While wandering the streets of Mostar, Bosnia, two aspects became immediately obvious to us – one good, and one terribly sad.
First, the city government realized the tremendous boon of tourism, and wisely, is restoring Mostar’s historic area. And sadly, the second fact is that Mostar was physically and emotionally devastated by a war less than 20 years ago; the city and its people are still recovering.
The historic Old Town lies on the shore of the beautiful, emerald-green Neretva River, and surrounds the Old Bridge (called “Stari Most” here – destroyed in the war, and since reconstructed). This is the primary tourist area and has been painstakingly rebuilt.
It’s a fairy-tale, medieval village with winding, cobblestone streets lined with charming cafes, riverfront restaurants, and local craft shops. Since it’s a haven for tourists, the money spent here has helped the city get back on its feet.
Parallel to this riverfront, and only one block away, is the village main street with two narrow lanes lined with businesses for the non-tourist crowd. Every block on this street has at least one building that is bomb-gutted and bullet-scarred. There are so many derelict buildings to deal with that the city can’t afford to restore or raze them.
Apparently, one of the problems is that many of these buildings had mortgages with Yugoslavian Banks, which disappeared along with Yugoslavia. As a result, no one really knows who owns the buildings, and no investor will touch them without some guarantee of ownership. So year after year they sit as a painful reminder of the terrible consequences of war.
Also, on this street is a compact, tree-lined park that once had a fountain and benches for relaxation. Now it’s jammed with white tombstones and the graves of the hundreds of people who were killed in the conflict.
The conversion from park to cemetery was necessary because snipers would indiscriminately kill anyone foolish enough to venture out during the daylight, and the trees in the park on a dark night provided cover to bury fallen loved ones.
Sadly, Mostar is like a coin with two faces, and you can’t experience one side without the other. But, we travel to learn, and many things that have happened in the world are not happy. We will always be glad that we came to Eastern Europe, and Mostar in particular, to see what the Bosnian War did to the people and their cities. The harsh reality of Mostar, like many other places, is that people recover from war, but the healing is painful and takes decades.
Peace and Tolerance,
James and Terri