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International Journal of Heritage Studies

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Making a home in Mostar: heritage and the

temporalities of belonging

Gustav Wollentz

To cite this article: Gustav Wollentz (2017) Making a home in Mostar: heritage and the
temporalities of belonging, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 23:10, 928-945, DOI:

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International Journal of Heritage Studies, 2017
VOL. 23, NO. 10, 928–945

Making a home in Mostar: heritage and the temporalities of

Gustav Wollentz
Graduate School Human Development in Landscapes, Kiel University, Kiel, Germany


This paper addresses the feeling of being at home in time and in place Received 13 January 2017
Accepted 10 June 2017
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through fieldwork carried out in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina from

2015–2016. Such feelings are needed after a war resulting in geographical
displacement as occurred during the breakup of Yugoslavia. This paper Heritage studies; memory
argues for the need to see beyond only spatial factors for the ‘making studies; Mostar; Bosnia
of home’, and therefore considers temporal factors through the role of and Herzegovina; difficult
the heritage in forming narratives, which combine temporal and spatial heritage
relations. Alternative narratives to those of ethnic separation are taken into
consideration, and it is argued that a sole focus on division may further
enforce it rather than lead to its reduction. A sense of disassociation to
the current city of Mostar and its narratives has led to the construction of
narratives of home within a different time-period (pre-war Mostar). In turn,
this may cause nostalgia, passivity, and an ‘othering’ of the newcomers to
Mostar. However, there are also cases of employing such a narrative actively
in order to envision an alternative future beyond ethnic separation. So far,
the institutions working with the heritage of Mostar have not addressed
these issues, thus possible ways forward are suggested.

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, is usually described as a ‘divided’ city, where the division lies between
a Bosnian Croat (Catholic) western side, and a Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) eastern side (for the issue
of ethnic categorisation in Bosnia and Herzegovina cf. Bringa 1995; Sorabji 1995). This division is
primarily an outcome of the war during the breakup of Yugoslavia. However, what does the term
‘divided’ imply when used in reference to Mostar? It implies a city that is split between one side, where
a certain group of people lives, and a second side, where a different group of people lives. These two
groups of people seldom (if ever) meet each other and are thus restricted in their interactions and
movements within the city. Furthermore, this is expressed through the physical environment, for our
analytical purposes let us call it the tangible heritage, as well as through habits and ceremonies within
the said built environment, which we denote as the intangible heritage. One must keep in mind that the
division between tangible and intangible heritage is arbitrary and problematic (Smith 2006; Harrison
and Rose 2010), and that ‘heritage’ as a concept is connected to modernity and the so-called ‘Western
world’ and runs the risk of being detached from how these sites and ceremonies are understood and

CONTACT  Gustav Wollentz

© 2017 Gustav Wollentz. Published with licence by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group

used locally (Smith and Waterton 2009). However, approaching Mostar as ‘divided’ hides as much as
it illuminates. While picturing post-GDR Berlin, we most likely observe a mosaic of competing and
overlapping identities. A picture of Berlin is dynamic and fluid; moving in certain directions through
the interaction and communication of people. In contrast, an image of Mostar as ‘divided’ implies
non-movement, a singular relation between two categories of people frozen in eternal antagonization.
This raises a significant question for people working with the heritage of Mostar: if we approach the
heritage of Mostar as ethnically divided do we risk an enforcement of the division and thus reproduce
it (Bourdieu 1991, 220; Brubaker 2004, 10)?
It has been argued that one value of heritage is to contribute to a feeling of home and belonging for
people (for discussions concerning the values of heritage Alexandersson et al. 2010; Smith, Messenger,
and Soderland 2010), which does not need to be exclusive (Tunbridge and Ashworth 1996; Ashworth,
Graham, and Tunbridge 2007; Ševčenko 2011; Wollentz 2014). In the official information brochure
for the Faro Convention (adopted in 2005 and in force since 2011), it is stated that one objective is to:
Encourage a sense of responsibility in all social stakeholders so that they act on the basis of feeling they belong
to a community which is enriched by its diversity. (Council of Europe, Faro Convention Brochure)
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This statement does succeed in addressing the significance in the feeling of belonging, but it does not
answer how it is possible to achieve diversity if we presume that there are two separate senses of belong-
ing, which divide the heritage. To answer this, we need to move beyond the division and expose other
underlying mechanisms, which characterise the role of heritage for the feeling of belonging within the
city. This paper will therefore address the issue of ‘creating a home’ after war, and the role that heritage
plays in such an endeavour. My argument is that in order to understand home, temporal dimensions
also have to be taken into consideration (Zetter 1999; Jansen 2007, 2009; Jansen and Löfving 2007;
Stefansson 2007), whereby heritage is particularly vital due to the role that it can play in contributing
to a sense of belonging. To achieve this, I will study the narrational role of heritage, which excludes as
much as it includes in the said narration. Here, I will particularly draw on the work of Michel-Rolph
Trouillot (1995) and Mikhail Bakhtin (1981).
When presenting a local perspective on heritage, I will therefore focus specifically on the tem-
poralities of belonging that relate to Mostar. More precisely, I will present how individuals position
themselves on the nexus of space and time and how such a positioning affects the relationship to and
role of heritage in the city in terms of belonging or disassociation. This temporal positioning will be
discussed in relationship to how local heritage professionals and international organisations have been
approaching the heritage of Mostar. Due to the fact that temporal positioning and the narratives con-
structed to support it do not only occur in relationship to a past and a present, but also to an imagined
future (Silberman 2013), the final part of the paper will discuss in which ways the narratives associated
to heritage draw on explicit references to an imagined future. Before I develop these ideas and present
my results, I will provide a background description of the situation in Mostar and outline my fieldwork.

