Tag Archives: Mostar

Mostar and the Stari Most Bridge

It was about sixty kilometres to Mostar and when we arrived there it was a total shock.  We drove past bombed out and abandoned buildings and parked the car in what looked a precarious spot next to magnificent old buildings that had been completely destroyed during the war of 1992 to 1993.  Walking around I was struck that this is what most of Europe must have looked like after the Second-World-War and it was sad and a very sobering experience.

Between 1992 and 1993, after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the city was subjected to an eighteen month siege. Amongst destroyed monuments were a Franciscan monastery, the Catholic cathedral and the bishop’s palace with a library of fifty thousand books, as well as the Karadžoz-bey mosque, Roznamed-ij-Ibrahim-efendija mosque and twelve other mosques and all of the bridges across the river.

During the Yugoslav wars, the objectives of nationalists from Croatia were shared by Croat nationalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  What I didn’t know was that after the expulsion of the Serbs the Croats turned on the Bosnians and they proclaimed the existence of the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia, as a separate ‘political, cultural, economic and territorial whole’ on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mostar was divided into a Western part, which was dominated by the Croat forces and an Eastern part where the Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was largely concentrated.  The Croatians controlled all roads leading into Mostar and international organisations were denied access and they took over the west side of the city and expelled thousands of Bosniaks into the eastern side and heavy shelling reduced much of Mostar to rubble. The Croatian army engaged in a mass execution, ethnic cleansing and rape on the Bosniak people of Mostar and its surrounds and a fierce siege and shelling campaign on the Bosnian Government run East Mostar.  Finally they did something that even the Serbs hadn’t done and on 9th November 1993 destroyed the famous Stari Most Bridge.  I had simply not understood these ethnic tensions existed between Croatians and Bosnians.

We had a perfect view of the bridge and the famous divers who kept coming to the top and standing and posing as if to make a dive but this was all a big tease and they never did.  After lunch we finally walked to the bridge ourselves and crossed to the other side and from the top it was still possible to see the damaged buildings and shell holes that had brought down famous old buildings and roofs.  I was pleased to discover that after the war the people responsible were tracked down and brought to trial for crimes against humanity and other war crimes including the destruction of the Stari Most Bridge.

Mostar was an amazing experience and one that I will not forget in a hurry and we walked some more around the little streets and then back to the commercial centre and to the car that because of the place where we had parked I was glad to see was still there and in one piece.

Leaving Bosnia at the border we insisted on stamps in the passport to remember our visit by but almost immediately wondered if this had been altogether sensible when the policeman on the Croatian side eyed it with suspicion and applied his own stamp to cancel it.  On my travels I am learning all of the time and this was something I hadn’t expected, I thought everyone disliked the Serbs, I had no idea that Christian Croats and Muslim Bosniaks don’t exactly see eye to eye either.

Stari Most Bridge, Mostar

Stari Most Brodge

Stari Most is a 16th century Ottoman bridge in the city of Mostar, Bosnia- Herzegovina that crosses the river Neretva and connects two parts of the city. The Old Bridge stood for 427 years, until it was destroyed on November 9th 1993 by Bosnian Croat forces during the Croat-Bosniak War. Subsequently, a project was begun to reconstruct it, and the rebuilt bridge opened on July 23rd 2004.

Between 1992 and 1993, after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the city was subjected to an eighteen month siege.  Amongst destroyed monuments were a Franciscan monastery, the Catholic Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace, with a library of fifty thousand books, as well as the Karadžoz-bey Mosque, Roznamed-ij-Ibrahim-efendija Mosque and twelve other Mosques and all of the bridges across the river.

During the Yugoslav wars, the objectives of nationalists from Croatia were shared by Croat nationalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina. What I didn’t know was that after the expulsion of the Serbs the Croats turned on the Bosnians and they proclaimed the existence of the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia, as a separate ‘political, cultural, economic and territorial whole’ on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mostar was divided into a Western part, which was dominated by the Croat forces and an Eastern part where the Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was largely concentrated. The Croatians controlled all roads leading into Mostar and international organisations were denied access and they took over the west side of the city and expelled thousands of Bosniaks from the west side into the east side and heavy shelling reduced much of the historic centre of Mostar to rubble.

