Hello Cruel World
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
9/11 Returns: Stari Most at Mostar
I'm wondering if it is simple coincidence that this 1993 outrage against a physical symbol happened over 8th & 9th November (see my other posts on The Other 9/11, Kristallnacht). I can't currently find the excerpt I thought I'd quoted before of this piece. For the record,here is the whole article, from another websource. (I do wish I could get the Blogger equivalent of an <lj-cut text> to work. Followed Blogger instructions. Not a sausage.)
From: Andras Riedlmayer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
[O]n 9 November 1993, the Old Bridge (Stari Most) in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, was destroyed by artillery of the Croatian Army (HV) and Bosnian-Croat paramilitary forces (HVO), under the command of Gen. Slobodan Praljak, a former Croatian Deputy Minister of Defence dispatched from Zagreb. Eyewitnesses report that the barrel of a tank or heavy artillery piece was aimed through the window of a ruined house on the crest of Stotina hill, at the foot of Mount Hum on the west bank of the Neretva River. A sustained barrage of shells fired on 8-9 November 1993 eventually succeeded in blasting away the stonework supporting the 436-year-old bridge, which residents had vainly tried to protect with mattresses and old automobile tyres. The ancient bridge collapsed into the river, as HVO soldiers celebrated with a fusillade of gunshots.PHOTOS of Mostar's Old Bridge (Stari Most) before the 1992-95 war,
DESTRUCTION OF OLD BRIDGE SEEN FROM TWO ANGLES: http://sense-agency.com/en/stream.php?sta=3&pid=9676&kat=3
Distruzione del ponte di Mostar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiO_UqAV0Ng, from bottegasarajevo on YouTube
UNESCO has termed the destruction of the Old Bridge an "act of barbarism." At a June 2002 ceremony marking the laying of the first stone in the reconstruction of the historic 27-meter soaring arch over the Neretva River, Italian President Carlo Azeglio Campi was equally blunt, saying, "The destruction of the bridge was an insult for human culture."The New Republic
December 13, 1993
A Mostar bridge elegy
By Slavenka Drakulic
I have three photos of Mostar in front of me. One is a postcard, a sepia-colored photo printed on poor, cardboardlike paper. It is dated September 1953, when my father sent it to us on his first visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the center of the photo is the Old Bridge — all postcards of Mostar have that bridge on them, of course — and a part of the old city. "I think of you as I walk over this beautiful bridge," he wrote to my mother and me in Rijeka, Croatia. I can imagine him walking there on a warm autumn day. Coming to the middle, to the place where young boys used to jump into the river to prove their courage, he must have leaned over the stone railing and looked into the Neretva below, quick and silent as a snake. He must have stopped there, overwhelmed by the elegance of the stone construction. When his hands touched the bridge, he must have felt its smoothness and warmth, as if he had touched skin instead of stone. It was as if the bridge had a life of its own, a soul given to it by the people who had crossed it in its almost 400 years of existence.
It was erected in 1566 during the Turkish Empire and, the story goes, the stones were stuck together with mortar that had been mixed with the whites of eggs.
Serbs and Turks, Croats and Jews, Greeks and Albanians, Austrians and Hungarians, Catholics, Orthodox, Bogumils and Muslims — all had stopped at the same spot, rested on the same stone. I was 4 when he wrote that postcard, and I know that he was certain that one day I would see and
touch the Mostar bridge, too.
My father was wrong. I did not make it. I foolishly thought the bridge would be there forever. So, I never went to Mostar, never walked from one bank of the river to the other. The bridge that saw so many wars, survived so many years, no longer exists. It collapsed in a second on November 9. All I have to remember it by are these three photos: before, during and after. And I wonder what my father, dead for years now, would have said if he had seen this other photo, the last before the bridge was destroyed. Would he recognize it, ragged and pitiful as an old beggar, with a makeshift wooden roof, black automobile tires and sandbags piled in a futile effort to protect it from the occasional shelling that had started with the war?