Beyond a city of two ethnic categories

Mostar experienced two sieges during the breakup of Yugoslavia. The first siege in 1992 was conducted
by the Yugoslavian army (JNA). In this siege, the city was primarily defended by the Croatian Defence
Council (HVO) and the Croatian Defence Forces (HOS), whereby Croats and Bosniaks were allied
against the JNA. The second siege occurred in 1993, when the HVO turned against the newly formed
Army of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (ABiH), in order to carve an independent Croatian
federation named Herzeg-Bosna out of Bosnia and Herzegovina. During this siege, Bosnian Muslims
were occupied within the old town of the city and shot at from the surrounding hills. In November 1993,
the Ottoman bridge Stari Most was destroyed by the HVO, in what has been described as a deliberate
attempt to erase the memory of the Ottoman heritage of the city due to its perceived connection to the
Bosnian Muslim population (Bjelakovic and Strazzari 1999; Bevan 2006; Makas 2007; Nikolić 2012).
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Figure 1. Stari Most. Source: All photos are used with permission and taken by the author, except Figure 5, taken by Marko Barišić.

There is no space to expand on the complex issue concerning these two sieges and the underlying
causes behind them. What is of significance for the argument is that the heritage of Mostar was tar-
geted during the war (Riedlmayer 1995, 2002; Walasek 2015), and has to a large extent been politically
used in post-war Mostar to cement a division between the eastern and western sides (Makas 2007;
Halilovich 2013, 98–103). The ambition to heal a divided city was the expressed reason of UNESCO,
the World Bank, and other international and national actors (UNESCO 2005) to commit to rebuilding
the Ottoman bridge Stari Most (Figure 1), finished in 2004. In order to understand the destruction
of the heritage of Mostar during the war, I adopt the ideas put forward by Andrew Herscher, and
approach them as acts of performing and thus reconstructing ethnic identities:
Neither ethnic identity nor ethnic alterity, that is, is self-sufficient as a construct: they have to be performed. These
performances, then, are not manifestations of pre-existing and self-sufficient identities as much as solicitations
of those identities, conjurings of them, compensations for their otherwise fugitive presence. (Herscher 2010, 91)
The act of destruction is therefore an act of construction, and it is not so much towards the purpose
of killing memories, as it is of creating new memories.
Logically, reconstruction, similar to destruction, is also a performative act creating new memories
rather than re-constructing old ones. What kind of memories should then be created? Memories of
an ‘us’ and a respective ‘other’? Importantly, the war in former Yugoslavia was also a war of home
and belonging:
Thousands were killed [in Mostar] and tens of thousands were displaced from their homes and from the city.
At the same time, tens of thousands of others fleeing from western Hercegovina and central Bosnia moved to
Mostar. (Makas 2007, 136)

Such a huge displacement had severe implications for heritage. Issues concerning what is civilised
(urban) and uncivilised (rural) life (Stefansson 2007), what are ordinary people and corrupt people
(Hromadžić 2013), and which generation you belong to (Palmberger 2010) are present alongside and
sometimes underlie the ethnic identities. Following the social theorist Rogers Brubaker, ethnic iden-
tities are not to be studied as essential and substantial ‘things in the world’, but as ways of perceiving
and constructing the world. This means that ‘(e)thnicity, race, and nation should be conceptualised
(…) rather in relational, processual, dynamic, eventful, and disaggregated terms’ (Brubaker 2004,
11). The risk of not doing so would be to further help in enforcing these identities. As stated by Ger
Duijzings: ‘By understanding the conflict in the former Yugoslavia exclusively in ethnic terms, it
[the west] has contributed to the triumph of nationalist forces and has encouraged the use of ethnic
principles in organising political and social life’ (Duijzings 2000, 207). This paper is thus an attempt
to highlight how other issues than solely ethnic ones are crucial for an understanding of the role of
heritage within Mostar.