The Croatian army engaged in mass execution, ethnic cleansing and other atrocities against the Bosniak people of Mostar and a fierce siege and shelling campaign on the Bosnian Government run East Mostar. Finally they committed the atrocity of destroying the famous Stari Most Bridge. I had simply not understood these ethnic tensions existed between Croatians and Bosnians.

Photo Studio HADŽIĆ Mostar

Photo Studio HADŽIĆ Mostar

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Yugoslavia and the Wars of Independence

When I was a boy the school atlas had a very different map of Europe to how it looks today. This was because there weren’t nearly so many countries to show. Everything east of Poland was included in the USSR so there was no Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, The Czech Republic and Slovakia was one country and on the Adriatic there was a single country called Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia had been created in 1918 after the First World War by the victorious western allies in the hope of bring some stability to the Balkans but this had been a hopelessly optimistic attempt to impose a solution on a disparate region of Europe who were never going to coexist easily as one single nation.

The Balkans is where east meets west in Europe and Yugoslavia was a mix of Eastern Orthodox looking to the east (Serbia), Christian looking to the west (Slovenia and Croatia) and Muslims who could not be reconciled to either (Bosnia).  Here was a recipe for disaster!

Slovenia is clearly more Central European in character than any of its Balkan partners and being more prosperous and increasingly resentful of providing support to its national partners it is not surprisingly that when the grip of President Tito was removed in 1980 it was the first to break loose from the Yugoslav Federation in 1991.  Luckily for them it was a bloodless separation following a vote for independence in 1990 but the Slovenian secession did however lead to a violent break-up of the country with civil war and ethnic cleansing in neighbouring Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina that persisted throughout the 1990’s.

As a consequence of the wars Yugoslavia was inevitably dismantled into its constituent parts and on 22nd May 1992 Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia joined the United Nations.  I have nothing personal against Yugoslavia but I am glad the country split up in this way because this has provided more travel opportunities to different countries and since 2007 I have visited all three and Montenegro as well.

In 2008 we visited Bosnia and although we were in Europe this felt like a different place altogether and being predominantly Muslim it felt as though we had crossed into Asia.  It was about sixty kilometres to Mostar and when we arrived there it was a total shock.  We drove past bombed out and abandoned buildings and parked the car in what looked a precarious spot next to magnificent old buildings that had been completely destroyed during the war of 1992 to 1993.  Walking around I was struck that this is what most of Europe must have looked like after the Second-World-War and it was sad and a very sobering experience.

Between 1992 and 1993, after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the city was subject to an eighteen month siege during which the objectives of nationalists from Croatia were shared by Croat nationalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  What I didn’t know was that after the expulsion of the Serbs the Croats turned on the Bosnians and they proclaimed the existence of the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia, as a separate ‘political, cultural, economic and territorial whole’ on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mostar was divided into a Western part, which was dominated by the Croat forces and an Eastern part under the control of the Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The Croatians controlled all roads leading into Mostar and international organisations were denied access as they took over the west side of the city and expelled thousands of Bosniaks into the eastern side.  Heavy shelling reduced much of Mostar to rubble as a consequence and finally they did something that even the Serbs hadn’t done and destroyed the famous Stari Most Bridge.  I had simply not understood these ethnic tensions existed between Croatians and Bosnians.

In 2009 and again in 2010 we visited Dubrovnik in Croatia and on the second occasion travelled to the city by boat. The water taxi left from the little harbour in the village on Mlini as it followed the coast towards the city we saw something unexpected and nothing like we had seen before on previous visits to Croatia, a string of war damaged shelled out hotels at regular intervals all the way to Dubrovnik.  This we learned later was the legacy of an invasion by Montenegro during the secessionist wars of the 1990s.

