Games beneath Stolac
by Ivo Banac
During this Lent, a great struggle for coexistence is being waged in Stolac, upon which the very future of Bosnia-Herzegovina depends. It is more important than any debate about development, investment, cantonization or constituent status. In fact, at this moment there is no more important debate in all Europe. It is a known fact that in the summer of 1993, the Croatian Army and the Bosnian Croat HVO demolished all the mosques and many other features of the Ottoman architectural heritage in Stolac and Dubrave, at the same time as Bosniak males were being imprisoned and cruelly tormented in concentration camps like Dretelj and the Rodoc helidrome, while their mothers, wives and children were being forcibly expelled towards Blagaj and other areas controlled by the B-H Army. Among the buildings destroyed during this period was the Careva [Emperor’s] or Carsijska [Bazaar] mosque in Stolac, built in 1519 and listed as one of the three oldest mosques in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Tudjman’s followers also demolished or damaged the Orthodox churches in Stolac and nearby Trijebanj. It is worth mentioning that all this took place in wholly peaceful conditions, since there were no armed clashes at the time in Stolac or the surrounding area.
Towards the end of August 2001, Bosniak returnees started clearing the site of the Careva mosque. They located the foundations and some fragments of this key Islamic place of worship, as well as the remains of over forty nisani [Muslim tombstones]. Eventually they also found a refuse tip near the river Bregava where those who had demolished the Careva mosque had taken the debris. Unfortunately their efforts did not go unopposed. The local HDZ authorities, who stand in direct continuity with the destroyers of Stolac’s sacral antiquities, found ways to organize disruption of the work of renewal and provoked a series of incidents on the building site. It turned out, however, that the biggest obstacle to reconstruction of the Careva mosque came from the Bishop of Mostar, Monsignor Ratko Peric, and his parish priest, Don Rajko Markovic, otherwise known as the brother of Andjelko Markovic, the former HDZ mayor of Stolac who had instigated and supervised the destruction.
For the Bishop and the parish priest oppose reconstruction of the Careva mosque, on the grounds that it may have been built on the foundations of an earlier church (in their view obviously a Catholic one); and they are even demanding that priority be given to reconstruction of this entirely unknown place of worship, for whose existence there is no evidence at all. Bishop Peric explicitly declares: ‘a crime remains a crime, not only when something is built by force, when a place of worship is demolished by force, but also when people now want to rebuild something like that by force on a Christian holy place.’ ‘Something like that’ in this case is the Careva mosque, which stood in the heart of Stolac for as many as 474 years.
For want of evidence, and in an obvious attempt to block the reconstruction, the Bishop and the priest are demanding archaeological exploration of the foundations of the Careva mosque, in order to prove the existence of an earlier church. So the parochial office in Stolac on 12 November 2001 initiated legal action against the Federal ministry for regional planning which had issued the Islamic community in Stolac with a permit for the reconstruction. A further problem is that neither the Bishop nor the priest ever condemned the destruction of the Islamic places of worship in Stolac - or in Herzegovina generally - in any clear or unambiguous fashion. Not only that, but they are also fighting some sort of crusade to legitimize the crime against the Bosniaks and their places of worship, by placing wooden crosses along the route towards Stolac’s citadel (Vidoski grad ), which they have renamed Krizevac [place of the Cross] after part of the hill on which it stands.
The question arises why Monsignor Peric should be so frantically obstructing any restoration of the situation prior to the ethnic cleansing of the Bosniaks, hence any return of Bosniak refugees, which directly affects the fate of the Croat refugees from central Bosnia whom Tudjman’s policy installed in Stolac and Dubrave. An exchange of letters between Monsignor Peric and Dr Senad Mehmedbasic, chairman of the Committee for Renewal of Civic Trust in the municipality of Stolac, now already in its fourth phase, indicates that the Bishop rejects any form of religious dialogue between Christians and Muslims, claiming that: ‘there will be no further need to carry on a dialogue about this.’ The clear implication is that the reconstruction of Islamic houses of worship would actually promote heresy. This is more important for the Bishop than the establishment of human rights, the search for coexistence, or restitution for the victims of ethnic cleansing. For these people were persecuted only because they were Muslims, or rather because they belonged to the Muslim religious tradition. In this way, all Croats and Catholics are linked with the crimes of those who represent themselves as the best Croats and Catholics.
The attitude of Bishop Peric is significant also because it has a direct influence on the political leadership of Herzegovina’s Croats. Yet his opinion has even wider implications. Unless Christians and Muslims find a common conception of truth in Stolac and Dubrave, where for centuries they lived in a united and complex society, there is very little chance of their managing to do so over the fresh-dug global ruins. For this reason, reconstruction of the Careva mosque in Stolac is a test of Christian tolerance. Monsignor Peric stands against it, relativizing crime and giving a reason not just for convinced Islamists, but also for young people who really are the victims of crime, to see the whole of Christianity in this one Catholic prelate with his narrow-minded, autocratic views. In such a way faith in God is transformed into its opposite: into an ideology of power, in other words a platform for radical godlessness. Besides, where are Bishop Peric and Father Markovic when it is necessary to teach the believers of Dubrave how just one greeting to a returnee neighbour of different religious background would be worth more at this moment than any Lenten fast?
P.S There is a way in which individuals can aid the reconstruction of Stolac. By contributing a minimum of 300 KM (roughly 154 Euro or $135), they can join the Support Committee for Reconstruction of the Careva Mosque in Stolac. Overseas donations for the reconstruction should be sent to: DEUTSCHEBANK AG/FM; Vakufska banka DD Sarajevo; Glavna filijala MO Mostar, KTO 936 5347; SWIFT: VAKUBA22;SWIFT:DEUTDEFF. Restoration of heritage is closely linked to the return of refugees, and to preservation of authentic forms of the Bosnian spirit. Next in line for reconstruction after the Careva mosque are the Franciscan monastery at Plehan and the Orthodox monastery at Zitomislici.
Translated from Feral Tribune (Split), 26 February 2002