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In order to go beyond ethnic categories, 22 qualitative interviews (with 24 people) were carried out
within the city to build a bottom-up understanding of the relationship to heritage. These were recorded
and fully transcribed. In addition, several informal non-recorded conversations on the topic of the
heritage were carried out. The interviews took place over the course of fieldwork in the city in April and
May 2015, which also included several months of preparation, consisting of finding suitable interview
partners and discussions with two local archaeologists from Mostar: Marko Barišić and Damir Ugljen.
Furthermore, I returned in May 2016 to do additional fieldwork and to follow-up on the work carried
out the previous year. The main questions asked in the interviews include: (1) Do you sometimes think
back on pre-war Mostar, and if so: why and how do you do it? (2) What importance has heritage (for
example monuments, buildings and traditions) had for you during the post-war period? (3) Do you
think heritage (for example monuments, buildings and traditions) can play a role in creating a better
Mostar in the future?
All interviews included additional questions, and each interview generally lasted between one
and two hours. The interviews were carried out with an equal proportion of women and men. When
choosing suitable interview partners, the aim was to find people who experienced the war from within
Mostar. Furthermore, other forms of identification than solely Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Muslim
were deemed important, including Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Jews and people who declared themselves
as Yugoslav. This highlights that the identities within Mostar are more multifaceted than assumed. In
the selection, I covered different sides of the political spectrum, realising that someone who identifies
him/herself as a nationalist may express different views of the heritage than one who declares him/
herself as a communist.
I also interviewed people responsible for the heritage of the city. For this, I interviewed the head
of the institute for the protection of the Cultural Heritage of Herzegovina-Neretva, based in Mostar.
Furthermore, I interviewed one person who was currently employed at the institute, as well as one
person who was working at the institute for protection of heritage before and during the war, then
a different institution. In addition, I interviewed one person at the Agency ‘Stari Grad’, which was
formed in 2005 with the goal of maintaining the World Heritage Site ‘Old Bridge Area of the Old City
of Mostar’, in accordance with UNESCO’s management plan. I also interviewed and initiated discus-
sions with several local archaeologists engaged with the heritage of Mostar. The next step would be to
extend the focus geographically and interview individuals working within the international organ-
isations who carried out work in the city, as well as people working at the Commission to Preserve
National Monuments based in Sarajevo, who are responsible for the national monuments of Bosnia
and Herzegovina. However, in this paper the particular focus will be placed on the local perspective.
When presenting myself to those interviewed, I stated that I am a person from Sweden who is
doing a PhD in Germany on the perspectives of traditions and monuments in Mostar, which usually

prompted a positive response due to several people interviewed having relatives who fled there during
the war. This gave me the advantage of being perceived as a neutral outsider to whom the people could
explain the situation of Mostar and narrate their life stories without fear of being judged. In addition,
I stated that all interview partners would remain anonymous, which means that no names of my
interview partners will be disclosed. For many interviews, I benefitted from the help of translators.
Thus, I am grateful for the help extended from Marko Barišić and Damir Ugljen.
When presenting quotes from interviewees, I will write age, gender and occupation. However, due
to the aim of the paper to move beyond ethnic differentiation, the ethnicity of the interview partners
will not be disclosed. I do recognise that such a decision is unusual and I do not claim that ethnic cat-
egorisation is unimportant within the city of Mostar. However, it is not of relevance for the particular
argument I am making in this paper, since people do not necessarily identify themselves within such
strict categories of ethnic classification. Before going into the results of the interviews, a discussion
will be presented on how heritage, through the production of narratives, can play a role in narrating
a sense of belonging and a sense of disassociation.
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Heritage and the production of narratives

If we accept the argument presented (Herscher 2010), which regards destruction as not the end or
outcome of ethnic relations, but the performance and re-creation of them, it follows that the destruc-
tion and reconstruction of, for example, Stari Most created new meanings and values associated to the
monument. This was also clear through the interviews conducted. Even though the reconstruction
process of Stari Most can and should be criticised (Grodach 2002; Walasek 2015, 212–215), the vast
majority of people I interviewed were very happy that the ‘new’ old bridge was reconstructed. People
often told me that Mostar would not be Mostar if the bridge no longer existed. The bridge was com-
monly referred to as a family member or even part of the body of the person. One person emotionally
told me that he did not think he would survive if it was destroyed a second time. It should be noted
that constant alterations are inevitable to all kinds of heritage and should not automatically be regarded
in a negative manner (Lowenthal 1985; Holtorf 2015a; Sørensen and Viejo Rose 2015, 8). However,
what is required is also a method of approaching these new relations from a dynamic perspective.
Here, there is benefit in understanding the heritage from the narratives that it produces and silences
(Trouillot 1995, 25; Wertsch and Billingsley 2011). Ultimately, it is through the production of specific
narratives that the past reveals itself and influences the present.
As Michel-Rolph Trouillot pinpoints (1995, 30), the physical remains of the past help create these
narratives. By altering the landscape, certain values and ideas as well as certain time periods can be
highlighted at the expense of others. However, partial memories do not necessarily erase the ‘other’
memory, but may infuse it with an element of confrontation (Viejo-Rose 2011, 206). In Mostar, there
is an attempt to highlight Catholic values through the heritage of the western side and Muslim values
through the heritage of the eastern side (Figures 2 and 3). On the eastern side of Mostar, there has
been an increase in the amount of mosques – in 2003 there were thirty-eight mosques in Mostar in
comparison to sixteen in 1980 (Makas 2007, 294; from Strandenes 2003). This is mainly occurring
because mosques that were destroyed before the recent war, for example, during the Second World
War, are also being rebuilt. In western Mostar, there has been a tendency to use the Christian cross
(or other Christian symbolism) on the post-war monuments that are being built. The most contested
issues are a huge cross erected by Bishop Ratko Perić in 2000, which overlooks the city from Hum
Hill, as well as the height of the reconstructed bell tower for the demolished Franciscan church, which
at 107.2 m is considerably taller than the previous bell tower (Nikolić 2012, 53–102; Halilovich 2013,
98–103; Connor 2015, 260–261; Walasek 2015, 205–258). This is related to the fact that, on the one
hand, money has been donated to rebuild Ottoman heritage sites (mostly Mosques) from countries
with a predominant majority of Muslims, for instance Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as from
international organisations, for instance the Aga Khan Trust for culture, which is further supported
by local actors such as the Islamic community in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the other hand, other
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Figure 2. Minarets in eastern Mostar.

