Mostar suffered more wartime damage than any other town in Bosnia & Herzegovina, nearly 20 years ago. Yet, until the war broke out in 1991, it was a vibrant mix of cultures, nations, religions, and traditions. Different nationalities – Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian – and different creeds – Catholic, Muslim and Orthodox Christian – lived, worked and socialised together, creating what came to be known as ‘the spirit of Mostar’. This small, yet cosmopolitan city was seen as a microcosm of the former Yugoslavia itself.
Mostar’s most potent symbol is its 16th century arched bridge, known as the Stari Most (Old Bridge). This stone and limestone bridge, built into the cliffs along the banks of the Neretva River, stood for more than 400 years. It survived the 1991-1992 war, when Croatians and Bosnians were united in the fight against Serbian forces. But it was utterly destroyed in 1993, when fierce fighting broke out between the former allies. Although the bridge was rebuilt in 2004, its destruction, and the events that led to it, is still a painful and difficult subject – a subject that is never discussed but whose after-effects are still felt, on the 20th anniversary of its destruction.
Reconstructing a stone bridge is one thing: rebuilding the links between the divided population is something else entirely. Before the war, Mostar’s diverse communities lived alongside one another, but today, although they share the same physical space, by and large, they live separate, parallel lives.