Bosnian Bridges

I was in Bosnia for the first time in 2015, and saw many of the same bridges then as I have this summer. But while I didn’t pay much attention to them them then, I have been struck this time by how critical bridges are to the history of the country. In the heart Sarajevo, in one of the most well-trafficked areas, lies the Third most famous bridge in Bosnia, the Latin Bridge. According to some accounts, it was on this bridge in 1914 that Archduke Ferdinand, his wife, and their unborn child were assassinated, setting in motion the First World War. In reality, this is an inaccurate account of events. They were actually shot about a block away near a bakery. But the myth persists, and for that reasons tour group after tour group spend the day walking over it.

Perhaps the second most famous bridge crosses the river Darina. As the subject of author Ivo Andrić’s Nobel Prize winning novel, this bridge attracts authors, tourists, and artists of every kind. If you have never had the opportunity to read ‘The Bridge on the Drina,’ I highly recommend it. I should warn you that it is not an easy read. The book is written from the perspective of the bridge, and thoroughly documents the long history of the region. It’s primary focus is on the atrocities that all who have ruled the region have committed, and it recounts these in an effort to enlighten the reader about the origins of mistrust that plague the 3 major ethnic groups to this day. It is a compelling piece of literature, but one that is heavy and difficult to read. I don’t recommend it for people under the age of 12.

The most famous bridge in Bosnia is found in Mostar, and it is simultaneously recognized as a symbol of war and peace. Originally ruled by the Ottoman Empire, the town has also fallen under the Rule of the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Serbia. As of the early 1990’s its population was largely divided between Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks, though violence committed there was also perpetrated by Serb forces. The topography of the region contributes to its beauty, but it also ensured that it was a site of intense fighting during the war. The city straddles a river, and is bordered on either side by large mountains. The two sides of the town are connected by a bridge originally constructed by the Ottomans., Popular myth holds that Bosniaks live on one side of the river while Catholic inhabit the other. While that is certainly not the case now, the town was ethnically divided during the war. At the height of the violence both Croat and Bosniak forces placed snipers on opposing hillsides so that they could shoot down into the valley at the other sides civilians. In 1993 Croat artillery forces destroyed the original bridge which had stood for over 400 years.

In 2004 the bridge was rebuilt. Though magnificent, its beauty is not what attracts many to the site. What is remarkable about the bridge today is the way that it was financed. In an effort to make amends for what the Croatian President referred to as “Croatia’s shame,” the government of Croatia partially financed the bridges construction. Other donors included the World Bank, the European Union, and Turkey. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and an embodiment of peace.