Figure 3. The Franciscan bell tower and the cross on Hum Hill. Western part of Mostar.
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Figure 4. The Partisan monument.

actors predominantly connected to the Catholic Church donated money to rebuild Catholic churches
(Makas 2007, 256–337). The unfortunate consequence was that the institutions providing money to
the reconstruction process were often divided along the very ethnic lines, which they intended to
overcome. Helen Walasek writes: ‘There is no doubt that the rebuilding of mosques and churches
became intensely politicised and exploited by religious leaders and politicians from all of Bosnia’s
three main ethno-national groups’ (Walasek 2015, 237). In addition, the local political parties have
changed street names and initiated new monuments, which further shape the public space along
clear-cut ethnic lines (Palmberger 2012).
Furthermore, on the western side of the city, the Yugoslavian past is not being tended to, most
clearly illustrated through the neglect of the Partisan monument (Figure 4), despite its official status
as a national monument. This neglect is caused by a general disassociation towards the Yugoslavian
ideals of brotherhood and unity, expressed during socialist times, which are seen as a threat to and
a repression of the more nationalistic ideals of the current Croatian political party (Lawler 2013).
However, international organisations, for instance UNESCO, have also shown ambivalence towards
working with the heritage of Yugoslavian times, since communism is a sensitive topic that does not
fit well within the more liberal values, which are seen as the norm within the European Union (Kisić
2016, 173–187, 266–269). What became equally clear is the presence of counter narratives that do
not succumb to the top-down attempts to enforce narratives of the past, which will be presented later.
The benefit in approaching heritage from the narratives it produces is that these go beyond a rigid
and chronological sense of time. Here, I will adopt the concept of chronotopes from Mikhail Bakhtin:
We will give the name chronotope, (literally, ‘time space’) to the intrinsic connectedness of temporal and spatial
relationships (…). (Bakhtin 1981, 84)

For this particular argument, the representational quality of these chronotopes is highlighted:
Time becomes, in effect, palpable and visible; the chronotope makes narrative events concrete, makes them take
on flesh, causes blood to flow in their veins. (Bakhtin 1981, 250)
The focus of this paper is how the interview partners narrate a sense of belonging and disassociation
in connection to heritage, and where such a sense can be located on temporal and spatial axes, i.e.
the spatial-temporalities of belonging. Therefore, the concept of chronotope is useful when analysing
the narratives, since it explicitly concerns the temporal and spatial relation within narratives. If we
consider temporal dimensions when working with feelings of home and belonging, future aspirations
and visions also need to be studied. This has been stated by the anthropologist Stef Jansen:
To practically engage in a feasible home-making project with regard to a particular place (…) required an ability
to invest it with at least some dimensions of a future, with some hope. (Jansen 2009, 57)
In discussing different forms of narratives within a society of ethnical conflict, the ones that are able
to find grounds for a discussion concerning what a common future could be, have been argued to be
the most progressive ones (Silberman 2013, 183). The potential of heritage to create narratives, which
are fundamentally future-oriented, is part of a growing realisation that heritage is concerned with
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assembling futures rather than representing pasts (Harrison 2015; Högberg et al. Forthcoming). The
final part of this paper will therefore address whether the heritage of Mostar is currently employed to
assemble futures to which the interviewees feel that they belong to, or more precisely, futures in which
they aspire to live in, and if there are cases of actively employing the narratives produced through
heritage to challenge top-down perspectives and carve out alternative futures of belonging.

The perpetuation of division

In order to elaborate the argument presented earlier, namely that a constant focus on the division along
clear-cut ethnic lines may further enforce the idea of an ethnically divided heritage, I aim to present
two examples of international engagement with heritage that were carried out in temporal proximity
to the official unification of the city in 2004, and place these in relationship to the attitude among the
local heritage professionals who were interviewed. These cases should not be interpreted as a claim
that all international and local commitment to the heritage of Mostar has failed. Rather, it should be
seen as an incentive for improvement. The international community has focused greatly on Mostar, in
general, and, as noted critically by Helen Walasek (Walasek 2015, 212–215), perhaps at the expense of
other places in search of easy and obvious symbols for the Western world to digest. The most famous
example would be the already mentioned reconstruction of the Stari Most Bridge by UNESCO, the
World Bank, and other actors, finished in 2004. The aim of the reconstruction was to project ideas of
‘coexistence’ into the bridge and transform it into a monument with universal values that would heal a
divided city. However, the Serbian population, who before the war consisted of around 19% of Mostar’s
inhabitants, did not fit within this binary pairing of a divided city. Another problematic issue was that
the bridge did not cross the actual division of the city. Instead, the frontline during the war went along
the main boulevard in the city, Bulevar Narodne Revolucije, west of the river Neretva. These aspects
led to criticism of the project for not considering local aspects of the city sufficiently, while instead
being focused on the great symbolic value reaching beyond Mostar itself (Makas 2007; Calame and
Pasic 2009; Nikolić 2012). As mentioned in the previous section, this does not mean that the recon-
struction of the bridge should be approached as a failure, but it does mean that the overly optimistic
goals of healing a divided city expressed in the documents (UNESCO 2005, 35) have not been met.
A second example is a World Bank project, which initiated the reconstruction of three sites con-
nected to each of the ‘three people’, chosen from a tentative list of 21 buildings provided by the Aga
Khan Trust for Culture and the World Monuments Fund (Aga Khan Trust for Culture 2004, 51). The
World Bank chose the Orthodox bishop’s residence, which was designated as Serbian Heritage. The
Napredak Cultural Centre was designated as Croatian Heritage and the Vakuf Palace was designated
as Bosniak heritage. The reconstructions were completed in 2005–2006. As stated within the official

