|Thursday, 18 October 2018|
bosnet-digest V5 #71 / Tuesday, 20 February 1996
From: Damir Tomicic
Bosnia-Herzegovina News Directory
 Mostar Postcard
 BH Info pages: BH Television program
 Mostar Postcard
"The New Republic" - Feb. 26, 1996. Mostar Postcard By Samantha Power
The stone desert of western Herzegovina boasts more tinted-windowed 1995 Mercedes and fewer indoor toilets per capita than any other region in the new, triethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mladen Naletilic Tuta, the local "godfather," probably owns an equal number of both. Tuta admits to carrying out more than ninety terrorist acts across Europe for the "Croat cause"; he prides himself on his links to Carlos the Jackal, to the IRA and to Croatian Defense Minister Gojko Susak. His resume includes casino manager, Croat "convicts' brigade" leader and Bosnian federation saboteur. Though he suffers from migraines caused by the shrapnel lodged in his head, Tuta is flourishing. Winked at by Croat police and politicians and unmoved by the laments of Mostar's European Union administration, he and his militant allies have caroused freely for four years--allegedly hijacking humanitarian relief convoys, running drug and prostitution rings and doing their utmost to stuff their foreign bank accounts and divide Bosnia.
Nearly two years after Washington forged a federation between Bosnian Muslims and Croats, and eighteen months after the E.U. arrived in Mostar with bottomless pockets and bountiful reunification schemes, pontoon bridges link the two sides of the city. Yet, fundamentally, Mostar remains split along Muslim and Croat lines. Western diplomats who once hoped a united Mostar would inspire the rest of the Muslim-Croat federation now struggle to keep the city's animosities from infecting the emerging state and spoiling the early promise of the Dayton agreement. To succeed they will have to confront the Bosnian war's only winners: Croats and crooks.
Like the nato peace implementation force (ifor) deployed in December, the multinational E.U. administration arrived in Mostar in 1994 brandishing a historic document. The Memorandum of Understanding "committed" besieged Muslims in East Mostar and besieging Croats in West Mostar to a joint police force, full freedom of movement and unity in what was once the most ethnically mixed city in all of Bosnia (34 percent Muslim, 33 percent Croat, 19 percent Serb, 12 percent "Yugoslav"). Thanks to the rapaciousness of criminal gangs, the intransigence of local Croat politicians and the (at best) indifference of Zagreb, the E.U. administration has struck out. The only thriving cross-river industry in Mostar is crime. "Our first mistake was believing their signatures meant anything," explains Klaus Metscher, the weary German deputy chief of mission.
Ironically, the United States' latest round of diplomatic handiwork has exacerbated tensions in Mostar. Under the terms of the Dayton agreement, more than 60,000 ifor troops swooped into Bosnia to separate what used to be known as rebel Serbs from the "federation" of Muslims and Croats. But none were charged with protecting the federation from itself. Peacekeepers who patrolled the old Muslim-Croat front lines were hastily relocated. The Spanish soldiers in the once-maligned but now sorely missed "manana battalion" used to wear blue helmets and monitor the town's demilitarization; now they don camouflage and man an area ten times the size. "The ifor has just arrived, and they think everything is OK between the Muslims and Croats," says an incredulous Spanish colonel. "We have been here three years, and we know better." Paralyzed by their fears of mission creep, the American ifor commanders crow about their (real) achievements elsewhere in Bosnia but refuse to adjust troop deployment to the grim ground realities in Mostar.
Vocal Croats in the local police, military and municipal government who make no secret of their opposition to unification now flaunt their new-found immunity. During a recent military parade the Herzegovina Croats showcased a daunting arsenal of heavy hardware in the same stadium where they tortured and starved Muslim prisoners in 1993. Dressed in Darth Vader black, Bosnian Croat local commander Mladen Misic appeared on West Mostar television, unrepentant about violating the E.U. rules. "Here we are dealing with a handful of lepers, and we will not succumb," Misic vowed, adding, "If we had only received high-level orders from our leaders long ago, these people not only would not have approached [Mostar] but would not be here at all." He said Muslims have no place governing Bosnia: "[Croatian President Franjo] Tudjman was given Bosnia, [Serbian President Slobodan] Milosevic Kosovo and the Sandzak province, and everything has been signed." Across the front line in the internationally recognized "entity" of Republika Srpska a Serb soldier agrees, spelling out the regional allotment of contempt: "We Serbs hate the Muslims, but the Croats ... wow!! ... do they hate the Muslims!!"
