A SFOR armored troop carrier parked opposite to the hotel entrance doesn't make one feel any safer. Its true role is partly explained by the message which can be noticed in the elevator: "Access to fifth and sixth hotel floors is not allowed without a special permit"! This announcement was perhaps left behind by Hans Koschinick, the first European Union administrator in Mostar. The man whom the local Croats would like to forget.
Mijo Brajkovic, at the time the mayor of west Mostar, shows me the place where on February 7 1996 enraged Croats attacked Koschnick. Just in front of the hotel entrance. "There were more than 20,000 people, and they would have really killed him if I hadn't showed up and saved him. But there were no shots, as was later written in the western papers," says Brajkovic.
In the notes from a meeting held four days later in hotel "Ero" one can find Koschnick's admission that Brajkovic had saved him; he said: "I know that the crowd let me go because of him".
Those days, Koschnick made a first attempt to do what would later be done several times under the patronage of the West: modifications of those parts of the Dayton Agreement which apply to Mostar. He did that by introducing a central zone, actually some sort of a seventh municipality. Until then Croats and Muslims had three municipalities each, in their respective parts of the city. In west Mostar they say that had Koschnick succeeded in his intention "there wouldn't be any of us left here". True, the central district has been established but its size was set according to the demands of the then mayor of west Mostar at the negotiations in Rome. Today the district spreads from hotel "Ero" to the Franciscan monastery and all of it can easily be seen from one spot.
At this moment the district is dominated by two gaping "holes", the first one of which had at the time incredibly enraged Koschnick and the second one, last month, his heir, British general Garrod, who actually became EU administrator of Mostar after the Spaniard Gasado.
The two "holes" are actually foundations of the Croatian theater in Mostar and the big church of the Resurrection of Christ. Koschnick complained about the theater (after all "why should Croats have their theater?") but couldn't do a thing because the building permit and all other necessary documentation had been prepared before he came up with his district. The same applies to the other Brajkovic's "hole", the church of Christ's Resurrection.
When the foundations of the (by size truly impressive) building were blessed last month, Garrod's office protested because of the presence of the official Vatican's representative. As the Sarajevo Oslobodenje and Dnevni Avaz wrote, Garrod was "shocked"!
Later Garrod tried to deny that in front of bishop Peric by saying that he didn't know anything about his outrage, but it hasn't been explained why Oslobodenje and Dnevni Avaz wrote what they did. Bishop Peric's expression while he talks about all that seems to say "see how we live here and how many problems we have with these European gentlemen".
Brajkovic had to leave politics two years after the end of Koschnick's tenure; according to his words, he had to resign "because they have never forgiven my supposedly nationalist sins"; with pride he shows what he is talking about: "See, that is the Koschnick's district; at one end there will be an impressive Catholic church, behind her our Croat theater, then our 102 years old high school which is being renovated, and behind it the Franciscan monastery and the church of St. Peter and Paul which is being rebuilt at the place of the destroyed church with a lot of persistence and ingenuity by father Ivan".
In some other city all this wouldn't be all that important, but Mostar is still divided and it is unlikely that it will ever unite, although the freedom of movement through the whole city has formally been established. "Only smugglers can cross to the Muslim side without problems". Bishop Peric says that the problem is that Croats don't want to cross to the other side of the Neretva, while Muslims cross to the west part of the city in much larger numbers. Even a stranger can notice numerous Muslim women with their head scarves.
But there aren't too many of them. And how could there be when unruly Muslim children and guests in the cafes on the Boulevard regularly stone vehicles with Croatian number plates. I saw one of such cars, which had recently experienced Muslim "welcome", in the courtyard of Croat consul Ciro Grubisic in Buna near Mostar. True, police patrols can almost daily be seen on that road; however, they are not there to prevent the stoning of Croat cars but instead to slow them down. Usually two police vehicles block the road leaving just enough space to pass and forcing other vehicles to drastically slow down.
Is that stoning a revenge for everything that happened here during 1993/94? Is that a revenge for the dead and wounded? What about Croat casualties, more than 200 of them (almost every one of the survivors knows by name persons from the other side who killed their brothers or children)? Can people forget all of that in time prescribed by international decrees, or is there something deeper than those wounds?
Banal things are perhaps the most revealing. Soccer is one of them. When Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina played each other, the whole Mostar was in front of TV sets. When the Croatian team scored, the western part of the city erupted in joy, while the eastern part was deadly silent. When the Bosnian team scored the roles reversed. Not only that, my hosts point out: the situation is identical when Croatia plays against Turkey. When the Turks score the whole east Mostar shakes with excitement! An example for S. Huntington and his "Clash of Civilizations"?
"For us here, the most important thing is to preserve our culture, language and our economic base," says bishop Peric and points at the city from his residence which was hit by grenades during the war 4resulting in the destruction of more than 50,000 books; he adds: "This is the border of the Orient. Ours is the easternmost organized bishopric; this is the end of the West and the beginning of the East"!
"I am not afraid of that so much. I only fear our own political leaders. I am afraid of those among our men who say one thing to their populace, another when they are in Sarajevo, and third when they are at home with their wives," says Brajkovic and adds: "All that we have achieved, from the district to building of several hundreds of houses for expelled Croats in Ortijes, Buna, Zitomislic, to the renewal of the production of Aluminum (which is the brightest star in the economy of Bosnia-Hercegovina and is definitely in the top tier of such companies all over the world) is a very strong basis on which this people can survive. Because they are hard working people, and the soil is fertile; after all, we live on three rivers: Neretva, Buna and Bunica".