document: ‘During implementation, three monuments representing each ethnic community in Mostar
were selected for their potential to attract important neighbourhood and community activities’ (World
Bank 2005, 3). Even though an increase of co-operation and rehabilitation between the communities
was intended, the project attempted to achieve this through focusing on buildings, which were regarded
as bounded and separated by the communities, somehow insinuating that there is no such thing as a
shared heritage (Makas 2007, 324–329; Walasek 2015, 224, 225). A heritage divided along ethnic lines
was taken as a starting point for the initiative without considering the local complexity challenging
just this clear-cut division along ethnic lines.
In order to study how heritage professionals within the city approached the issue of working with
the heritage for reconciliation, I interviewed two people who were currently working at the institute
for the protection of the Cultural Heritage of Herzegovina-Neretva (one of them being the director),
and one person who worked at the institute for the protection of heritage during the war. The current
institute is small, and in May 2015, there were only five people employed. In addition, I also inter-
viewed one person working at the Agency ‘Stari Grad’ and several local archaeologists. Naturally, this
selection does not represent all the heritage professionals of the city. However, a particular focus was
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placed on the perspective within the regional institute for the protection of heritage due to my aim
of gaining a local perspective and their willingness to participate in the study. One of the interviews
with a person working at the institute proceeded as follows:
Me: Do you think that the heritage can work to unite Mostar, somehow?

It cannot. (…) The problems didn’t have anything to do with the cultural heritage so it cannot unite Mostar.

Me: You don’t think it can do anything about changing the mind of people?

No. Do you think that the reconstruction of the Old Bridge had something to do with getting people together? (…)

Me: But it can affect the way people think a bit?

It can change peoples’ minds, but since we are experts, it has a meaning for us, but not for ordinary people. (…)

Me: If monuments can be negative, there must also be monuments that can be positive?

The idea that monuments are connecting us is very nice, but actually they are dividing us.
This approach stands in sharp contrast to the aims and goals of the international organisations, who
often express reconciliation as the main purpose of the projects implemented. Perhaps the lack of belief
in the role of the heritage for reconciliation may be partially caused by the failure of international
organisations to ‘heal’ the city despite such claims. Another person who worked at the institute for
protection of heritage during the war, and who is still engaged with the heritage of the city, expressed
the problem in the following way:
Me: Do you think the heritage can work as a positive force in Mostar?

No! It could be physically reconstructed, but with new meanings. That is the problem.

Me: You don’t think you can create new positive meanings out of the heritage?

It is not the object itself that gives meaning, it is the people. I think the meaning is very controlled. (…)

Me: Do you really think every symbol has a distinct ethnic category? There is no symbol that doesn’t?

It seems as if both international organisations and the local heritage institute tend to see the heritage
as ethnically divided, and consequently often use this as a starting point for initiatives (or lack of
initiatives) on reconciliation. As a majority of my interviews highlight, the approach of a clear-cut
division of heritage along ethnic lines is challenged by many people in the city. One of the few post-
war initiatives, which is clearly using that which is shared in the past as a starting point, would be the
Bruce Lee statue initiated in 2004 by Nino Raspudić through the NGO ‘Mostar Urban Movement’. It
was built to represent the shared love amongst all of the communities for Bruce Lee and his fight for

justice (Raspudić 2004). However, within the overall context of heritage, the Bruce Lee statue should
be regarded as an exception. In this section, I have tried to contextualise the argument made that
a clear-cut focus on the division may perpetuate a narrative of a heritage and consequently a past,
which is not shared. I will now present how my interview partners expressed a sense of belonging or
disassociation through the heritage of Mostar.
No, no, I always think back. Not that I live in that period, but one part of me does, because I feel more, let’s say,
safer at that period. (Woman in her late-30s, PhD student and teacher at the University of Mostar).

There is probably no person from Mostar who doesn’t think about old Mostar all the time. We are dreaming about
Mostar as it was. All the time. (Man in his mid-50s, currently unemployed but engaged in the Serbian community).

The need to remember

As presented in Table 1,1 10 out of the 16 people interviewed, who grew up in pre-war Mostar, were
venturing to pre-war Mostar in their memories, as often expressed: ‘all the time’. Sometimes it was
because they wanted to convey an expressed need to remember, other times it was because memories
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were ‘hitting’ them constantly while walking in the city. Monika Palmberger (2016) has written about
‘ruptured life-courses’ in the case of the breakup of Yugoslavia. This seems to be the issue for many of
those who were interviewed. Most people related themselves to either before or after the war, and some
even referred to themselves as living in pre-war Mostar rather than in the post-war city. Furthermore,
this situation is enforced by the physical environment:
As soon as I leave my house I think about pre-war Mostar because I look at the garden just in front of my build-
ings. It was filled with roses before but now it is just a place for garbage. (Woman in her mid-60s, pensioner
engaged in a local NGO).
It would be reductionist to refer to it simply as Yugo-nostalgia (Palmberger 2008), since the term
carries negative and diminishing connotations. Furthermore, it cannot be approached as some kind
of ghost from the past haunting the present, as has been routinely and problematically put forth, most
infamously in Robert Kaplan’s work (Kaplan 1993; for an overview see Todorova 1997 and Ramet
2006). It should rather be regarded as the creation of a narrative in opposition to the ones of ethnic
separation. This does not mean that it is a ‘private’ phenomenon. Let us approach pre-war Mostar as
a narrative produced in a specific context (post-war Mostar), and not as a ‘retrieved reality’ by the
Table 1. ‘How often do you think back on pre-war Mostar?’



