3II. THE BRIDGE AT MOSTAR IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: A Case StudyPeople throughout the world watched helplessly in November 1993, as cameras recordedthe collapse of the beautiful 16
century bridge at Mostar on the Neretva River, followingweeks of shelling by Croat forces. Although hundreds of heritage structures in Bosniaand Herzegovina had been damaged or obliterated since the outbreak of civil war in1992, the destruction of this picturesque bridge captured the world’s attention. Forcenturies it had served as a passageway between western Mostar, a predominantlyCroatian enclave, and the eastern sector of the city, peopled mainly by Bosniaks. In itsdemise, the bridge, and the gaping hole that remained, became a symbol of the violentconflict between the two groups and the Serbs, as the former nation of Yugoslaviadisintegrated.Cultural heritage, in the form of valued historic buildings and objects had become a targetin the series of Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, as one objective in the struggle overterritory was to erase all evidence of habitation by opposing groups. The deliberate actsdemonstrated that the combatants understood the meaning and value of cultural heritageand the powerful effects of its destruction. Although the intense civil conflict betweenSerbs, Croats and Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 through 1995 wasoften characterized as an expression of ancient ethnic hatreds, it was a war based mainlyon 20
century experience and ideologies. The close proximity of historic Muslim,Christian and Jewish religious and civil structures, as well as intermarriage betweengroups, attest to previous centuries of harmonious relationships.Mostar is strategically sited on the trade route between the Adriatic Sea and the Balkaninterior. The famous stone bridge, completed in 1566 by the ruling Ottoman Turks, wasan important link in this chain. Supplemented in subsequent years by modern bridgesbuilt for vehicular traffic, the Stari Most, or old footbridge, was treasured as an aestheticlandmark and a cultural symbol by the inhabitants of Mostar, the region, and travelersfrom abroad. The bridge had social and cultural significance as a meeting place, and thespot where young men proved their courage in special contests by diving into the icyNeretva River.As the ethnic strife intensified during the early 1990s, the Croat military sought to severthis connection by destroying the bridge. As an edifice of the Ottoman Turkish period,the structure was viewed by Croatian nationalists as a Muslim icon and a tangibleimpediment to the objective of ethnic separation. A Croat fighter stated bluntly: “It isnot enough to cleanse Mostar of the Muslims; the relics must also be destroyed.”
Aftermonths under siege, the bridge was finally completely demolished by Croatian gunnersafter two days of concentrated point blank attacks, recorded on videotape. Appeals bythe Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the United Nations Security Council,UNESCO and the Council of Europe for assistance in protecting the old city of Mostarand the bridge had been in vain.