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City profile

1. The ‘uniqueness’ of the city

The city of Mostar is named after the Stari Most, the famous Ottoman bridge built by the architect Hajrudin (1556) across the river Neretva. Since its sixteenth century construction, the Old Bridge came to represent the beauty of Mostar; later, with its destruction in 1993 it became a potent symbol of the violent atrocities perpetrated during the war in Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH). Historically, Mostar was one of the most cosmopolitan cities of former Yugoslavia, containing a very mixed and intermingled population. Despite the post-war disintegration of Yugoslavia, into ethnically homogeneous and independent nation states, BiH was declared by the Dayton Agreements (1995) a multinational state, with Mostar remaining one of the few mixed Bosnian municipalities. Yet, the urban space of the city is not shared by the differing communities, instead it is fragmented and polarised by the two biggest national groups, leading to a re-aligned Croat West bank and a Bosniac/Muslim East bank. This process of dividing the city was not achieved easily rather it came as a consequence of an acrimonious and prolonged power struggle. With the end of hostilities but given the bellicose nature of the city, the presidents of BiH and Croatia agreed to invite the European Union to provide an interim administration with the aim of settle lingering animosities and open the way for the reconstruction of the city (1994). The EUAM (European Union Administration of Mostar) became the organ in charge of Mostar, headed by the Special European Representative. The significance of Mostar remains that it is a microcosm of the contested national identity of BiH, still disputed by Serbs, Croats and Bosniacs.

2. Origins of ethno/nationally/religious divided city in its imperialist/nationalist contexts  

The fate of Mostar has consistently been tied to the histories of the diverse Empires that subjugated its territory. During the medieval period, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian rulers left an indelible imprint on the city’s urban structure. Under Tito’s socialist regime Mostar benefited from industrial and agricultural reforms, making it one of the productive and cosmopolitan centres of BiH. According to the 1991 census, Mostar contained 126,000 inhabitants, desegregated as 29% Croats, 34% Muslims, 19% Serbs and the remaining 18% Yugoslavs or other. The different ethnic and religious communities were evenly spread throughout the city, with many mixed neighbourhoods. Around 6,000 Croats lived among the East bank’s 30,000 predominantly Muslim residents and 15,000 Bosniacs resided among the 45,000 majority Croat populace of the West Bank. Inter-mixed marriages in Mostar accounted for one third of all marriages within the city. Yet pressures on this multi-ethnic city soon arose, when the BiH seceded from Yugoslavia and was recognized by the EU and the United States as a sovereign nation state in 1992. Immediately Serbian units of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) attacked BiH and arrived in Mostar. The city was under siege for 3 months, until a Croat-Muslim counter-offensive defeated the aggressors in June 1992. A year later another war shattered the city. The Croatian Defence Council (HVO) attacked the Muslim community in the attempt to make Mostar an exclusively Croat city; the capital of the envisioned Croat Statelet Herzeg-Bosna. Heavy fighting centred on the Bulevard Narodne Revolucije, which remains till now, the dividing line, which splits the city into a Muslim/Bosniac East and a Catholic/Croat West.

3. Internal structuring of the city itself

Ottoman Mostar, 1468-1878
The Ottoman Empire administered its own territories through the millet system, classifying the population according to their religious affiliation. Although steadily promoting the conversion to Islam, the Ottomans offered protection to Christian and the Jewish communities (the ahl-al-kitab or the people of the Book) by allowing them to establish their own millets. In BiH, by the mid-nineteen century religious affiliations had resulted in the elaboration of cultural, economic and political distinctions which secured a prominent role for Muslims, yet the region remained one of the most backward areas in Europe. Nevertheless under Ottoman tutelage various building projects were initiated in Mostar, including the construction of the Stari Most bridge, 30 mosques and 7 Islamic schools (madraasa), the bazaar, public baths, a caravanserai and residential quarters arranged in the Ottoman fashion (mahalas). The Sultan also promoted the construction of both Catholic and Orthodox churches: the Church of St Peter and St Paul (1866) and the Orthodox Cathedral (1873).

Austro-Hungarian Mostar, 1878-1918
The Austro-Hungarians, like their Ottoman predecessors encouraged sectarian segregation in BiH through communal structures and religious education. Yet during their reign, religious affiliation started to conflate with national belonging, rendering nationality the new marker of identity (i.e. Croat-Catholic, Serbian-Orthodox and Bosniac-Muslim). To confront the emergence of divisive nationalist sentiment, Austro-Hungarians tried to promote a notion of bošnjaštvo (Bosnianism) encouraging loyalty to multi-ethnic Bosnia. However identification with ethno-religious communities was already too deeply rooted in the population to be easily silenced. During this period important legislative reforms were promoted and Bosnians were allowed to form political parties, publish newspapers and open a parliament (1910). The electoral system guaranteed all ethnic communities representation, according to a popular census. Mostar’s urban structure improved, with the construction of major highways bringing gas, waterworks, public lighting and modern roads. Mostar rapidly emerged as a modern city and its newly expanded Western side attracted new inhabitants.

Royal Yugoslavia Mostar, 1918-1941
The creation of a constitutional, democratic and parliamentary monarchy under the Serbian Karadjordjevic dynasty embodied the national aspirations of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes willing to pursue the South Slav unification. The situation within the monarchy was not without tensions, as each ethno-nationalist grouping struggled for unique recognition and favour. During this period several agrarian reforms were carried out, although it remained stagnant with regards to urban development.