C: 2

B: 4

A: 10

Notes: (A): All the time. (B): Once in a while. (C: Didn’t answer. No one answered ‘never’. Based on 16 interviews with 16 people. Not
included: younger people with no memory of pre-war Mostar and people who grew up outside of Mostar are excluded.

use of memory, because the landscape is not an archive in which memory is the method of retrieving
information. As such, it is constructed as a separate Mostar in opposition to and in dialogue with
present Mostar. Pre-war Mostar is presented as a city of extreme beauty, where no danger or insecu-
rity exists, and everyone loves each other. Most importantly, this Mostar is regarded as ‘home’ and
the place where the informant ‘belongs’. Furthermore, the ‘two Mostars’ are understood in contrast
to each other. Therefore, they become opposites in speech. Where there was love before, there is now
hatred, where there was beauty before there is now ugliness and so on. The links between the two
Mostars are severed and people often have to struggle to find anything from pre-war Mostar that is
present in post-war Mostar. Occasionally, people answered ‘the light’, ‘the river’, ‘humour’ or ‘myself ’,
but often they could not find a single thing. In such a way, it is not only the individual life courses that
are ruptured but also the city itself.
This can be approached through the works of the anthropologist Michael Jackson, concerning how
life ceases to be narratable in light of crisis and violence: ‘In death or disaster, succession or seriality
give way to simultaneity. The present is stuck like a gramophone needle in the groove of one fateful
moment in the past’ (Jackson 2013, 103). As Hannah Arendt stated, life becomes an ‘unbearable
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sequence of sheer happenings’ (Arendt 1968, 104). The logical and comforting feeling that there is an
order to life and that it follows a chronological narrative is not to be found, so that people venture to
an undoubtedly romanticised Mostar instead. However, it is not a case of venturing ‘back’, but pre-war
Mostar surrounds them through the narratives it helps to create, that are constructed in opposition to
the ethnical ones. It is here that the link between time and space becomes significant. If we approach
pre-war Mostar as ‘past’ and if we place it in a, to use the words of Lowenthal (1985) foreign country,
we lose the representational power that resides in pre-war Mostar and how it is manifested within the
city of today. However, this is not specific for Mostar, or the Balkans in general. After all, every place is
unavoidably multi-temporal (Holtorf 2015b, 171). The inherent problem is not that there are multiple
Mostars present in the physical environment. The problem lies in the fact that these two Mostars are
superimposed on each other without any proper narrative connecting them.

An issue of displacement
The consequence of the lack of a connecting narrative is an issue of displacement. As Roger Zetter writes
concerning Greek-Cypriot refugees: ‘(…) it is the loss of continuity with the past – the home as the
physical and symbolic representation of what has been irreplaceably lost in exile – which distinguishes
refugees (…)’ (Zetter 1999, 9). However, what can be found among many of the people interviewed
in Mostar was not a geographical exile, but a temporal exile, i.e. a displacement in time. Significantly,
this concerns the question of achieving a sense of home and belonging in the world and where such a
sense can be located on a spatial and temporal axis. As the anthropologist Stef Jansen writes:
(…) many of the people I worked with [in Bosnia and Herzegovina] were not only displaced persons, but, for
all intents and purposes, they were actually distimed too. Namely, their location had been overhauled in both
spatial and temporal ways (…). (Jansen 2009, 55)
However, within my research there was solely a temporal displacement to be found due to the focus
on people who experienced the war from within Mostar. Such a displacement has effects similar to
geographical displacement: it leads to a large degree of passivity and a romantic longing, as well as an
‘othering’ of the new neighbours (Jackson 2013, 88, 89). The main difference between geographical
and temporal displacement is that the new neighbours – who are being regarded as ‘inhospitable’ – are
not residents in a foreign country, as is the case in geographical displacement, but the new inhabitants
of Mostar coming in from the outside:
I don’t think they [newcomers] have much love for the place, even though they live here, they work here. Like,
everybody is homesick, even I am homesick, for the Mostar that used to be. (Woman in her late-30s, PhD student
and teacher at the University of Mostar).

