Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Four Years after the War, Ethnic Polarization Remains ; from Cafe Posters Lauding Croatia's Late President to Complaints over a Muezzin's Cry, Mostar's Croats Are Nostalgic for a City That Once Was

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Four Years after the War, Ethnic Polarization Remains ; from Cafe Posters Lauding Croatia's Late President to Complaints over a Muezzin's Cry, Mostar's Croats Are Nostalgic for a City That Once Was

Article excerpt

IVAN PRSKALO, the mayor of Mostar, is in the midst of an impassioned defense. In his airy office, furnished IKEA-style, he insists that his people, the Bosnian Croats, do not deserve criticism for preventing peace from taking root in Bosnia.

The blame, he says, lies with the Bosnian-Muslim leadership in Sarajevo, which seeks "Islamization," and to oppress the Croat minority.

Suddenly, he is interrupted by the wail of the muezzin from the ancient mosque next door. It is the midday call to prayer.

"It doesn't irritate me, but I don't like the loudness," Mr. Prskalo says through an interpreter. "And it's gotten even louder since the war.... It's not the most beautiful song to hear at five each morning."

Four years after the war, ethnic polarization continues to thrive in Bosnia. And Prskalo's assertions notwithstanding, it's not the fault of only one side. Bosnian Croat, Serb, and Muslim hardliners stick with a tried-and-true formula to stay in power: Stoke interethnic fears, to convince voters of the need to rally around their own flag.

But a change is in the air in Mostar, sundered in May 1993 as Bosnia's Croats turned on the Muslims - their onetime allies against the Serbs - in a bid to carve out a chunk of Bosnia to unite with Croatia.

Along the icy sidewalk near cafes serving honey-soaked baklava, there are ubiquitous posters of deceased Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. Back in Zagreb, the public displays were put up and taken down in a matter of days. But Mostar Croats refuse to let go.

"They definitely have reason to grieve," says a Western diplomat based in Mostar since 1996. "Tudjman encouraged them to believe they were a part of Croatia. But the reality is different. They live in a different country."

The West has long castigated Croatia for failing to extradite alleged war criminals to the Hague tribunal, for blocking the return of ethnic Serb refugees, and for channeling cash and arms to Bosnia's Croats.

Stipe Mesic, winner of Croatia's Feb. …

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