Montenegro played a disastrous part in the break-up of the former Yugoslavia because in 1991 its army advanced across the border into Croatia, destroying villages, looting and stealing on the way and then shelling the ancient city of Dubrovnik.  The city was attacked by the Serbian-Montenegrin army and besieged for six months during which time about two thousand shells rained down on the walled city, damaging seventy percent of its buildings and two-thirds of its famous red roofs. Dubrovnik’s ancient heritage was threatened with destruction and a plaque within the city now shows all of the major strikes on public buildings and churches, cobbled streets made of Dalmatian stone and irreplaceable statues and monuments.

Europe and the World watched most of the dreadful events of the Yugoslavian wars on television screens but took no action but for the west at least, the destruction of Dubrovnik overstepped the mark and brought pressure on the warring factions to stop.  It was almost as though the World was prepared to watch ethnic cleansing, death and destruction in cities with unfamiliar names that meant little to them but when a UNESCO World Heritage Site was attacked and a city that was seen to belong to the World and not a single place, collectively they said ‘enough is enough’ and belatedly intervened to stop the hostilities.

A Year in a Life – 9th November, Mostar and the Stari Most Bridge

It was about sixty kilometres to Mostar and when we arrived there it was a total shock.  We drove past bombed out and abandoned buildings and parked the car in what looked a precarious spot next to magnificent old buildings that had been completely destroyed during the war of 1992 to 1993.  Walking around I was struck that this is what most of Europe must have looked like after the Second-World-War and it was sad and a very sobering experience.

Between 1992 and 1993, after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the city was subjected to an eighteen month siege. Amongst destroyed monuments were a Franciscan monastery, the Catholic cathedral and the bishop’s palace with a library of fifty thousand books, as well as the Karadžoz-bey mosque, Roznamed-ij-Ibrahim-efendija mosque and twelve other mosques and all of the bridges across the river.

During the Yugoslav wars, the objectives of nationalists from Croatia were shared by Croat nationalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  What I didn’t know was that after the expulsion of the Serbs the Croats turned on the Bosnians and they proclaimed the existence of the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia, as a separate ‘political, cultural, economic and territorial whole’ on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mostar was divided into a Western part, which was dominated by the Croat forces and an Eastern part where the Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was largely concentrated.  The Croatians controlled all roads leading into Mostar and international organisations were denied access and they took over the west side of the city and expelled thousands of Bosniaks into the eastern side and heavy shelling reduced much of Mostar to rubble. The Croatian army engaged in a mass execution, ethnic cleansing and rape on the Bosniak people of Mostar and its surrounds and a fierce siege and shelling campaign on the Bosnian Government run East Mostar.  Finally they did something that even the Serbs hadn’t done and on 9th November 1993 destroyed the famous Stari Most Bridge.  I had simply not understood these ethnic tensions existed between Croatians and Bosnians.

We had a perfect view of the bridge and the famous divers who kept coming to the top and standing and posing as if to make a dive but this was all a big tease and they never did.  After lunch we finally walked to the bridge ourselves and crossed to the other side and from the top it was still possible to see the damaged buildings and shell holes that had brought down famous old buildings and roofs.  I was pleased to discover that after the war the people responsible were tracked down and brought to trial for crimes against humanity and other war crimes including the destruction of the Stari Most Bridge.

Mostar was an amazing experience and one that I will not forget in a hurry and we walked some more around the little streets and then back to the commercial centre and to the car that because of the place where we had parked I was glad to see was still there and in one piece. 

Leaving Bosnia at the border we insisted on stamps in the passport to remember our visit by but almost immediately wondered if this had been altogether sensible when the policeman on the Croatian side eyed it with suspicion and applied his own stamp to cancel it.  On my travels I am learning all of the time and this was something I hadn’t expected, I thought everyone disliked the Serbs, I had no idea that Christian Croats and Muslim Bosniaks don’t exactly see eye to eye either.

A Life in a Year – 22nd May, Yugoslavia and the Balkans

When I was a boy the school atlas had a very different map of Europe to how it looks today. This was because there weren’t nearly so many countries to show. Everything east of Poland was included in the USSR so there was no Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, The Czech Republic and Slovakia was one country and on the Adriatic there was a single country called Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia had been created in 1918 after the First World War by the victorious western allies in the hope of bring some stability to the Balkans but this had been a hopelessly optimistic attempt to impose a solution on a disparate region of Europe who were never going to coexist easily as one single nation.