In order to make sense of the situation and construct a narrative that follows a sequence, half of the
people interviewed who grew up in Mostar blamed the current situation on the new people who
moved into the city during and after the war. This can be interpreted as a case of ‘othering’ a group
of people. They are perceived to be uneducated, uncivilised, nationalistic, and conservative and with
a lack of love for the city of Mostar (see Stefansson 2007 for a similar case in Sarajevo). A contribut-
ing factor is that many of the most influential people in the post-war period did not originate from
Mostar, and did not necessarily represent the views of the pre-war residents (Bjelakovic and Strazzari
1999, 95). Furthermore, what is often considered to be lacking from present day Mostar is the ‘spirit
of Mostar’ (see Kolind 2008 for a discussion of the ‘spirit of Stolac’). The definition of this spirit was
vague and differed from person to person. What was clear is that it includes a love for the city and all
its residents, and that it was either destroyed or almost destroyed by the new people moving into the
city, since they are believed to not love the city. The spirit of Mostar lies in the people of Mostar. It
would be reductionist to approach the spirit of Mostar as specifically related to a particular ideology,
i.e. communism, since such a longing was also expressed to me by people who were politically inclined
towards the right. Furthermore, the longing bridges age gaps. Even though these recollections were
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more prevailing among the older generation (see also Palmberger 2016, 144), also younger people, who
never experienced Yugoslavia at any length, mentioned a longing for the ‘spirit of Mostar’. However,
despite its importance for the image and identity of the city, the ‘spirit of Mostar’ is impossible to pin-
point, which makes it difficult to work with. It is most likely best understood using the famous term
of Benedict Anderson (2006), as an imagined community, which is now being highly romanticised.
Within the process of ‘othering’ the newcomers, heritage is drawn upon, often serving as a rhetorical
tool within the narratives. Many of those interviewed blamed the current neglect of heritage and
the way it was being employed to enforce ethnical identities on the newcomers to Mostar, who are
considered not to care about heritage. In such a way, heritage plays a role in the process of ‘othering’.
This needs to be seen in the light of the general discontent with how heritage has been employed as
expressed among many of the people interviewed, even though the responses were mixed (Table 2).
Most people stated that too much focus had been placed on reconstructing religious buildings, most
likely due to the fact that some of these buildings are perceived to cement rather than to overcome the

Table 2. Attitudes to the heritage.


A: 8

C: 12

B: 14

Notes: (A): Positive attitude. (B): Too much focus on religious buildings (Mosques and/or Churches), in comparison to factories, schools
or hospitals. (C): The heritage has been used to provoke/increase division. Based on 21 interviews with 21 people. The numbers in
the pie graph reflect the amount of people expressing such a view. Several people gave multiple answers to the issue, where many
people who found that too much focus had been on reconstructing religious buildings also thought that the heritage had been used
to provoke/increase division. Not included: one group-interview is excluded from the table due to it not following the same formula.

ethnic division in the city and therefore are in opposition to the ‘the spirit of Mostar’. In fact, there are
more religious buildings now than before the war, whereby heritage is often believed to be employed
as a tool in a symbolic warfare between Muslim-dominated Mostar and Catholic (Croat)-dominated
Mostar, reflected in the number of mosques and churches, the height of the towers and the volume
of the prayers.
Me: Do you think that heritage can serve as a function to realize the Mostar you wish was here?

It should be. It should be served. But to me, yes, heritage is very important, and should serve to bring all people
together. Other parts of the heritage than the religious ones. Theater. Cinemas. Poet nights. These kinds of pro-
grams should bring people together, and there should be more programs like this. More like, cultural programs
in Mostar. Concerts. We don’t have … We have some but not as it should be. Lots of attention is ‘going to church’
or ‘going to mosque’. Or just speak about war time and just this victim and that victim. Who is victim and who
is aggressor. OK, just stop talking about this! Try to speak about Aleksa Šantić [important poet from Mostar],
for example, don’t speak about who is aggressor or not. (Woman in her early 40s, working at a home for elderly).
Many people interviewed tend to think that heritage should serve a positive role in Mostar, but that it is
not taking place to the desired extent. On the contrary, there is an often expressed lack of belief in the
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potential within heritage to help create a better Mostar in the future, as it is currently being employed:
Me: Do you think that the history of Mostar can help bring people together?

All three politics today work on the division of people, so they don’t put any effort into combining the people
and bringing them together. I am not optimistic concerning this. I have Croat, Bosnian and Serbian friends and
they were my friends, and stayed as my friends (…). No politics can divide me from my friends. I am 65, I am
not going to fight with my friends because of politics. But there is nothing here that can unite people that live in
Mostar today. (Woman in her mid-60s, director of a home for elderly).
In conclusion, a sense of disassociation with the current city of Mostar and its narratives of ethnic
separation have led to the construction of narratives of home pertaining to a different time period
(pre-war Mostar), and an often-expressed discontent in the present-day purpose as well as future role
of heritage. However, as I hope the next section will highlight, potential also lies in the construction
of such narratives.

The need to look forward

Within this paper, I have tried to show the benefit in adding temporal dimensions to the sense of
home in order to approach the narratives produced in post-war Mostar, as well as to grasp the failure
of the initiatives concerned with heritage to overcome the difficulties. By often focusing initiatives
on clear-cut ethnic categories, other issues of equal or higher significance for the situation in the city
have been neglected. As presented earlier, this has been the mistake of both local as well as global
actors. Many of those interviewed failed to be able to create a sense of home and belonging through
heritage, because the narrative that was constructed in order to make sense of the individual life is
severed by the war. Furthermore, this leads to the construction of a bottom-up counter-narrative
about pre-war Mostar, which exists in opposition to and in dialogue with present-day Mostar and its
public narratives of ethnic separation. For several people who were interviewed, the consequence can
be best understood as a state of temporal displacement, or, using the words of Stef Jansen, of being
distimed (Jansen 2009, 55), which includes passivity and a romantic longing, as well as an ‘othering’ of
a group of people (i.e. the newcomers). Within this kind of environment, there is often an expressed
desire to move forward:
I would ask one young and perspective person. First, I would ask him if he likes Mostar or not. If he likes Mostar
I would give him freedom to make any kind of monument he wants. (…) It is enough of all these monuments
that commemorate killings. About ‘Who killed who?’ (…) Let’s face positive things, and positive futures. (Man
in his mid-50s, currently unemployed but engaged in the Serbian community).
However, there are also cases, primarily among the youth of Mostar, where the narrative of pre-war
Mostar is consciously aimed to challenge ethnic separation (Figure 5). The example I wish to high-
light is the project of a group of young people from Mostar, carried out in the summer of 2016, who
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Figure 5. A electrical substation overpainted resembling a Yugoslavian shelf from the 70s or 80s and dedicated to the old minors
of Mostar.

