Mostar: Is it over?

By Rob Packer

Apart from the odd piece of political news from Sarajevo about the possibility of further fragmentation of the country, Bosnia and Hercegovina has produced remarkably little news since the Dayton Accords were signed in 1995 and I think most people would assume that no news is good news, that the conflict is over and that life has moved on. Walking around Mostar today, however, the scars of war are still more than visible: for example, the walk from where I’m staying to Mostar’s famously destroyed, and now rebuilt, Old Bridge is roughly 10 minutes and passes by several reminders of the past. Firstly, you come to what was a park before the war and is now an Islamic cemetery—Muslims should be buried within a day of dying and I am assuming the cemeteries ran out of space. You next come to Bulevar, which was the frontline between Croat and Bosniak forces for the period of the war when they were fighting each other: if you turn left you come to at least six of the bombed out buildings that scatter the city, if you look right you see an unfeasibly tall church spire of a rebuilt Catholic church (photo). And if you continue onwards you come to the heart of Mostar’s tourist area around the Old Bridge, a beautiful Ottoman-era bridge destroyed by Croat shelling during the war and since rebuilt.

Mostar's centrepiece, the Old Bridge.

Crossing the former frontline walking into the old town.

Around its Turkish-era central core, Mostar is beautiful in a very different way to the Austrian and Italian influences of Croatia, but it was the reminders of war that stick in my mind as much as the city’s mosques and arched bridge. The only “local” I spoke to was actually a student from another part of Bosnia, who said as an outsider he can’t understand the reason why the city has left so many buildings in the state they were when the war ended—judging by the signs on them and the brickwork on the pavement, in most cases they barely seem to have been made safe. Nor can he fully understand the animosity between Bosniaks and Croats in the city, which comes to the fore whenever the city’s two football teams play—an event which becomes one of “national security”. Hatred dies hard.

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