YOUTH FORUM OF STOLAC SUPPORT THE HHO
We, members of the Youth Forum of Stolac, together with the members of the Society â€œRenewal of Civil Trustâ€ Stolac, fully support the Statement on Stolac of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights. We express our gratitude to the authors of the Statement for their concern for the difficult and intolerable living conditions in Stolac. Human rights violations, ethnic segregation, preservation and affirmation of the legacy of war crimes and hindering of the rule of law are being continued in our municipality long after the war. We oppose the unacceptable conduct of all those representatives of the international community who have agreed to make pacts with the guardians of the legacy of war crimes committed against our municipality and its people. Reconstruction of the hammam (17th century public baths), and of the Behmenluk medieval residential complex, each a national monument of Bosnia and Herzegovina destroyed in the previous war, is an important contributing factor for rebuilding of living conditions which are not based upon war crime achievements. These monuments of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been destroyed as in their criminal ideology the war criminals have marked them as â€œMuslimâ€. How should we, the citizens of Stolac, understand the fact that Mr. Dragan Vrankic and Mr. Stjepan Boskovic, together with Mr. Sredoje Novic and Mr. Gavrilo Grahovac, with the support of some members of the delegation of the European Commission in Bosnia and Herzegovina, have by all means been trying to prevent the reconstruction of these war-destroyed monuments for over a year now?
We expect all contributing parties in the political establishment in our country and in the world to condemn and prevent insolent treatment of the decision of the European Parliament on reconstruction of the war- destroyed cultural heritage of Stolac.
We invite our friends in the country and abroad to join us in this protest and to condemn individuals and organizations who are taking part in this disgraceful effort to cooperate in attempts of disenabling the normalization of civil life in Stolac.
The war in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s left tens of thousands dead, and towns and villages laid waste. Some of those towns â€“ among them Vukovar, Dubrovnik, Sarajevo and Mostar â€“ are known to the world at large as symbols of the horrors of the war. They were pounded by artillery fire: by the JNA in the case of Vukovar, Dubrovnik and Sarajevo, while in Mostar the destruction came from the western side of the town, which was under the control of Croatian military and paramilitary units. The little town of Stolac, famed for its concentration of cultural heritage and historical strata, also symbolizes the ravages of war, but in this case, not by artillery, mortar and other heavy weaponry, but by dynamite. Every building, mosque and private house in Stolac that was a monument to the Bosnian Muslim built heritage was systematically blown up after the Bosnian Muslim and other non-Croat population was either driven out of town or incarcerated in camps. Architecture â€œexpertsâ€ told the soldiers exactly what was to be blown up and what was not. The town was then colonized by Croat Catholics from other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a result, both the architecture and the demographics of Stolac were destroyed by force.
Before the war, Stolac Municipality had a population of 18,681: 8,101 (43.36%) Bosniacs/Muslims, 6,188 (33.12%) Croats/Catholics, 3,917 (20.96%) Serbs/Orthodox, 307 (1.64% Yugoslavs, and 168 (0.92%) others, undeclared or unknown.
Returns to Stolac Municipality were blocked for years after the war, and until 1998 the town was in-habited exclusively by Croats.
After the signing of the Dayton Agreement, pre-war Stolac Municipality was split into two: Stolac Municipality in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and BerkoviÄ‡i Municipality in Republika Srpska. The Statistics Institute of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina estimates that the population of Stolac Municipality is now about 12,000: 7,100 Croats, 4,000 Bosniacs and 500 Serbs (the new municipality of BerkoviÄ‡i created after the Dayton Agreement has a population of about 3,000, more than 90% of them Serbs). These figures reveal that 15 years after the end of the war, the number of Croats in Stolac is greater than be-fore the war, the number of Serbs is slightly lower, and Bosniacs have been halved in number.
In the spring of 1996, the Zagreb Helsinki Committee (HHO) sent a fact finding mission to determine the state of affairs in Stolac, headed by Prof. Dr. Ivo Banac of Yale University in the USA, one of the worldâ€™s leading experts in Balkan history. Though consisting of Croats from Zagreb, the mission was met with undisguised hostility and was warned against broaching the subject of the fate of Stolacâ€™s â€œTurksâ€ and â€œbalija,â€ as leading Croat representatives called them. The mission issued a report which corroborated accounts of the destruction and of changes to the demographic structure.