Socialist Yugoslavia Mostar, 1945-1992
After the Second World War, BiH became one of the six republics constituting the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under the guidance of Josip Broz Tito. Alongside the Egyptian leader Abdul Nasser and Indian, Jawaharlal Nehru, Tito co-founded the Non-Aligned Movement, the international organization of countries formally refusing the cold war power-blocs logic. The majority of countries forming the coalition were Muslim so that BiH, the Yugoslav country with the biggest concentration of Muslims, benefited from both an external support and the attention of the Party which formally recognised Bosnian Muslim as a distinct nationality (1968).
During this period, a range of measures were taken to boost the industrial potential of Mostar: with the construction of metal-working factories, cotton textile mills and an aluminium plant. Due to this industrial expansion, the number of urban residents of Mostar increased, with new residential quarters built on the Western side.

Divided city, after 1992
The economic decline of Yugoslavia had started before Tito’s death (1980), but it dramatically accelerated thereafter, reaching near crisis proportion by the end of the decade. Economic stagnation coupled with the political void left by Tito’s demise, led to general instability and territorial fragmentation. When the BiH (1992), following the lead of Slovenia (1991) and Croatia (1991), broke away from the former union and sought recognition as an independent nation state, Serbia and Montenegro duly attacked the newly constituted state to prevent the loss of their Bosnian territories. An initial Croat-Bosniac coalition was able to expel the common enemy, yet they later turned to fight one another. In Mostar, Croats attacked Muslims with the intent of making Mostar a Croat city which would one day become the capital of an envisioned Croatian entity within Bosnian borders. Mostar’s infamy was captured by international media, through the coverage of the destruction of the Stari Most. An urban structure that had once celebrated the city’s unity and diversity now became a symbol of the violent destructive power of war.

After three years of bloody civil conflict, the newly founded independent states of Croatia, BiH and Serbia eventually signed the Accords for Peace in Dayton, 1995. These Dayton Peace Agreements (DPA) recognised the legal framework for the creation of the successor states to former Yugoslavia and began the long process of post-war reconstruction. BiH was declared a multinational state formed of three constituent people: Bosnian Muslim/Bosniac, Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Serb. BiH was (re)imagined as a state comprising two political entities: the Federation of BiH (arranged into ten cantons, each of them favouring certain autonomy) and the Republika Srpska (an independent entity with a large Serb majority). For all intents and purposes the Dayton Agreements normalised a cartographic nexus between ethno-nationality and territory, fuelling a nationalistic imaginary where the pre-existing heterogeneous communities became paradoxical. In Mostar, the two national communities maintained their post-war borders, splitting the city in two. The division was de facto institutionalised with the signing of an interim statute in Rome (1996) which detailed the city’s post war government while acknowledging its inherent territorial division.

4. Recent/contemporary nature and stage of the ethno-national conflict.

The first challenge confronting the EUAM (1994-97) was the formulation of a strategy able to overcome both the polarization of the city and foster the process of re-unification. As a first step, the municipality of Mostar was re-organised into six sub-districts (three Bosniacs and three Croats) and a central – neutral - zone around the area of the former frontline. Each of these districts was allowed to obtain a certain level of autonomy in decision-making. But, the lack of general goodwill and suspicion in regards to cooperation, combined with a complicated system of governance resulted in a complex inoperative arrangement, thus leading to the failure of this first experiment.

At the end of the EUAM mandate (1997) the responsibility of implementing new strategies for the reunification of Mostar was taken by the Office of the High Representative (OHR). Several reforms were promoted in an attempt to reunify the separate public services, schooling and medical infrastructures; yet without remarkable success. In 2003 a Special Commission for reforming the City of Mostar was established with the aim of tackling the problematic division of the city. The Commission recognised the necessity of abolishing the six districts as administrative units in favour of a single city council able to take decisions for the entire city. Community interests were to be protected through preserving the six municipalities – although in the form of electoral units – to prevent outvoting. Additionally, vital interests were to be protected through a system of super-majority voting and veto rights, as is the case at the entity and cantonal levels. The High Representative imposed the new statute for the city of Mostar in 2004, but due to a general lack of agreement between the parties, a consensus could not be reached. As a consequence, a new special unit was brought into existence: the Mostar Implementation Unit (MIU). This committee, composed by local and international experts and representatives from all the political parties, was tasked with monitoring and improving the implementation of the reforms process (until 2005).  Although the first collegial elected city council took office in November 2004, the restructuring of the administration into one unified organ is still ongoing.

5. Prospects/expectations/scenarios for the future

The report released by the Special Commission for reforming the City of Mostar (2003) emphasises the need for the city to improve its European standards, to become an example for the state of BiH as a whole. The possibility of future integration of BiH into the EU is one of the most popular solutions given to the BiH-case. It is argued that in joining a supra-national entity, BiH would be able to overcome its national/internal divisions. In addition, being part of the EU offers better economic possibilities and extended mobility for the population. At the time of writing, although significant steps have taken place with regard to Mostar’s political unification, the city remains fundamentally fragmented, through territorial, social and religious segregation.

6. References

S. Bose (2002), Bosnia after Dayton: nationalist partition and international intervention, London: Hurst & Co.

D. Campbell (1998), National destruction: violence, identity and justice in Bosnia, Minnesota: U.P.

R. J. Donia and J.V.A. Fine Jr (1994), BiH. A tradition betrayed, London: Hurst & Co.

R. J. Donia, Sarajevo. A biography (2006), London: Hurst & Co.

N. Malcom (1994), Bosnia. A short history, London: Macmillan.

F. Wilmer (2002), The social construction of man, the State, and war. Identity, conflict, and violence in the Former Yugoslavia, New York and London: Routledge.

J. Yarwood (1999), Rebuilding Mostar. Urban reconstruction in a war zone, Liverpool: U.P.