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While the bridge at Mostar may be open, recent events, like the murder of a Muslim teenager on the way to see his girlfriend in the Croatian zone, raise questions as to the future of peace.

Happy to be working again, Muslim men in East Mostar begin to erase some of the damage caused by the war. While physical damage may be easy to fix, ethnic hatred will be an entirely different story.

A car in West Mostar is tended to by the local fire brigade after mysteriously bursting into flames.

It was one of Europe's most beautiful cities. Now, it lies in ruin.
Dubravko Kakarigi's Mostar Pages.

Mostar grafitti

Gavino Paddeu chronicles Mostar's fall in Benvenuti in Guerra.

New Mostar:
A Tale of Two Cities

7 January 1996
Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Times have certainly
changed in Mostar.

There has been a fragile truce in the area for a year or so and with the Dayton Peace Accord there seems to be an increase in rebuilding efforts. When I entered East Mostar across the Bailey Bridge, put up by the 32nd Co. Royal Engineers, the damage from the fighting along the river was still very evident. Yet all around me I heard the sound of hammers, saws, mixers, and shovels scraping debris off the cobblestones. I shared a friendly smoke with a man busily working a cement mixer. He was so inspired by his work that he insisted I photograph him at his labor. Although we could only communicate through our limited vocabularies, and sign language, it was evident he was pleased and proud to be working again.

Another man was busy placing a new electrical box. The mood was light even though a hundred meters away, the Neretva River was at flood stage and separated a town still unsure of its future. A city harboring very bitter memories.

Mostar saw some of the heaviest fighting in all of Bosnia. In 1992, it was Croats and Muslims versus the Bosnian Serb Army. Then, in 1993, for reasons not fully explained, the Croats and Muslims turned on each other and began a new round of violence that must have shocked even the Serbs. Very ugly scenes played themselves out here. The Muslims were again outgunned — this time by their former allies, the HVO, who were directly aided by the Croatiangovernment in Zagreb. The Serbs, still on the high ground were no doubt laughing while the former allies blasted each other into oblivion.

You can gauge the time period of some of the damage to Mostar, on the Croatian side at least. Shattered buildings, and I mean shattered, were the work of Serb heavy artillery. The Muslims never really had anything more than mortars and these just send shrapnel in every direction. They don't knock down entire buildings with one thump. On the Muslim side of the river, damage was ongoing and the place was for all intents and purposes destroyed — or "knoshed" as some of my British friends say. For them, this war has been one nightmare after another.

On both sides of the river and the hills above, the sounds of all-out war have died away. There is still a smattering of fire now and again, but for the most part it is over and people seem to be happy to get on with the business of rebuilding. But there is something strange and uneasy about Mostar. The people there have a drawn expression, a gaunt look that exposes tormented souls beneath — or a swaggering, evil demeanor. Thanks to the Western European Union or WEU, people are free to cross over the bridge between the sides and throngs were doing so right up to sunset.

But before the "Candymen" stepped in, called that because of the white uniforms they wore during their EU Monitoring days, Muslims in Mostar had a hard time crossing. Bosnian Croat police placed all sorts of bureaucratic hoops in their way. Papers for this, that and the other were necessary to cross over and the only way to get them was to cross over. You see the dilemma. Elements in West Mostar were, and are still quite hostile to Muslims. There are more than a few "Mostar Cowboys" running about and I have never seen so many European luxury sedans in one place. The Mafia in Mostar and Herzegovina in general made a killing off this war — literally. They are not eager to let anyone else in on the action.

In Mostar, I learned the story of a Muslim man who was married to a Croatian girl. Iíll call them Ahmet and Donika. The war separated them, but following the Dayton accord the "Candymen" chucked their white uniforms, donned green military duds and strapped on six guns. There was a new sheriff in town. The troublesome Croat checkpoint disappeared. Ahmet and Donika ran into each otherís arms across the hard, iron bridge. Reunited with his love, Ahmet set out to get their lives back on track and opened a small shop in West Mostar. They worked hard and business was picking up, especially with other Muslims who could now visit unhindered. This did not set well with the local cowboys.

There was new competition which meant lost money and a deep hatred of Muslims in general. So, one day when no one in particular was looking, they threw a fragmentation grenade into Ahmet and Donika's shop, destroying the place and their hopes for a new life. I never did find out if anyone died, but no matter — it was a clear signal to all who would challenge the Herzegovinan Mafia.

In Bosnian Muslim territory, water, gas and electricity are still rationed and prices for basic goods remain high. In Herzegovina, there is a 20-million Deutche Mark health spa project underway. Brand new gas stations line the roads and new hotels in tourist areas like Medjugorija are springing up. In Muslim Bosnia, a man with horse and wagon is considered lucky. In Herzegovina, a man isnít a man unless he's driving a Mercedes sport coupe. Such are the disparities.

Another ominous indicator of who is behind all this are some interesting political billboards that have gone up along the roads. As you drive the winding tracks in Herzegovina, who greets you but Croatian President Dr. Franjo Tudman, looking for all the world like someone opened the bathroom door and caught him in a moment of indignity.

Along with this flattering portrait are the slogans, "The right man. The right party. The right time." It's a political campaign sign, that is understood, and nowhere but Herzegovina do you see them. The problem starts when you look at the international boundaries of Croatia and Bosnia. It is tantamount to a Mexican president actively campaigning in New Mexico for a national election south of the border, and inviting all Spanish-speakers, regardless of citizenship, to vote in that election. It is not surprising that Dr. Tudman received a winning majority from votes cast outside Croatia's borders. Interesting to say the least.

Many people following the situation in the Balkans worry that the Serbs will be the difficult party to deal with. To a degree that might be true, but if one looks at their track record, the Serbs tend to melt in the face of superior force. As a friend told me recently, "When Serbs see an Apache helicopter overhead they know you mean business." How true. One look at the recent Croat offensive in Krajina demonstrates well how weak they had become. No, I don't think the bigger problem lies with the Serbs.

For a real test of law and order in post-war Bosnia, look to Herzegovina. While no one in the region did back flips over the new accord, people are slowly testing the waters. People like Ahmet and Donika. Brave people who know the risks but are determined to put their lives back on track. While the rest of the world worries what the NATO troops had for Christmas dinner, the people of Bosnia are paying very close attention to those who take the first steps. It is those people who will see if this peace can work and lead others down its path. People who are not naÔve, but those who feel they simply have to have a life. People like Ahmet and Donika.