The HHO continued to monitor events in Stolac for the very reason that our mission had visited the town in 1996. Meanwhile, some of the cultural monuments destroyed during the war (mosques, traditional houses, the Orthodox church) have been restored in their original form thanks to the efforts of returnees and non-governmental organizations, including the HHO. Some of the Bosniacs and Muslims who were forced out of the town have returned, but most are without any rights. The primary school provides a vivid illustra-tion of the state of affairs in Stolac today: Croat Catholics attend classes in the morning, and enter through the front door of the school, while Bosniac Muslims go to school in the afternoon and enter through the back door. This is a unique example of national segregation, which is entirely to the purpose of the local political elites, and is accepted by the international community as a fait accompli. Things are much the same in Mostar.
The Croatian Helsinki Committee was proactively involved in attempts to transcend the conflicts in Mostar and Stolac and to restore trust between the two opposing communities. Last year, for the first time, our young activists attended the Summer School held under the banner â€œYouth and Heritageâ€ in Stolac. Under the auspices of this project, young people from various parts of the world, and of different nations, world-views and religious affiliations, attempt to restore the trust destroyed during the war by restoring the destroyed heritage.
This is their way of showing that diversity can be a tool for understanding and dialogue, and for restor-ing the trust that has been lost, as they strive to rebuild a plural society in Stolac. Unfortunately, the endeav-ours of these young enthusiasts were met by a tacit boycott, especially on the part of the (now majority) Croat population.
The Croatian Helsinki Committee has another reason, too, for regarding its involvement in the project as a duty: verdicts by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague have identi-fied the direct responsibility of the war-time military and political structures for Croatiaâ€™s involvement in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The reconstruction of Stolacâ€™s destroyed heritage, like the restoration of plu-rality and co-existence, is our duty and obligation as part of the process of reconciliation and democratization in the region, based on respect for diversity and human rights. In addition, we were the only non-governmental human rights organization to speak out against the persecution of Muslims in Croatia, back in 1993, when certain activists from Muslim organizations were arrested in Zagreb and the Croatian authorities, in a profoundly cynical move, requisitioned 3,000 private vehicles from Muslim citizens to be used for the purpose of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We also opposed the compulsory mobilization of Croatian citizens living in Croatia who were sent to fight in Bosnia and Herzegovina in late 1994.
We were encouraged by the decision of the European Parliament, which on 13 December 2007 ap-proved the implementation of pilot schemes for preserving and restoring cultural heritage in conflict areas in the Western Balkans. One of the two pilot schemes relates to the reconstruction of major monuments of the built heritage destroyed in Stolac.
We were encouraged by the nature of the project, with which we are familiar, based on the decision to reconstruct the hammam (17th century public baths); musafirhana (16th century hostel); the traditional 17th and 19th century house in Behmenluk; and 18th century flour mills. Only the reconstruction of the properties that were destroyed as a symbol of the â€œundesirablesâ€ of Stolac, both residents and architecture, can build bridges between the communities.
We were also delighted with the decision of the European Commission Delegation in Sarajevo to select as project partner a state institution, the Commission to Preserve National Monuments, winner of the 2010 EU/Europa Nostra award for dedicated service to heritage protection. The principal reason for the award was the Commissionâ€™s success in integrating the heritage into the process of reconciliation and sustainable peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We worked with our colleagues from Bosnia and Herzegovina on the â€œYouth and Heritageâ€ project, a contribution to the European Parliament project known as ARCH-Stolac: Heritage as a bridge between communities.
For all these reasons, we are disappointed by the decision of the European Commission Delegation in Sarajevo to change the nature and mode of implementation of the project. This decision has devalued the de-cision of the European Parliament, based on which the Stolac project was to contribute to the reconstruction of destroyed buildings as symbolic signposts to the need to restore interpersonal relations. The Sarajevo office of the European Commission has decided not to reconstruct the hammam, musafirhana and Behmenluk house, all recognizably part of the Muslim heritage, which was why they were destroyed, but instead to use the funds earmarked for their restoration to repair bridges and conserve the archaeological site of the Stolac fort â€“ none of which were destroyed or damaged in the recent war.
The restoration of the war-destroyed properties originally selected was opposed by the Mayor of Sto-lac, Stjepan BoÅ¡koviÄ‡, who is well known for his opposition to the human rights of â€œothersâ€ in Stolac, in which he enjoyed the support of his party colleagues and of the BiH Minister of Finance and Treasury, Dragan VrankiÄ‡, as well as the BiH Minister of Civil Affairs, Sredoje NoviÄ‡, and the Minister of Culture of the Fed-eration of BiH, Gavrilo Grahovac.
