Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

 On November 9, 1993, the Stari Most (“Old Bridge”) crumbled into the Neretva River.  Commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent, it had been standing for over four centuries and had become a well-known symbol of the Ottoman Empire.

The bridge, which has since been reconstructed, is located in Mostar, a city in the southern part of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Like most regions in Bosnia, the history of the violence in Mostar is far too detailed for a short blog post, so please forgive me for the quick summary that is necessarily brief and simplified.

Violence in Mostar began with shelling from the Yugoslav army (controlled by Serbia) in April 1992.  The army managed to take over much of the city, and Bosnian armed forces as well as the Croatian forces joined together to defend the city.  While it was once ethnically integrated, Mostar was quickly divided into a western part dominated by Croat forces and an eastern part dominated by Bosnian forces.

Though Croats and Bosniaks initially worked together to defend Mostar against Yugoslav forces, in May 1993, Croat forces abandoned their earlier bilateral cooperation and attacked the city.   In essence, Mostar was part of a plan for a Greater Croatia (much like Greater Serbia).  “Ethnic cleansing” of Bosniaks began, including concentration camps similar to the ones in Prijedor.  And, many cultural monuments, including the bridge, were destroyed. 

Today, several Croat leaders are on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for their actions in Mostar and the surrounding region.  The remnants of the violence remain strong, however.  While the bridge has been rebuilt, many areas of the city are riddled with bullet holes or completely in ruins. 

Beyond the buildings, Mostar also remains a divided city.  Even today, there is clearly a Bosniak side and a Croatian side.  As a resident of Mostar told me, there are two of everything—two universities, two school systems, two bus systems, etc.  In short, Mostar remains ethnically divided, and, in a sense, is a manifestation of successful ethnic cleansing.

           A government building in Mostar.  The signs are listed in both Bosnian and Croatian, which are essentially the same language.


  1. 1.) i am guessing the bosniaks/croats defeated serbia's assault on the city?
    2.) if croatia succeeded in ethnically cleansing the bosniaks (muslims) out of mostar, why is this area not part of croatia today? who made them leave?
    3.) i imagine the people don't get along if it is divided today.

  2. This is very confusing- through no fault of your explanation. A divided city governed as one? Have they "agreed to disagree"? It seems that this would be a powder keg of unresolved disputes. That is a frightening thought.

  3. It really is! And the more detailed it gets, the more confusing and complex it gets. Even more so because they say they are one city. Some people certainly do get along, and there are some programs that are working to get youth to think non-nationalistic ways. (The person who gave Mike and me a tour is actually working at a youth center that does that, which seemed awesome.) And Steve, the Dayton Accords solidified the borders after the conflict. (I'd try to explain them, but wikipedia would likely do a much better job!) Overall, yes, very frightening.