My first of three stops in Bosnia was picturesque Mostar, famous for Stari Most (literally Old Bridge), one of the most beautiful and historic bridges in all the world.
Built by the Ottomans in the sixteenth century, Stari Most was destroyed by Croat forces in 1993 during the Balkans War.
Fortunately this engineering and architectural masterpiece was rebuilt in 2004 and now stands, hopefully, as a permanent monument to reconciliation and peace.
In addition to its rich, but heart-breaking history, Stari Most is also famous for the young men who dive from its apex into the Neretva River. Alas, I was there during the off-season and did not witness any jumps, but there were a few divers who enjoyed teasing the handful of tourists who managed to be there.
Visiting the cozy and romantic tourist area in the immediate vicinity of the bridge, one would hardly guess that Mostar was the scene of horrific ethnic and religious warfare between three opposing groups — [predominantly Orthodox] Serbs, [predominantly Catholic] Croats, and [predominantly Muslim] Bosniaks — just two decades ago.
Dozens of Muslim obituaries, posted on the walls and lamp posts, seemed an unusual and somewhat unsettling sight to this first-time visitor…
But these obituaries are recent and not directly related to the war.
They are simply a part of local custom… and a grim reminder of the fragility and temporariness of life.
That said, it takes only a few minutes walk from the tourist area to start seeing the highly-visible scars from the 1990s war…
There are more than just a handful of walls pockmarked by bullets. In some cases, entire buildings remain gutted and abandoned…
My initial reaction was surprise that they are still standing two decades later, but then I wondered… Perhaps it is simply a matter of the financial risk of rebuilding during a time of continuing economic hardship. But perhaps they are painful, but necessary reminders of the insanity of ethnic and religious division.
My initial reaction was surprise that they are still standing two decades later, but then I wondered… Perhaps it is simply a matter of the financial risk of rebuilding during a time of continuing economic hardship. But perhaps they are painful, but necessary reminders of the insanity of ethnic and religious division. Does anyone have some insight to share?
And, of course, the human cost is beyond heartbreaking…
Yet, amid the destruction there are also some encouraging signs of reconciliation, reconstruction, and optimism…
And although there are signs of hope, life remains difficult here… and pent up resentments persist. This is the city hall, bearing the recent expression of outrage by citizens disgusted with rampant corruption.
I leave you with a toast to reconciliation and a wish for enduring peace!
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