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Mostar: Where Are The Bridge Builders?

Jan 14, 2013

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Quietly nestled on the banks on the river Neretva, about an hour and a half drive west of Sarajevo, lies the historic city of Mostar. It's name means 'bridge keeper', a reflection of its famous Stari Most (Old Bridge) in the town center, rightly acclaimed as possibly Bosnia's most recognizable architectural piece from the Ottoman period. It was built-in 1566 AD, replacing a wooden bridge, and witnessed by the famous Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi in the 17th century, who wrote:

'the bridge is like a rainbow arch soaring up to the skies, extending from one cliff to the other. ...I, a poor and miserable slave of Allah, have passed through 16 countries, but I have never seen such a high bridge. It is thrown from rock to rock as high as the sky.'

Throughout the 1992-1995 Bosnian Civil War, the city of Mostar suffered greatly. In the beginning of the war, Bosnian Serb forces, with the help of the JNA (Yugoslav National Army), began an 18 month-long siege on Mostar that eventually failed because of the combined resistance of Bosnian Croat and Muslim forces. After having teamed up against the Serbs, the Croats and Muslims began to fight one another over control of the city. This quickly led to ethnic cleansing to where the western half of Mostar became predominately Croatian, and the eastern half Muslim. The Old Bridge, which had been a symbol of unity before the war, was destroyed during the conflict. Though rebuilt, the division remains till today.

Sadly, the city of Mostar is again in the world news, not to highlight its extraordinary beauty, but because of a cowardly act of provocation by an individual(s) in blowing up a war memorial monument. Here is the news report:

January 14, 2013 By Maja Zuvela - SARAJEVO (Reuters) - A bomb blast destroyed a monument to fallen soldiers of Bosnia's Muslim-dominated wartime army on Monday in the southern town of Mostar, where divisions between ethnic Croats and Muslims still run deep.

Police said an "explosive device" had destroyed the lily-shaped monument in front of Mostar's city hall in the early hours of Monday morning.

Bosnia's international peace overseer, Valentin Inzko, said he was "appalled" by the attack and appealed for calm.

Mostar monument 2"This violence must not be allowed to spread," Inzko said in a statement.

Home to around 70,000 people, Mostar saw heavy fighting during Bosnia's 1992-95 war.

Despite Western efforts to encourage reintegration, the town remains largely divided between Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) on the east bank of the Neretva river and Croats on the west, where the city hall is located.

No one was injured in the explosion.

"Police are investigating the circumstances and hope to locate the perpetrator soon," Srecko Bosnjak, spokesman for the Mostar police, said.

The monument to the Bosnian army was built last year, next to a memorial in honor of Croat veterans of the conflict.

Post-war violence in Mostar has been largely confined to clashes between rival football fans, but political leaders continue to resist the efforts of Western overseers to unify the town.

Each community has its own utility services, electricity provider and education system.

Ethnic politicking has paralyzed the town more than once, and in October last year Mostar was the only town in Bosnia where local elections were postponed due to a dispute over how to hold the vote.

(Editing by Matt Robinson and Jason Neely)

The greatest need for Mostar (and all of Bosnia and the Balkan region) is not just bridge keepers, but spiritually speaking, bridge builders. Obviously, there are those who are trying to establish themselves as 'bridge keepers', trying to control the relationship between the Serb, Croat and Muslim communities of Mostar. Their intent is to poison and pollute the present atmosphere by focusing on the wounds and pain of the past, not allowing a new generation to be healed and be healthy. Where are the BRIDGE BUILDERS?

Please take a moment and submit your thoughts on what it will take to be a 'bridge builder' in Mostar:

  • Can there be real peace in Mostar? If so, how will that happen? What are the obstacles?
  • What is your definition of a bridge builder? What are the qualifications?
  • What are the essential steps needed to be taken? What creative ideas do you have?