painted a electric substation as a shelf, which was popular in any Yugoslavian household during the
70s and 80s, regardless of the ethnic community. Furthermore, the monument was dedicated to the
old miners of Mostar (the area of Mostar which is called Rudnik had previously been the location for
an important coalmine), and painted the shelves with books dealing with the history of the miners as
well as with academic literature about workers’ rights. There were also spaces left empty on the surface,
leaving room to add paintings of books (or other things). Here, a narrative of Mostar of the 70s and
80s was used to visualise a Mostar beyond ethnic separation, and it is aimed towards an envisioned
future. Importantly, due to the young age of the people responsible, most of them did not personally
experience the 70s and 80s at any length. Even though I did not participate in the construction of
the monument, I followed the process closely due to being friends with many of those who helped in
carrying it out, who will remain anonymous.
In this case, the narrative constructed can be approached as an act of wilful and active distancing
from the current situation. Furthermore, the project served as an incentive for a more widespread
discussion about what kind of future people would like to move on to and actively shape through
present day actions. Rather than prompting passivity, this serves as an empowering act, inducing a
sense of control of the narrative of one’s own life (Jackson 2013). Thus, heritage and the production
of narratives can serve as an empowering tool to envision an alternative future and carve a space of
belonging for oneself within it (see Wollentz Forthcoming). Consequently, through the construction
of such a narrative, a potential exists to envision a future of belonging beyond ethnicity.

Applying the concept of chronotopes in studying how narrations are blending time and space, I propose
that what is needed in Mostar are narratives including future perspectives, i.e. a direction towards
something, initiating grounds for a discussion concerning what a common future may look like
(Silberman 2013, 183). This goes beyond heritage into issues of employment and politics. Nonetheless,
the construction of a bottom-up narrative of pre-war Mostar can serve a positive function. Ultimately,
narratives constructed about the past can be used as a resource to find a direction in the present.
Indeed, as mentioned above, there are cases in which narratives of pre-war Mostar have been delib-
erately employed to shape an alternative future and challenge the present day situation. Significantly,
the construction of such a future-oriented narrative has to be a gradual process coming from a new
engaged generation within Mostar, unburdened by the same rupture in their lives as the previous
generation (Palmberger 2016).
Nevertheless, I see a need to not only work towards uniting the Bosnian Croats and Bosnian
Muslims within Mostar through heritage but also try to bridge the distance between newly arrived
residents and the former population through a focus on what is shared. There were no initiatives
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working to solve this problem within the city. All focus has been placed on the division between the
Bosnian Croats and the Bosnian Muslims, which, as argued above, might only contribute to reinforce
the division rather than to overcome it. Secondly, I see a need to bridge the two radically different
Mostars that are being narrated through the physical environment. To use a suitable comparison, a
bridge needs to be built between pre-war Mostar and post-war Mostar so that a sequence is created.
Here, I do not suggest that focus should explicitly be on the war itself (people are tired of constant
reminders), but on transferring the elusive ‘spirit of Mostar’ from pre-war to post-war Mostar. This
spirit has to be transferred from within Mostar itself and not from outside. It needs to be inclusive, and
include a love for Mostar and all of its residents, regardless of ethnic communities. Clearly, heritage
has a potential here as long as it works with more than only reconstructing buildings tied to certain
ethnic communities, and also includes something elusive such as feelings of being at home in both
space and time. If such feelings are created and sustained, a movement towards a future can be more
clearly perceived and traversed.

Some of the results of the interviews can be found in Tables 1 and 2 in order to present the results with as much
clarity as possible. However, it is important to underline that the results are of qualitative character based on
a statistically small sample size. The tables should therefore only be understood within the overall context
outlined in the paper.

First thanks go to my colleagues Marko Barišić and Damir Ugljen for exciting discussions before, during and after the
fieldwork and for their help as translators in many of the interviews. Furthermore, I would like to thank Cornelius
Holtorf and Artur Ribeiro for valuable comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Variations of this paper have been
presented on conferences and I very much appreciate the feedback received from Paola Filippucci. Another thank you
goes to Johannes Müller, Antonia Davidovic, Vedrana Tutiš, Tatjana Mićević-Đurić and all the anonymous interview
partners. Finally, I want to thank the two reviewers, who helped me to sharpen the arguments, Eileen Kuecuekkaraca
for proofreading the paper and the Graduate School ‘Human Development in Landscapes’ for their constant support.

Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

The project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) through the Graduate School ‘Human Development
in Landscapes’, Kiel University [Grant name GSC 208/2].

Notes on contributor
Gustav Wollentz (1988) received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Archaeology at Linnaeus University. He is cur-
rently preparing his PhD thesis at the Graduate School Human Development in Landscapes, Kiel University.

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