Can Bosnians Coexist Again? Mostar Is Test the EU Has Begun a Two-Year Task to Help Muslims and Croats Create a Joint Police Force and Rebuild the City Devastated by Their Conflict

By Jonathan S. Landay, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 29, 1994 | Go to article overview

Can Bosnians Coexist Again? Mostar Is Test the EU Has Begun a Two-Year Task to Help Muslims and Croats Create a Joint Police Force and Rebuild the City Devastated by Their Conflict


Jonathan S. Landay, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


JAN MEIJVOGEL is not your ordinary police chief. Not that he doesn't confront the same cornucopia of daily wrongdoing that taxes his big-city contemporaries the world over. But that is where the comparison ends.

Mr. Meijvogel stands out because his beat is the Bosnian city of Mostar, and his mission is rebuilding a civilian force of Muslims and Croats who, until March, savaged each other in one of Bosnia-Herzegovina's worst urban killing zones.

Normally second-in-command of the military police in the northern Netherlands, Meijvogel is not sure how he will set about his daunting new task. After two months, he still awaits the 200 West European officers he will command in recruiting and training Mostar's new force. "This is a different culture. It is another part of Europe. They have another opinion about police work. One of the main problems is to change their attitude about violence," Meijvogel says.

Yet he remains confident: "Law and order is the soul ... of every country ... and every society. One of the main aims will be to unify the {Mostar} police force with the thought in mind that they have to do this job, not us."

This is a key tenet of the European Union administration that last Saturday began a two-year attempt to reconcile the city by restoring multiethnic government and fostering the rule of law where anarchy has reigned.

The EU administration will also try to rebuild the devastated infrastructure, housing, and factories on which revival of the economy depends.

"Of course you cannot rebuild this city in two years," says Hans Koschnick, a former mayor of the German city of Bremen and chief EU administrator here. "It needs 10 to 20 years if you have good money and lots of help.

"Will they be able to overcome their hatred and work peacefully together?" he asks. "I don't say living together. I say working together. If they can, then peace will come."

Comparing this job with rebuilding Bremen after Allied bombing in World War II, Mr. Koschnick says: "There are two big differences. Everybody wanted to rebuild; there was no hatred among us. And we lost the war: There were no guns."

EU stewardship over Bosnia's second largest city was part of the US-brokered accords that ended fighting between Muslims and Croats and led to formation in April of a federation. A power-sharing feud prompted using the EU temporarily to supervise local decisionmaking.

Koschnick is the top authority, but his pronouncements can be disputed before an EU ombudsman with arbitration powers. The idea is that political reconciliation will foster ethnic reconciliation. Koschnick calls it a "peaceful revolution."

For that reason, Mostar has become the main test of the viability of the new Muslim-Croat federation and of hopes that Bosnia's ethnic groups can again coexist.

"Ninety-nine percent of the people want this to work," says Zvonko Jovic, a former Croat fighter. …

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