Mostar represents the best and the worst of Yugoslavia. During the Tito years, it was an idyllic mingling of cultures — Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs, and Muslim Bosniaks living together in relative harmony, their differences spanned by an Old Bridge that symbolized an optimistic vision of a Yugoslavia where ethnicity didn't matter. And yet, as the country unraveled in the early 1990s, Mostar was gripped by a gory three-way war among those same groups. Not so many years before my visit, the people I encountered here — those who set me up at a computer terminal in the cybercafé, stopped for me when I jaywalked, showed off their paintings, and directed the church choir — had been killing each other.
Mostar's 400-year-old, Turkish-style stone bridge — with its elegant, single-pointed arch — was symbolic of the town's status as the place were East met West in Europe. Then, during the 1990s, Mostar became the tragic poster child of the Bosnian war. Across the world, people felt the town's pain when its beloved bridge — bombarded from the hilltop above — finally collapsed into the river.
The scars of war are still evident. The Serbs who once lived here have fled deeper into the countryside, into the Republika Srpska. The two groups who still live in Mostar are effectively segregated along the front line that divided them during wartime: The Muslims on the east side, and the Croats on the west.
While the two groups are making some efforts at reintegration, progress is slow. In 2005, some young Mostarians unveiled a statue of Bruce Lee, who they saw as symbolizing the fight for positive values that all sides could identify with. Lee, who fought against ethnic divisions between Chinese and Americans, represented to the people of Mostar an inspirational bridging of cultures. Sadly, two days after the unveiling, the statue was vandalized.
But things are improving. Mostar's stately Old Bridge has been rebuilt, and the city is gradually putting itself back together. Exploring Mostar — with its vibrant humanity and the persistent reminders of its recent and terrible war — is both exhilarating and exhausting.
About This Entry
You are reading "Mending Broken Bridges in Mostar", an entry posted on 01 July 2009 by Rick Steves.