carefree moment that it appears on the surface. The bridge had stood for nearly half a millennium - only to be destroyed because of ethnic conflict.