The Balkans is where east meets west in Europe and Yugoslavia was a mix of Russian Orthodox looking to the east (Serbia), Christian Orthodox looking to the west (Slovenia and Croatia) and Muslims who could not be reconciled to either (Bosnia).  Here was a recipe for disaster!

Slovenia is clearly more Central European in character than any of its Balkan partners and being more prosperous and increasingly resentful of providing support to its national partners it is not surprisingly that when the grip of President Tito was removed in 1980 it was the first to break loose from the Yugoslav Federation in 1991.  Luckily for them it was a bloodless separation following a vote for independence in 1990 but the Slovenian secession did however lead to a violent break-up of the country with civil war and ethnic cleansing in neighbouring Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina that persisted throughout the 1990’s.

As a consequence of the wars Yugoslavia was inevitably dismantled into its constituent parts and on 22nd May 1992 Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia joined the United Nations.  I have nothing personal against Yugoslavia but I am glad the country split up in this way because this has provided more travel opportunities to different countries and since 2007 I have visited all three and Montenegro as well.

In 2008 we visited Bosnia and although we were in Europe this felt like a different place altogether and being predominantly Muslim it felt as though we had crossed into Asia.  It was about sixty kilometres to Mostar and when we arrived there it was a total shock.  We drove past bombed out and abandoned buildings and parked the car in what looked a precarious spot next to magnificent old buildings that had been completely destroyed during the war of 1992 to 1993.  Walking around I was struck that this is what most of Europe must have looked like after the Second-World-War and it was sad and a very sobering experience.

Between 1992 and 1993, after Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the city was subject to an eighteen month siege during which the objectives of nationalists from Croatia were shared by Croat nationalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  What I didn’t know was that after the expulsion of the Serbs the Croats turned on the Bosnians and they proclaimed the existence of the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia, as a separate ‘political, cultural, economic and territorial whole’ on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mostar was divided into a Western part, which was dominated by the Croat forces and an Eastern part under the control of the Army of Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The Croatians controlled all roads leading into Mostar and international organisations were denied access as they took over the west side of the city and expelled thousands of Bosniaks into the eastern side.  Heavy shelling reduced much of Mostar to rubble as a consequence and finally they did something that even the Serbs hadn’t done and destroyed the famous Stari Most Bridge.  I had simply not understood these ethnic tensions existed between Croatians and Bosnians.

In 2009 and again in 2010 we visited Dubrovnik in Croatia and on the second occasion travelled to the city by boat. The water taxi left from the little harbour in the village on Mlini as it followed the coast towards the city we saw something unexpected and nothing like we had seen before on previous visits to Croatia, a string of war damaged shelled out hotels at regular intervals all the way to Dubrovnik.  This we learned later was the legacy of an invasion by Montenegro during the secessionist wars of the 1990s.

Montenegro played a disastrous part in the break-up of the former Yugoslavia because in 1991 its army advanced across the border into Croatia, destroying villages, looting and stealing on the way and then shelling the ancient city of Dubrovnik.  The city was attacked by the Serbian-Montenegrin army and besieged for six months during which time about two thousand shells rained down on the walled city, damaging seventy percent of its buildings and two-thirds of its famous red roofs. Dubrovnik’s ancient heritage was threatened with destruction and a plaque within the city now shows all of the major strikes on public buildings and churches, cobbled streets made of Dalmatian stone and irreplaceable statues and monuments.

Europe and the World watched most of the dreadful events of the Yugoslavian wars on television screens but took no action but for the west at least, the destruction of Dubrovnik overstepped the mark and brought pressure on the warring factions to stop.  It was almost as though the World was prepared to watch ethnic cleansing, death and destruction in cities with unfamiliar names that meant little to them but when a UNESCO World Heritage Site was attacked and a city that was seen to belong to the World and not a single place, collectively they said ‘enough is enough’ and belatedly intervened to stop the hostilities.

