Mostar: An Historic Bridge and the Scars of War

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Welcome to 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.

One interesting feature of Mostar is the dozens of Muslim obituaries posted on the walls and lamp posts, which seem 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 sobering reminder of the fragility and temporariness of life.

But is 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. And, of course, the human cost is beyond heartbreaking.

Yet, amid the destruction there are also some encouraging signs of reconciliation, reconstruction, and optimism. But life remains difficult here and pent up resentments persist, as seen in the broken windows in city hall below, bearing an expression of outrage by citizens disgusted with rampant corruption.

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