Sunday, January 30, 2011


"Build the Stari Most, not the Berlin Wall" has become not only a slogan in our house, but a saying that we live by. Some people wear WWJD or Livestrong bracelets to show a belonging to a certain mindset or social group.  In much the same way, for my family, building bridges instead of walls has become our slogan.
Being a child born in the 1970's, the cold war defined everything that I believed in and lived for or against. The Soviet Union was the "Evil Empire" some sort of Darth Vader led nation of God-hating human mutations that wanted to destroy the American way of life, mom and apple pie. No symbol better represented this fear than the Berlin Wall, keeping the evil hordes at bay at the same time enslaving the East European masses (as if these things were mutually exclusive in our minds).
Just as the fall of the wall was a defining moment in my life, the destruction of the Stari Most was one of the saddest moments that I can remember. Bridges are built to bring people together and no single bridge defined this better than the Stari Most. Built by Mimar Hayruddin in the 1500's at the behest of Sulijman the magnificent, this one of a kind bridge brought people together for centuries. It survived WWII and the Serbian takeover of Mostar in 1992, but it could not survive the break in the Muslim/Croat alliance and fell on November 9, 1993.
Just as walls have symbolic and practical purpose, so do bridges. Karadzic wanted to erect a new Berlin Wall in Sarajevo, by dividing the city between Serbs and Muslims.  But the VRS didn't have the stomach to take Sarajevo by force in 1992.
My personal triumph in witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall along with the fear of the end of humanity by nuclear holocaust was soon replaced by a new fear that a new divide was happening between the Christian west and the Muslim east. The truth however, that these fears played upon by those who benefit from irrational fear and hatreds. The divide in Bosnia had more to do with the have vs. the have nots and facism vs. pluralism. The sad truth of a divided Bosnia either on a bridge or the Federation vs. Republic Srpska is the victory of fascism and fear over hope, humanity and unity. A replay of the cold war, only this time the Soviet Union and irrational fear has triumphed.
Yes the world and Bosnia has been able to raise the Old Bridge from the depths of the Neretva river, but the truth is the divide created by the wall built around the truth of what happened in Bosnia in the 1990's lives today. Exploited for political gains, people on both sides of the borders both physical and psychological are used to keep the country divided in a similar way as the physical divide of the Berlin Wall which existed for over 40 years. Lets hope the divide in Bosnia doesn't take as long to fall and always remember to build bridges (the Stari Most) rather than walls (the Berlin wall) not only with the ones you love, but also with the ones whom you disagree.

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