Community as Heterogeneous Ensemble: Mostar and Multiculturalism

Article excerpt

Aida Musanovic ... had visited the hospital in Sarajevo and had seen the carnage brought by the war. Yet the burning of the library struck her with a special horror. In the fire of the National Library, she realised that what she was experiencing was not only war but also something else. The centuries of culture that fell back in ash onto the besieged city revealed a secret.

Micchael A. Sells in The Bridge Betrayed

There is no more Old Bridge.

UN Relief Agency spokeswoman

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At around 10:15 A.M. on November 9, 1993, the Old Bridge, or Stari Most, at Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, collapsed into the River Neretva. The bridge had spanned the Neretva for more than four hundred years, linking east Mostar (and the Bosnian hinterlands) to west Mostar (and routes to the Adriatic coast). Having survived natural disasters and wars, including shelling by the Bosnian Serb army in 1992, the bridge had finally been destroyed by Bosnian Groat forces intent on separating "Muslim" east Mostar from "Croat" west Mostar. Despite having previously worked to protect the Stari Most from Bosnian Serb shells, the Croatian Defence Council (HVO, the Bosnian Croat army) subjected the bridge to a sustained bombardment. Beginning on November 8, the HVO relentlessly shelled the bridge. Sarajevo newspapers reported that by the time the Stari Most collapsed, it had been hit by more than sixty shells. (1)

The siege and destruction of the Stari Most became an exemplary event in the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. The destruction of this Ottoman bridge epitomized the violence that was consuming the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Images of the siege and destruction of the Stan Most captured the imaginations of observers of the conflict. Pictures of the bridge prior to destruction, clad in rubber tires and a makeshift wooden roof, served as a metaphor for "ethnic division." (2) The notion that the former Yugoslavia was being forcibly "unmade" found graphic representation in such images of the assault on a bridge literally linking East and West, Muslim and Croat. (3) The final collapse of the single-span stone bridge into the river it had spanned for more than four hundred years was captured on video by local news media and broadcast around the world. The fleeting image of the end of this outstanding example of cultural heritage became an icon of the savagery and tragedy of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. The f ootage of crumbling stone represented in a concise and vivid manner both the failure of Western negotiations to maintain a "multiethnic" Bosnia, and the violence with which the division of Bosnia was being accomplished.

The destruction of a structure as prominent and photogenic as the Stan Most served to highlight the campaign against the urban fabric of Bosnia that had seemingly become a feature of "ethnic cleansing." In Sarajevo, the National Library and the Oriental Institute were destroyed by Serbian shells. The shells set the National Library alight, and as the collections burned, the people of Sarajevo attempted to save the books by hand. These events became landmarks in the siege of Sarajevo. Concerned observers mourned the loss of valuable collections of manuscripts, at a loss to understand the mentality of those who could, at the end of the twentieth century, burn books. In both cases, the buildings were targeted deliberately, nearby buildings being left relatively untouched. (4) This deliberate targeting of landmark buildings was confirmed even by those who were shelling Sarajevo:

In September 1992, BBC reporter Kate Adie interviewed Serbian gunners on the hillsides overlooking Sarajevo and asked them why they had been shelling the Holiday Inn, the hotel where all of the foreign correspondents were known to stay. The officer commanding the guns apologised profusely, explaining they had not meant to hit the hotel, but had been aiming at the roof of the National Museum behind it. …