Mostar – A City Devastated by War

The story of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina is a tragic one. When the country declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, a vicious war broke out and the Yugoslav People’s Army bombed Mostar on April 3rd of that year, the beginning of a devastating time for the city.

Mostar was founded in 1452 on the banks of the River Neretva. The name of the settlement came from the bridge-keepers (mostari) who manned the wooden bridge across the river. It was an important crossing point on the trade route between the Adriatic and the mineral-rich regions of central Bosnia.

In 1468, the town came under Ottoman rule and began to expand. Fortifications were built between 1520 and 1566 at the behest of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and the wooden bridge was replaced with one made from stone. The Old Bridge, or Stari Most, became a marvel of engineering at the time. It would become the symbol of the city.

A view of Mostar as it is now, including the rebuilt Stari Most.

Austria-Hungary took control of the area in 1878 despite the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, known collectively as the Bosnia Vilayet, remaining officially as part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1908, Emperor Franz Joseph formerly annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina and formed a puppet government in Sarajevo, headed by a governor. The Kingdom of Serbia was unhappy about the annexation and nationalism grew among the southern Slavs. A group called the Black Hand (also known as Unification or Death) was formed with the aim of uniting areas with a majority southern Slavic population to form Yugoslavia.

On 28 June 1914, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Black Hand. Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia which led directly to the outbreak of World War I.

Gavrilo Princip
Gavrilo Princip who has been called the man who started the first World War.

In 1918, after the war had ended, Bosnia and Herzegovina joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes which was renamed the Kingdom on Yugoslavia in 1929. During World War II, the Axis powers invaded Yugoslavia and Mostar became part of the Independent State of Croatia headed by a fascist puppet regime. At the end of the war, the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia was formed and Mostar became part of the administrative Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Map of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Map of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Vojvodina and Kosovo were provinces of the Socialist Republic of Serbia.

Tensions within Yugoslavia were rife throughout its lifetime as different ethnic groups tried to co-exist. The tension reached breaking point when Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence on 25 June 1991. War soon broke out between the newly independent states and the The Yugoslav People’s Army. They eventually left Slovenia in October 1991 but the war with Croatia would continue until 1995. The Republic of Macedonia declared its independence in September 1991 and escaped the fighting experienced in other parts of the former Yugoslavia. The international community recognised the independence of Slovenia and Croatia in January 1992.
Much of the trouble in Bosnia-Herzegovina stems from the fact that there are three main ethnic groups living in the country; The Muslim Bozniaks, the Serbs and the Croats. The independence of the Republic Of Bosnia-Herzegovina was declared in April 1992 and the Bozniaks favoured retaining the territorial integrity of the new state. The others felt that it should be partitioned. The Serbs declared the Republika Srpska independent while the Croats declared The Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia independent. It erupted into a bitter conflict. The Yugoslav People’s Army laid siege to Sarajevo for nearly four years and carried out atrocities including the Srebrenica massacre in which 8,000 Bozniaks were killed in an act of genocide.

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