Before Dayton, the exasperated European administrators could take solace in the fact that their mere presence in Mostar had helped stop the killing there. But just a few days after the agreement accorded the city's Muslim women, children and elderly unlimited freedom of movement, the case of 17-year-old Alen Mustovic changed even that. Mustovic, the son of a west bank Croat mother and an east bank Muslim father, decided to usher in the New Year with a foolhardy 5 a.m. jaunt past Croat checkpoints into the forbidden west. In a gesture of New Year's ill will, Croat policemen in front of the Hotel Ero, the European administration's plush home, welcomed their uninvited guest by peppering his Volkswagen with gunfire. One bullet pierced Mustovic's headrest and lodged between his shoulder blades. Unaware it had also grazed his aorta, the teenager drove his white Golf and three friends back to safety in East Mostar, then slumped over his steering wheel and died.
In 1993 Croat nationalists proclaimed Mostar the "capital" of their breakaway "Republic of Herzeg-Bosna," herded Muslims into an east bank ghetto and shelled them relentlessly for nearly a year. Having prospered both politically and financially from a divided Bosnia (charging a $10 customs toll for any commercial vehicle traversing Herzeg-Bosna) and fearing retribution for their sins, many Croats (and not a few profiteering Muslims) are in no hurry to see the ethnically cleansed Croat para-state absorbed into the new Bosnia. The New Year's drama afforded the notoriously unlawful Croat police chief with a golden opportunity to subvert the federation, and he began ranting about the young Bosnian's "terrorist attack." Croat police then picked off two of their Muslim counterparts on patrol, badly injuring them. When the Muslims succumbed to tit-for-tat, shooting and killing a Croat policeman, the Croat army targeted a Bosnian military base with rocket-propelled grenades.
A week of rainstorms, the ad hoc dispatch of a Spanish armored patrol and a fusillade of warnings from Klaus Kinkel and Bill Clinton temporarily quieted tensions. But on February 7, when the E.U. administrator, Hans Koschnik, announced the creation of a multi-ethnic voting district in Mostar, Croat police watched as an angry, nationalist mob stormed the Hotel Ero. Between Croat anthems, the crowd burned the E.U. flag and threatened to hang Koschnik, who promptly went into hiding. The 180-person, twelve-nation West European Union police team, which is not permitted to make arrests, is powerless to tackle Mostar's trademark mobs and thugs. Only Zagreb can do that. "In the end someone made Milosevic responsible for all Serbs," says Metscher, the E.U. deputy. "In the end someone must make Tudjman responsible for all Croats."
There is still a sliver of hope. On February 10, Tudjman is scheduled to send 100 police from Croatia to Mostar to help rein in well-armed opponents of law and peace like the gang leader Tuta. But many fear that this kind of intervention will in the end only fortify "Greater Croatia." Even now it's tough to tell where Croatia ends and Croat-controlled Bosnia begins. Towns held by Bosnian Croats use neighboring Croatia's kuna as their currency. Though Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia are separate states, a call from West Mostar to Zagreb is considered a local phone call and requires no country prefix. And on virtually every jagged Herzegovinian bend, a billboard depicts a bow-tied President Tudjman looking self-satisfied and vacant beside the campaign slogan, "the right man and the right party at the right time." Never mind that it is, theoretically, the wrong country.
After the signing of the Dayton accord, Tuta permitted a Croatian journalist unusual access to his palm-treed villa in western Herzegovina. He said he wasn't sorry for the role his soldiers played in the destruction of Mostar's sixteenth-century bridge, Stari Most, exclaiming, "I would have destroyed it to get even for a damaged nail on a child's little finger." Tuta has no faith in Dayton: "I never gave the survival of Yugoslavia any chance.... But I give even less of a chance to the survival of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I do not know why they want to create another powder keg."
Down the road from Tuta's villa, the E.U.-funded and soon-to-be-completed Carinski bridge rises from the ashes of Mostar's east bank and the forbidding barricades of the west, arching elegantly over the rushing waters below. It is the most visible fruit of $200 million worth of E.U. attempts to reunite the city's two tormented halves. As they rebuild the bridge, ordinary Muslims and Croats are cooperating more closely than they have since they fended off Serb attacks together in 1992. But for now, to the delight of the war's winners, the Muslim laborers stick to their half of the bridge and the Croats to theirs.
Samantha Power covered the war in the former Yugoslavia from 1993 to 1995.
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