When the Croatians and Serbs retracted from the Bosnian Parliament in the October of 1991 to create their own assemblies, the initial step to undermining the thousands of years of Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim co-existence had been taken. This symbolic initiativethat divided the three ethnicities on a political level foreshadowed the future animosity, which caused rampant destruction in the civil war, which raged from 1992-1995. Death, demolition, and deteriorating infrastructure characterized the situation. While all sides hold responsibility for some of the carnage, the Serbs in particular engaged in ethnic cleansing, rape, and conducting large prison camps where inmates were tortured and executed. However, it was not just people who were victimized by this conflict. The Serbs and the Croats also sought to destroy Bosnia’s rich and diverse heritage; thus many important monuments such as the Stari Most, the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, and the Ferhadija Mosque were targeted as testaments to Bosnia’s multicultural and Ottoman traditions. Both the ruin and the reconstruction of these historic sites emphasize the tense atmosphere that remains in the country despite the official commitment to reconciliation.
Built in 1566 by Ottoman architect Mimar Harjrudin, the Stari Most was feat of engineering genius. Teenagers, travelers, lovers, and businessmen gathered on this beloved bridge that represented the link between the East and West as well as the connection between the Catholic Croats and Bosnian Muslims. It was the Stari Most’s multi-cultural connotation that incited the nationalistic Croatian military to destroy the architectural wonder on November 9, 1993. Both the international community and the residents of Mostar decided to spend 15.5 million dollars to create an exact replica of the bridge. Unfortunately, many of the original stones had pitted and corroded causing the Turkish construction firm to cut new blocks from the same quarry. The project was completed in 2004 and was supported by most of the town that wanted the tourists the bridge would bring to the town. Years of war and its aftermath economically devastated the city. Only a few Croatian extremists balked that the bridge was not a symbol of the town and was “not worth the finger of one Croat soldier.” However, the Stari Most has not healed the wounds that many people hoped that it would. The Bosnian and Croatian sides run separate municipal services and rarely interact, especially at night. Visitors come to see the bridge, not the hurt that continues to tear the sides apart so have done little to mend the emotional scars.
Likewise, the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina, founded in 1945, also suffered as a result of its cosmopolitan significance. This major collection occupied the Vajencia, a Moorish-Revival building constructed in 1896, which embodied both Austrian-Hungarian and Islamic influences. Soon after its completion, the building was regarded for its beauty. The Vajencia served a variety of functions and finally become the home of the library in 1951. Between 1945 and 1992, the facility amassed more than three million item including manuscripts and volumes written in languages of the ethnicities and creeds that have shaped Bosnia. Like the Stari most, the library’s diverse collection sparked the anger of the radical Serbian leader, Nikola Koljevic, who resented the scholarship, Ottoman influence, and variety of cultures the institution represented. Thus, on August 25, 1992, Ratko Mladic troops shelled the library. Many locals tried to save the collection, but only ten percent of the collection was recovered. Sadly, the reconstruction of the library has been plagued with difficulties including financial and logistical problems. Dr. Eunes Kujundzic, the director of the National andnd University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has stressed the urgency to rebuild. UNESCO and the European Union greatly contributed to renovating the Vajencia but faulty finances have stalled the initiative. The library is operating out of academic buildings of the University of Sarajevo with less space and less staff members. Many nations have donated services and money to restoring the collection. Harvard and Yale in particular have worked to create a master bibliography of the library’s holdings, and some countries have helped train staff members with new technologies. These positive steps are overshadowed by the lingering question of whether the library is going to be relocated in the Vajencia and the fact that thousands of documents and records will never be able to be recovered. This loss of materials and former glory is a tragic result of the conflict.
While the Serbians attacked cultural heritage landmarks, they particularly sought to obliterate the mosques. The Ferhadija Mosque had been an emblem of Banja Luka for both Muslim and Christian citizens. On May 7, 1993, the Bosnian Serbs detonated this important structure with plastic explosives and a slow blowing fuse. It was especially important for the extreme Serbs to raze the site and then later try to shape a new history that left the Ferhadija Mosque out of photographs and documents, thus attempting to form a purified past and future. The Muslim citizens immediately started to push for the reconstruction of the mosque, but they encountered significant resistance and discrimination despite the approval of global organizations and the United States. The May 2001 riot attested to this active and violent prejudice that persisted after the war. Finally, the Bosnian government granted the Muslims the permission to reconstruct their mosque, which uses traditional methods and sixty percent of the original materials. It can be deemed as a success but not a victory untainted by the strong hatred of the Bosnian Serbian leaders and population.
Each of these sites represents Bosnia past, but as their reconstruction exemplifies, stones and mortar cannot completely erase the burdens and discord between the groups. Bosnia’s culture changed with the war,and the challenges with reinstating these monuments reflects this reality. It should be noted that the Ferhadja Mosque received the most vehement contention, which accentuates the ant-Muslim feeling that permeates the nation.