Once, actually twice that I have been to Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BH). The first trip was exactly 23 years ago in 1993. In 1993 the ethnic cleansing in BH was still at its peak, where the entire Serbian military machinery bombed, destroyed and burnt every town and city under the rule of the Muslim-based BH government.
In Mostar, my favourite point of interest is the Old Bridge over River Neretva. The Bridge was declared a world national heritage by the United Nations was actually destroyed by the Serbs army during the period of ethnic cleansing. The Bridge was built in the 12th Century by the Ottoman invaders and it survived all the wars including the First and the Second World Wars, until it was destroyed by the Serbs. Today the Old Bridge has been rebuilt to almost its original splendour, courtesy of the World Bank and the EU.
When I was in Mostar in 1970 the first time, as I had imagined it, the atmosphere was like as though I was going back through the time period of the Hapsburg Emperor Francis Ferdinanad when he was assassinated in Sarajevo, a complete medieval setting. The Bosnian males still wearing the strange head gear called tarbush as worn by the Turks. Meanwhile, River Neretva under the Old Bridge in Mostar, is always cold, I have swam there. After the swim I would walked on the ancient cobblestone pavement of the Ottoman, then stop at any quaint and rustic side walk coffee shop, or cafe, and will have my shot of Turkish coffee and watch the faces of happy Bosnians playing backgammon.
On my second trip to BH , during the war, I also I managed to go to Konjic, an important and a beleaguered town between Mostar and Sarajevo. Here I met with a group of Muslim fighters from Chechnya, Iran and local Bosnians.
At that point in time Konjic, especially, reminded me of a scene from Albert Camus's The Plague. In the book a town was quarantined because of the appearance of dead rats and the outbreak of the bubonic plague. In this case the symbolism would be the Serbs is equal to the rats that carry the fleas that carry bubonic plague and the Bosnian had to find every single way for them to survive and to keep alive.
Yes, it was fasting month, and like Rocky, I did pray with these fighters in a old 12th century mosque, and I feel so close to the divine being. It was a treat for me to pray with the survivors of the "plague" and my constant supply of cigarettes to them made me even more liked. I am sure some of them are still alive today in Konjic and I wish then well!
PIX: Top to bottom (pix by Pasqualensa).
1. The River Neretva, and onserv the minaret on the top right, welI, I had the privilege of praying in this beautiful 12th century Ottoman mosque.
2. The newly re-constructed Old Bridge in Mostar over River Neretva.
3. Picture of the original bridge drawn in 1930 before it was obliterated.
4. The brave resistance fighters against the "Bubonic Plague".