Clear signal: However, Croat politicians should demonstrate democratic maturity and give the green light for the start of the reconstruction of mosques. Thereby, among other, they could prove to the widest possible audience, including the international representatives against whom they are waging a war, that they are in no way criminals or hardline nationalists, but actually politicians with credibility to represent the interests of their people and that they can protect those interests with all available means.
Besides, what sort of signal would be sent to the world if, for example, the reconstruction of the demolished mosque in Western Mostar were to start and end without any incidents? A very clear signal! The international community has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Republic of Srpska and there, when they came to the ceremony of the laying of the corner stone for the reconstruction of the demolished mosque, they were stoned. On the other hand, "obvious criminals and nationalists" in Western Mostar would provide conditions for their fellow citizens of different faith to reconstruct their religious object undisturbed! And who could then use the story about the fight against criminals and nationalists in the Croat nation in Bosnia-Hercegovina to endanger the rights that undeniably belong to that nation?! Unfortunately, it seems that we are still pretty far from such a scenario. It should be stated that any excuses and explanations whose aim is to prove that the obstruction of the reconstruction of those religious objects is actually in favor of the Croat nation are total nonsense. The truth is exactly the opposite - that would be a foolish act that would be most harmful precisely for Croats.
Demands for the reconstruction of mosques are absolutely legitimate, similarly to demands for the reconstruction of churches and numerous Catholic objects destroyed during the war.
There can be no doubt that the objects for which religious groups demonstrate interest, with or without pressure, will be rebuilt sooner or later. The Croat people, on the other hand, has a chance to demonstrate tolerance and prove that the words of a poet about Croats, a meek nation whose time is coming, are indeed true.
Mostar-Balinovac: With the destruction of the Old Bridge [in Mostar], the blowing up of Baba Beshir's Mosque in Balinoviac in Mostar has probably contributed the most to the creation of the negative image of Croats in the city on the Neretva river. Baba Beshir's Mosque, as its name indicates, was built by Baba Beshir Bakramovic, allegedly before 1585. The famous Baba Beshir's quarter was built around the mosque, and the mosque is one of the more notable buildings from the period of Ottoman occupation of Bosnia-Hercegovina. After the mosque was significantly damaged during the direct Serb artillery attacks in 1992, it was blown up twice, in the first half of 1993, and soon afterwards its ruins were flattened with heavy construction machinery, rollers, ditch diggers and bulldozers. The Sarajevo media claim that this was done by "HVO bulldozers" of General Ljuba Cesic Rojs. True, the Muslim cemetery located next to the mosque was not destroyed and in 1998 exhumations were carried out in Balinovac due to suspicion that victims of war crimes were buried there.
By the way, Balinovac was during the war mentioned as a sad place because of a war crime blamed on the Army of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Namely, four persons died at that spot, killed by a grenade fired from the eastern [Bosniak-Muslim controlled] part of the city.
The Islamic community on several occasions sought from the Mostar municipality South-east permission for the reconstruction of the mosque in Balinovac. The most recent such request, sent by the Mostar mufti hajji Seid ef. Smajkic, was rejected. The head of the South-east municipality, Ivan Mandic, responded as follows: "As we are currently working on the new urban development plan for the regions Panjevina, Djikovina and Balinovac, which is supposed to outline both the access roads and detours around the city, as a responsible person unfortunately I cannot at this time issue a permit for reconstruction." The refusal to grant permission, as could be expected, provoked unanimous outrage in the Bosniak public, as well as mocking comments that the reconstruction of the mosque was blocked because it would be very close to the residences of the Bishop Ratko Peric and Ante Jelavic's house.
On the Croat side, the reconstruction of the mosque was supported by mayor Neven Tomic. In early February, the discussion about the removal of the [Muslim] cemetery from Liska Park was initiated, and Tomic characterized that demand, as well as the one for the reconstruction of Baba Beshir mosque in Balinovac, as legal and legitimate!
Milan Jovicic, deputy president of the city council, also reacted, supporting the demand of mufti Smajkic for the reconstruction of the mosque. Some Croat war veteran and refugee associations also reacted. Condemning Jovicic [a Serb] and Smajkic, especially mufti's public statements made during the slaughter and persecution of Croats in northern Hercegovina, they put less emphasis on their opposition to the reconstruction of the mosque. However, mufti's infamous war record is not a sufficient argument for the opposition to the reconstruction of the mosque.
Soon reconstruction?: Hrvatska Rijec has learned that the necessary permits for the reconstruction of the mosque could be issued soon, and that the reconstruction could start soon. However, we could not obtain the confirmation of this information in the Mostar muftidom. There, they said that they still haven't received a positive response to their demand for the reconstruction of Baba Beshir Mosque.
Our interlocutor, a distinguished western diplomat, however claims that the international community will insist on the reconstruction of this and other demolished religious objects and that it is an illusion to believe that extremist threats would stop the fulfillment of that goal.
And in Western [Croat controlled] Mostar there are indeed many of those who claim that the beginning of the reconstruction of the mosque, especially if the ceremonies related to that event exceed religious framework, would be a provocation. Especially having in mind the current situation in Federation Bosnia-Hercegovina.
"The Croat people has been provoked here. You saw how they broke into the Hercegovacka Bank with tanks. I have nothing against the reconstruction of the mosque, but I detest anything done by force," says one resident of Mostar, a Croat, adding that he would not be surprised if scenes from Banja Luka and Trebinje were repeated in Mostar. Another resident of Mostar, way more "fired up", claims that "two trucks full of stones have already been prepared in case they show up".
Unfortunately, built up frustration caused by failed policies of both the international community and the HDZ find their expression among ordinary people in that way as well. One hopes that all sides will try to avoid any provocations in the resolution of that sensitive issue.
Stolac - Careva Mosque: The reconstruction of Careva [emperor's] Mosque, located in the center of Stolac, and demolished during the war, has also provoked strong reaction in Hercegovina. The request also came from the Islamic Community, mufti Smajkic, and the local authorities rejected it with the justification that before the arrival of Turks to Hercegovina a church was located at the same spot as the later Careva mosque!
The local parish council wrote in a memorandum sent to the local authorities that "Christian believers for the sake of religious peace will not insist on the reconstruction of the Christian church. However, if the reconstruction of the mosque starts, Catholics will also demand that their church be reconstructed."
The mayor of Stolac accepted this assertion and in the response to effendi Smajkic wrote the following: "... as the war has led to a lot of confusion and immeasurable unease among the residents of the municipality and the town, members of different nations and faiths, these local authorities after a wide-ranging and inclusive debate and after weighing carefully all the relevant factors, took the firm stand that in current political circumstances construction of any religious object in the center of Stolac would be socially inopportune as it could prompt disturbances among the local population..." Of course, it is superfluous to stress that this whole story is rather unconvincing and that it simply serves for the obstruction of the reconstruction of the mosque.
However, the assertion that the abovementioned problems in connection with the issuing of permits for reconstruction of mosques in Mostar and Stolac are only the consequence of willfulness of the local power brokers would be simplistic. This issue actually points out the existing deeper social problems - religious and ethnic intolerance, and even abuse of religion for political purposes. No part of Bosnia-Hercegovina is immune to these problems. However, it is time that someone demonstrate good will, even based on the old proverb - smarter ones give in!