It is important to note that since 2001 the municipal authorities and the Catholic church in Stolac have been illicitly using the Stolac fort, which stands on high ground in the centre of town, to erect Croat symbols and crosses, some of which have been made from stone taken from the fortress walls. This is very disturbing to returnees to Stolac, since it is designed forcibly to create the image of a â€œpurelyâ€ Croat area, which was also the motivation for the destruction of the town and the persecution of its residents. Despite the decision by the inspection authority of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina that this constituted illegal damage to a na-tional monument, the municipal authorities will not allow the law to be implemented and the illegally-erected monuments to be removed. The association of the fort with the failure to implement a ruling by the federal inspector, and the concomitant insecurity felt by part of the population of Stolac, renders still more unaccept-able the decision by the bureaucracy of the European Commission in Sarajevo to agree to the mayorâ€™s pro-posal, and thereby to support his disregard of the law and outrages against the heritage of Stolac. The Mayor of Stolac, Stjepan BoÅ¡koviÄ‡, is the principal architect of all the failures to uphold the law and disregard of de-cisions and rulings by the state institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. As well as his involvement in the il-licit activities that are detrimental to the fort, it is at his instigation and under his patronage that a memorial to the HVO soldiers who laid waste the town and persecuted its people is being erected in the heart of Stolac, in the protected zone of a national monument, the ÄŒarÅ¡ija mosque, which was razed to the ground in 1993 and reconstructed in its original form in 2003. This is yet another instance of actions designed to exacerbate the divisions between the communities and to heighten the distrust between the people of Stolac.
The news that the European Commission Delegation had decided to use funds earmarked for the ARCH-Stolac: Heritage as a Bridge Between Communities project to repair bridges and conserve an archaeo-logical site instead of to reconstruct destroyed monuments is a total distortion of the idea that the heritage could be a factor for reconciliation in Stolac. It is perpetuating the assault on the rights of returnees to public places, to their right to the public expression of their identity and to their own culture. It is wholly unaccept-able that, after two years of negotiations over the project, a new criterion is being introduced: that the Euro-pean Commission does not wish to reconstruct properties in private ownership (which in any case the ham-mam and the musafirhana are not). These are the monuments that were destroyed and, whether in private or public ownership, it was they that reflected the diversity that was the object of destruction and â€œethnic clean-singâ€ in Stolac, the victims of which were the owners of these historic monuments. The reconstruction of the hammam, the musafirhana and the houses in Behmenluk, whatever their ownership status, is important for the entire Stolac community, but also for the preservation of the European heritage of unity in diversity.
The HHO has already had similar â€œexperiencesâ€ with the conduct of representatives of the bureaucracy in Brussels. A year and a half ago we proposed a project relating to reconstruction and reconciliation in Croa-tia; we are the only organization that was involved in the field both during the Patriotic War and in particular after Operation Storm, defending the human rights of the Serb national minority in Croatia. The HHO stated loud and clear in its statements that there were many instances of violations of human rights and war crimes perpetrated after Operation Storm. But the project was allocated to another group of activities, without any explanation. We approached the European Commission, and in particular Javier Solanaâ€™s office, warning that the EU cannot demand transparency of candidate countries when its own procedures are so non-transparent. This is also true of the decision to reallocate the funds earmarked for the reconstruction of destroyed monu-ments in Stolac and the decision of the European Commission bureaucracy in Sarajevo, after working for two years on the project design with a state institution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which they knew to be operat-ing with considerable success and whose jurisdiction they were aware of when they began working on the pro-ject, without explanation to allocate the project to an entity institution the work of which has been the subject of much criticism, including by residents of Stolac.
We take this opportunity to draw the attention of the relevant institutions in Brussels, as well as of all people of good will interested in the genuine restoration of relations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the blatant injustice of this decision. It is not enough to bring to trial individuals responsible for war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for this will not eliminate the consequences of their crimes. The buildings, historic monuments and relations between people that were destroyed during the war must also be restored. Redirecting funds from a European Parliament-approved project to monuments that were not destroyed during the war, because they were and are not a symbol of the unwanted, persecuted and disenfranchised citizens of Stolac, either to those who wrought such destruction during the war or to the present authorities of Stolac, is tantamount to the European Commissionâ€™s involvement, and indirectly that of the European Parliament also, in that injustice.
We therefore appeal to all those who are able in any way to influence the final decision on the ARCH-Stolac: Heritage as a Bridge Between Communities project to ensure that the 2007 decision by the European Parliament is implemented as it was originally conceived, not as distorted by local strong-men and the Euro-bureaucrats from the Sarajevo office of the European Commission in 2010.
We also express our full support for the views expressed in the letters of protest issued by non-governmental organizations and the caucus of councillors of Stolac Municipal Council.
ON BEHALF OF HHO
IVAN ZVONIMIR â€“ ÄŒIÄŒAK