A Life in a Year – 3rd March, Bosnia declares independence

In the early 1990s the state of Yugoslavia started to disintegrate and a declaration of Bosnia and Herzegovina sovereignty in October 1991 was followed by a referendum for independence in February and March 1992. The turnout in the independence referendum was 63.4 per cent and 99.7 per cent of voters voted for independence.  Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence on 3rd March.  There was a lot of unhappiness, genocide, ethnic cleansing and war to come but eventually I had an opportunity to visit the country in 2008.

We set off from Podstana in Croatia and the first part of the drive wasn’t as dramatic as the road from Šibenik to Split the day before and shortly we arrived in the busy town of Omiš where there was another opportunity to head inland through the mountains towards the Bosnian border at Imotski but I ignored that and stuck to my original stubborn plan.  The views didn’t improve a great deal as we drove through redundant shipyards and derelict industrial areas south of the town but eventually we left these behind and reached a sign declaring that we were now on the Dalmatian Riviera. 

I was taking it steady as usual and making frequent stops at laybys with scenic views to admire the scenery and  let the line of traffic building up behind me pass by.  It was about eleven o’clock and we were about half way to Mostar so as we were making good progress we made more stops whenever a photo opportunity presented itself.

At this part of the coast there is an interesting diplomatic arrangement at the town of Neum which is the only seaside town in Bosnia and occupies about twenty kilometres of coastline that splits Croatia in two and which requires driving through border controls at both ends, which quite frankly is a bit of a pain in the arse for traffic travelling to and from Dubrovnik.  The two countries are currently in negotiations about the establishment of a ‘privileged economic zone’ for Bosnian businesses within the port of Ploče to give Bosnia an economic supply line from the sea, though this is hindered by the opposition of Croatian people to the concept of a partial loss of sovereignty. In exchange Croatia would like easier passage through the narrow strip of Bosnian territory near Neum but this is opposed by the Bosnian people.  The Croatian solution is simple and they have just begun construction of a three thousand metre long bridge that will cross to the Peljesac peninsular and solve the problem by bypassing Bosnia altogether and not surprisingly the Bosnian Government doesn’t like this. 

 

I mention this because just at the point that I should have been turning left for the border town of Metković the road was closed because of the construction work and we were directed towards a detour that was sign posted Dubrovnik and Mostar.  We only had a very basic map so it was difficult to say with any degree of accuracy where this detour would take us but there was no alternative but to follow it along with all of the other bemused drivers.  The road conditions had been slowly deteriorating as we drove further south but now things went from bad to worse and this was a road that was completely unsuitable for the volume of traffic that it was now taking or the size of the lorries and the buses who were all competing for inadequate space.  We were on full pothole alert now as we negotiated our way around this thirty kilometre diversion that completely destroyed my estimated timings.

Finally the never-ending detour through the mountain passes came to an end and we reached the border crossing and passed into the sovereign state of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  When I studied European history at University I was always intrigued by this mouthful of a name because it sounded different and intriguing.  And it was!  There was a straight road that ran adjacent to the fast flowing Naretva River that was swollen from the melt waters of the snow-capped mountains that we could see in the distance.  Surprisingly the road surface was much improved from that in southern Croatia but the condition of the houses and buildings in the villages en route did not.  Every village we passed through had evidence of war damage with the scars of machine gun and mortar fire and houses with roofs that had collapsed under a direct hit from a shell.  We stopped at the picturesque town of Pocitelj that has a western castle and an eastern mosque and picturesque bars and houses that had clearly been restored.  We didn’t stop long because we didn’t have any Bosnian Marks and the street vendors selling fruit were a bit too persistent.

Although we were in Europe this felt like a different place altogether and being predominantly Muslim it felt as though we had crossed into Asia.  It was about sixty kilometres to Mostar and when we arrived there it was a total shock.  We drove past bombed out and abandoned buildings and parked the car in what looked a precarious spot next to magnificent old buildings that had been completely destroyed during the war of 1992 to 1993.  Walking around I was struck that this is what most of Europe must have looked like after the Second-World-War and it was sad and a very sobering experience.

To be continued…