When the bridge collapsed, it was Tuesday morning. A pleasant, sunny day, much like the one when my father visited Mostar. The town is only about seventy miles from the Adriatic sea, so winter comes rather late. The bridge had been shelled since Monday afternoon. People who saw it say its collapse did not last long: at 10:30 a.m. the bridge just fell. As I look at the second picture, I try to imagine the sound of the Old Bridge falling down. A bridge like that doesn't just disappear; its collapse must have sounded like a swift, powerful earthquake, the kind that people in Mostar have never heard before. Or maybe it sounded like an old tree splitting in two — a hollow crack followed by a long silence. Whatever the sound, the river swallowed it in a single morsel. A while later, it was as if the bridge had never existed.
The third photo of Mostar is one I cut out of a newspaper and carry around with me. It is in color and, paradoxically, the most beautiful of the three that I have. The sun shines over the rooftops of the old city, painting the stone houses white. The slightly swollen river, a rich, deep green, rubs along its banks like a lazy, satiated animal. Absent from this beauty, however, is the bridge. There's the beginning of its long stone arch, but if that portion were only ten feet shorter, there would be no trace of the structure at all. Only the sheer logic of the place, a feeling that a bridge belongs there, over the river, between two halves of a medieval town, tells us that something is missing. It's
been a little more than two weeks, and I'm still surprised when I look at the photo. When I remember what is no longer there, I feel a spasm in my stomach, a knot in my throat. I feel death lurking in its absence.
I've heard that people in Mostar, even adults, cried when they saw that the bridge had fallen. I believe the reports, for I have seen people who are not from Mostar cry as well. An elderly journalist. A lawyer. A singer, who wept for the first time since the war started. Not so long ago the newspapers published photos of a massacre in the Bosnian Muslim village of Stupni Do. One picture showed a middle-aged woman with a long, dark knife-cut along her throat. I don't remember anyone crying over that photo or others like it. And I ask myself: Why do I feel more pain looking at the image of the destroyed bridge than the image of the woman? Perhaps it is because I see my own mortality in the collapse of the bridge, not in the death of the woman. We expect people to die. We count on our own lives to end. The destruction of a monument to civilization is something else. The bridge, in all its beauty and grace, was built to outlive us; it was an attempt to grasp eternity. Because it was the product of both individual creativity and collective experience, it
transcended our individual destiny. A dead woman is one of us — but the bridge is all of us, forever.
The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina is well into its second year now. You would think that nothing new could happen, that, after the concentration camps and the mass rapes, the ethnic cleansing and the slow, cold death of Sarajevo, there would be no room left for imagination. But this war seems to have neither rules nor limits. Just when you think nothing could possibly surprise, something happens — even more violent, more painful, more surprising than before.
Finally — who did it? The Muslims are accusing the Croats, the Croats are accusing the Muslims. But does it even matter? For four centuries people needed that bridge and admired its beauty. The question is not who shelled and demolished it. The question is not even why someone did it — destruction is part of human nature. The question is: What kind of people do not need that bridge? The only answer I can come up with is this: people who do not believe in the future — theirs or their children's — do not need such a bridge. For me, this is the chilling measure of the photo of Mostar without its Old Bridge. This is why I would say that those people — whoever they might be — do not belong to this civilization, civilization built on the idea of time, civilization built on the idea of a future. Even if they rebuild the Mostar bridge and reconstruct it meticulously, they are barbarians.
Holding the old postcard in my hand, I regret that I have not been there. My father is dead. The sepia color is washed out; the existing postcards of Mostar with the Old Bridge in the middle will probably disappear, too. My daughter will only remember a story about a beautiful stone bridge that, once upon a time, existed in a far away country shattered by a long, long war. And I myself have no memory of my own of the bridge now, when I need it the most.
Slavenka Drakulic is the author of The Balkan Express: Fragments from the Other Side of War (W.W. Norton).
and of its reconstruction in 2000-2004. (Click small thumbnails to reach the large-size images)
Stari Most, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina: www.archnet.org/ library/ images/ thumbnails.jsp?location_id=10722
Also see a couple of article extracts at this page: unconqueredbosnia.tripod.com/ Mostar3.html
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