Mostar: A City Divided

Mostar is a city divided.

As I mentioned in my last post, the Bosnian War was an inter-ethnic conflict between Serbs (Orthodox Christian), Bosniaks (Muslim), and Croats (Catholic).

The war was super complex, and played out differently in just about every city. I want to emphasize that nobody was a “good guy” or a “bad guy” in this. All of the different groups were both aggressors and victims across former Yugoslavia.

Basically, it was a HOT HOT MESS, fueled by propaganda, shitty politicians, and scare tactics.

Ugh.

 

A City Divided | Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina | The Travel Medley
“Don’t forget” is a strong sentiment in town.

 

In Mostar (because remember, it was different everywhere), the Bosniaks and Croats were originally allied against the Serbs. (This was because the Bosnian Serb Army attacked Sarajevo, which set the stage for war.) So the Bosniaks and Croats joined forces, and succeeded in expelling all the Serbs from the city.

BUT THEN, the Croats attacked their former allies (the Bosniaks). The Croats were upset that the Bosniaks didn’t want to become part of a larger Croatian-Bosnian state. So Croats besieged the city of Mostar for almost an entire year, with the plan for all Bosniak inhabitants to be killed, expelled, or taken under their control. (Yikes.)

Remember the former allies part? Yeah. Friends, neighbors, and even relatives took up arms against each other. Altogether, over 2,500 people were killed in Mostar during the Bosnian War.

 

A City Divided | Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina | The Travel Medley
Holes and damage from mortar shells are still visible, along with this poignant reminder.

 

Eventually, several peace accords were signed, and the war technically “ended” (on paper) in 1995. But fighting didn’t stop immediately, and there were lasting repercussions.

To this day, there is an invisible line, separating the Croats and Bosniaks, and each group stays on their own side of town. It’s almost as if Mostar is two different cities, awkwardly smushed up against each other. They share a single name, but nothing else.

Croat Catholics live on the west side of town. Bosniak Muslims live on the east side of town. Schools (and the curricula they teach) are separate for each ethnic group. There are two separate bus companies (with bus stations on opposite sides of town), two soccer teams, two hospitals, two post offices, two taxi companies… two of almost everything. All so that these groups don’t have to interact with each other.

The Croat (west) side feels more modern, a bit more like the rest of Western Europe. Church steeples dominate the skies in this part of town.

 

A City Divided | Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina | The Travel Medley

 

A City Divided | Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina | The Travel Medley

 

The Bosniak (east) side of town has a distinctly more Eastern European vibe, with bridges dating from the Ottoman empire, and several minarets dotting the skyline.

 

A City Divided | Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina | The Travel Medley

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina | The Travel Medley

 

On both sides, there are bombed out buildings, in various stages of decay and disrepair.

 

A City Divided | Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina | The Travel Medley

 

A lot of people fled the city and never returned. What happens to those buildings?

 

A City Divided | Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina | The Travel Medley

 

Many people were forcefully expelled from their homes, and forced to move to the other side of town. Sooo do you just demolish their house while you’re at it?

 

A City Divided | Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina | The Travel Medley

 

And many buildings were mortgaged by banks, which then collapsed during the war.

(Remember the part about this whole thing being a HOT HOT MESS? Unfortunately, that didn’t really stop upon ceasefire.)

 

Most tourists are oblivious to this division. Despite the fact that most stick to the east/Bosniak side, they are free to wander through both parts of the city, and nobody minds.

{And for the record – Mostar is a really cool destination, with tons of history, friendly locals, a beautiful landscape, and delicious food. Don’t let this post deter you!}

But if you’re looking for that invisible line, it’s pretty easy to see. As you cross from modern slabs of concrete to smooth pathways of cobbled stone (and vice versa), you’re officially on the other side of town.

 

A City Divided | Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina | The Travel Medley

 

Mostar is still rebuilding – both in terms of physical buildings and psychological scars.

But it will be a long process.

Before the war, Mostar was the epitome of peaceful coexistence between people of different national backgrounds. In fact, it used to be the city with the most registered interethnic marriages in all of Yugoslavia. A full five years after the war ended, there were *zero* registered interethnic marriages.

But the populations are slowly, hesitantly, (barely) beginning to mix again. In 2004, this number rose to 0.7% and in 2008, 1.6%. (Woo!)

Perhaps the younger generations will heal this deep societal fracture.

Because ultimately, we are all just people. And we are all living under the same sky.

 

 

You guys. At first, Mostar seemed almost unreal. Like a city straight out of a YA dystopian novel. A line down the middle of town perfectly dividing two (extremely similar) groups of people, each feeling mistrust for the other? A Croat bus company and a Bosniak bus company? A Croat soccer team and a Bosniak soccer team? Two post offices? Two taxi companies? Two separate school systems (from kindergarten through university) teaching two different curricula? Um, okay… thanks, Divergent. Thanks, the Hunger Games. 

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is (unfortunately) just an extreme version of how a lot of cities function across the globe. Think about where you live, where you go to school, where you worship, where you go shopping, what books you read, what artists you listen to, what news station you watch… stop to think for a second. Does everyone around you look like you?

Just something to consider. Maybe reach out to someone you wouldn’t normally interact with. After all, we are all living under the same sky.

 

 

Comments

  1. Reply

    Hi Bri, I came across your post during my dissertation research – I am using Mostar as a case study – and I stopped to tell you that your experience in many ways reflects mine, starting with blissful ignorance, turning to shock and disbelief, until ultimately, I have been feeling a mixture of grief and hope. Great comment at the end! We all live in cities with invisible lines, unfortunately.

    1. Reply

      Hi Alexandra, thanks for the comment. Mostar is one of those places that’s hard for me to wrap my mind around! I found it super interesting, but also heartbreaking. I’m definitely hopeful for the city to continue to rebuild and for the people to reconnect. Good luck with your dissertation! If that’s ever a thing I can read, please let me know! (Even if it’s years from now…) I’m intrigued 🙂

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