bosnia report
No. 7 November - 1994
 
The Reconstruction Fraud
by Marian Wenzel

The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina does not promise to end rapidly, and media coverage continues to show massive destruction on all sides. Plans for reconstruction are being devised and, in more peaceful areas, minor repairs are being made. But major repairs to important historic builings and housing complexes are not being carried out. Worse still, such repairs are not even being planned. The Bosnians will probably face life among the ruins of their cultural heritage for much of the next century.

Bosnia-Herzegovina Heritage Rescue (BHHR) sent a mission to Bosnia in August 1994, funded by the British Council and assisted by the Overseas Development Association (ODA). As Director of BHHR, I spent ten days in Mostar assessing damage to the town's historic buildings, identifying possible reconstruction projects, and discussing the problems involved with the EU Administrator of Mostar, Hans Koschnick. With the help of the ODA, I was also able to discuss plans for Sarajevo with the office of William Eagleton, the UN Special Coordinator for that city.

What I learned from these discussions was deeply alarming. It became clear that the British media have given a very misleading and over-optimistic impression about the rebuilding of Bosnia. Media images of the devastation there usual focus on well-known "tourist objetives", such as the historic mosques. When plans for reconstruction are mentioned alongisde these iamges, the public naturally assume that they include plans for restoring those historic buildings which they are being shown in such a tragic stage., But the truth is that the vast majority of these buildings are going to be left to rot. Practical plans to rebuild the mass of dest4royed historic mosques, churches and housing, backed by funds, do not exist. Even essential emergency aid to major historic buildings in Sarajevo is being withheld.

Theortetical plans are indeed being drawn up, for an ideal reconstruction of all Bosnia, both by the new Government Association for Reconstruction and by the two Institutes for the Protection of Monuments (town and national). But these plans will remain purely theoretical so long as there is no money to pay for them. Praftical planning for restoring Bosnia's heritage is possible only if funding is availabke; and the limited funds for reconstruction work are being directed towards infrastructure projects instead.

The long list of projects circulated by Eagleton's office in Sarajevo inludes 20 on water, 11 on natural gas, 6 on solid waste, 11 on public transport, 19 on the airport, 12 involving railways, 17 involving roads and bridges, 5 on telecommunications, 11 on public health, 5 on education, 6 on housing and heating, 7 on 'urbanisam,' and so on. Project no. 138 on this lit is: 'to protect historic buildings and monuments.' This was to cost 2 million dollars. Another project, to 'restore essential pubklic buildings,ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ' could have included some historic structures and was to be accorded 4 milolion dollars. But in fact, by August, the UN Office had acquired only a minimal proportion of the sums it needed for anything, so cultural heritage was put aside.

Reis ul-ulema Mustafa Ceric, the religious head of Bosnia's Muslims, recently informed Eagleton's office in Sarajevo that three minarets in the city might collapse if they did not receive immediate attention. Engleton's office, with all its available money earmarked for infrastructure, could do nothing about these buildings, and sinply passed on the urgent appeal to us at the BHHR.

In Mostar the problems are the same: Koschnick's office has barely enough money to restore infrastructure, and other reconstruction projects mut be carried out by international nongovernmental organizations. True, there are one or two special projects for restoring the Old Bridge in Mostar and the Vjecnica Library in Srajevo. Otherwise, however, the mass of historic buildings in both these cities, and in the rest of Bosnia, have no prospects of restoration at all.

Few people seem to have considered the disastrous social effects which will result from international indifference towards Bosnia's cultural monuments. In a war where symbols of cultural identity have played such an important part, the psychological benefits which would follow from the restoration of these damaged symbols would be huge. Bosnians themselves understand this. Unfortunately, the decisions about priorities in the reconstruction budget are being made not by Bosnians, but by outsiders.

Our own funds at BHHR are also very limited. However, we do now have the hance of take part in the rebuilding of two Ottoman-style houses in Mostar, the Biscevic and Kajtoz ouses, which are still in the possession of the families who have owned them for centuries. The Director of Reconstruction in Mostar, John Yarwood, has given us the opportunity to act as fund-raisers and co-ordinators for these two projects. Both houses were oepn to the public before the war. Although part of Kajtoz Hosue was burnt down, and both have suffered roff and wall damage, the houses are substantially intact. And their contents - woodwork, metalwork and textiles - have been preserved, unlike those of other houses in the town. Their restoration will cost less than many infrastructure projects, but needs to be carried out soon. With the restoration of these two houses, a vital part of the material culture of Mostar will survive.

Readers of Bosnia Report who care about Bosnia's culotural heritage can at least do something, by making a contribution to BHHR now.

BHHR is a UK-registered charity (no. 1039502). Please send cheques made out to "The Bosnia-Herzegovina Heritage Rescue Foundation" and marked 'Mostar Houses' to Dr Marian Wenzel, BHHR, 9 ?Canterbury Mansions, Lymington Road, London NW6 1SE, or direct to our account at the NatWest Bank, Tavistock Square Branch, Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9JA, sort code 60-80-07, and their names will ultimately be inscribed in a book placed in each of the restored buildings.

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