A blog on Bosnia, the Balkans, and other random thoughts.
I read an interesting paper describing the destruction of the bridge as an act of "urbicide". Much of the violence directed against the built environment of the cities and towns of Bosnia was part of a process aimed at ending their role as locations where social movement and cultural exchange could take place. The destruction of the material fabric of Bosnia was part of a common effort by different parties to destroy the social fabric of a cosmopolitan society. The destruction of the Mostar Bridge was emblematic of that as it was of so much else.On a different tack I hope the UNESCO committee are just as rigorous in enforcing a respectful environment for the Tower of London as a World Heritage Site as they have been for the Mostar Bridge.
The paper was an essay by Martin Coward that seems to have disappered from its former home at http://www.isanet.org/archive/coward.htmlWhen Ed at Balkan Baby described his visit to Mostar and the new bridge fortunately I lifted a quote from the essay which I've lifted from Ed's archive: "The rubble of Bosnia has been similarly seen through the lens of anthropocentrism. The destruction of the urban fabric of Bosnia has been interpreted as a phenomenon contingent to, and thus dependant upon, the violence perpetrated against the people of Bosnia. Thus the rubble of Bosnia is seen as an element of genocide or war, rather than a phenomenon in its own right. And yet as Kate Adie’s interview with the Serb gunners shelling Sarajevo shows we should be wary of ‘thinking in terms of ‘collateral damage,’ incidental to the general mayhem of warfare’. The urban fabric of Bosnia was targeted deliberately, a fact attested to by the manner in which the violence against the architecture of Bosnia was disproportionate to the task of killing the people of Bosnia. ‘It is the expected thing to say that people come first,’ notes Nicholas Adams. ‘And they do, but the survival of architecture and urban life are important to the survival of people.’ The destruction of the urban fabric of Bosnia poses questions equally as fundamental as those posed by the destruction of human life in Bosnia. ..."(The Serb gunners apologised to Kate Adie for hitting the Holiday Inn where she and the other foreign journos were based - it was a mistake, they said, they were aiming at the National Library)Coward's paper - which involved some rather dense philosophising - looked at the idea that the hetoerogeneous shared space of the city is crucial to communal existence and in the Bosnian context its destruction embodied the determination to destroy the possibility of a multiethnic community."It is precisely the fact that the bridge was a fundamentally public/shared place that sealed its fate. To leave the bridge standing is to leave intact the possibility of sharing Mostar."Coward draws on "Mostar '92 - Urbicid", in which a group of architects from Mostar observed that the destruction of buildings and the general urban fabric of Mostar was a central aspect of the ongoing war.Andras Riedlmayer has written (and testified at The Hague)about how the destruction of the mosques in Bosnia was part of the programme of cultural genocide. When the Taliban blew up the Bamyan Buddhas it wasn't simply an expression of their puritanical religious belief system, it was an act of cultural aggression directed against the Hazara, their culture and the presence in their Afghanistan of any non-conforming value system.Hitler's Buchverbrennung wasn't about destroying books, it was part of a totalitarian reshaping of the notion of humanity.The significance of the destruction of books and libraries in Bosnia including the Oriental Institute and National Library in Saravejo is discussed in Penelope Hamblin's PhD thesis on the deliberate targeting of libraries at http://ils.unc.edu/MSpapers/backup_pdf/P_HAMBLIN.pdfRaphael Lemkin talked about the "cultural techniques of genocide". When artifacts are targeted for destruction it's not the assemblage of bricks or paper and ink that are being destroyed, it's that part of your and my identity that exists beyond flesh, bone and blood, the part that we hope gives a meaning to our existence beyond the transient survival of our material shell.The destruction of the bridge was an act of cultural genocide. Today China is engaged in the same anti-human vandalism in the way it is destroying the foundations of Tibetan and Uighur culture.I was interested to hear this morning that the Chairman of Coca Cola intends to carry the Olympic Flame in Beijing with pride - at the Olympic opening ceremony I even think the spokesman said - in spite of the parallels being drawn between Coca Cola's sponsorship of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. According to the company spokesman Coca Cola's role in the Berlin Olympics was OK because the necessary lead-in time would have meant that the sponsorship arrangements must have been in place by 1932. It was early in the morning so I may have been hallucinating rather than listening to the radio.
Thanks so much for the article, I know Andras and the Aga Khan program have been involved in documenting acts of cultural cleansing.There are a few good sites on the Sarajevo library that I'm hoping to publish ASAP
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