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War Aims at Treasures of History in Order to Change the Future

November 14, 1993

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (AP) _ In their drive to erase a multicultural past, the armies of former Yugoslavia are turning timeless treasures of art and architecture into rubble.

The latest victim is the 16th-century Stari Most, or Old Bridge, in the city of Mostar, a contemporary battleground where Serbs, Muslims and Croats had lived for centuries in peace.

U.N. workers said that when Croat tank fire destroyed the elegant white- limestone arch on Tuesday, even grown men hardened by months of savage fighting cried. And the dejection went far beyond Mostar.

″The bridge symbolized the unity of two different cultures,″ said Dragan Vlahovic, a Belgrade historian. ″But as it crumbled into the Neretva River, so did our history.″

Destruction of the bridge, built during the rule of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman, marked what may be a final separation of Christian and Muslim in Bosnia. Many believe no bridge will be built to replace it.

Among key reasons for the warfare that began destroying the old Yugoslav federation in 1991 were conflicting claims to territory. Fervent nationalists clamoring for power after the fall of communism argued that Serbs, Croats and Muslims could not live together.

To help prove it, they targeted the past as well as the present. The former Yugoslav republics of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina are full of grim examples.

In Serb-held parts of Bosnia, almost all mosques have been destroyed. In the Serb-dominated town of Banja Luka alone, 16 mosques that once stood as mute and elegant testimony to ethnic tolerance have been leveled.

″After this war, there will be no Muslim heritage in Europe because the intention of the destroyers was not only to destroy mosques and other Muslim monuments, but to eradicate that culture,″ said Maja Razovic, a Croatian art historian.

In besieged Sarajevo, 80 percent of the 2.5 million volumes in Bosnia’s national library - a treasure for Serbs, Muslims and Croats alike - have been destroyed by shelling.

Still-incomplete lists of wrecked or damaged buildings being compiled by all sides in the conflict include more than 1,000 mosques, 483 Roman Catholic churches, 470 Serbian Orthodox churches and two synagogues.

Shelling, shooting and torching also also have destroyed or damaged at least 722 other historically significant structures.

Some of the churches, mosques, monasteries, castles and museums were on world heritage lists. Many were looted of their precious contents.

Among the notable casualties: medieval structures of priceless beauty in the Croatian port of Dubrovnik; a 16th-century Aladza mosque in Foca, south of Sarajevo; the Serb monastery complex of Zitomislici near Capljina in southwestern Bosnia-Herzegovina; a 16th-century Orthodox church and library of medieval manuscripts in the central Croatian town of Pakrac.

Dubrovnik, the jewel of the Adriatic, came under indiscriminate fire from the former Yugoslav army. Dubravka Zvrko of the town’s Restoration Bureau said seven palaces and two other important buildings burned.

″The Doge Palace from 13th and the Sponza Palace from the 16th century were also damaged by shrapnel, as well as the synagogue and the Serb Orthodox church building,″ Zvrko said.

In the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar, which fell to local Serbs and the Yugoslav army after months of siege, fighting destroyed the Eltz Chateau Museum. Exhibits allegedly were taken to Serbia.

Slobodan Mileusnic, curator of the Serbian Orthodox Church museum, listed 156 churches destroyed and 169 damaged. He said 145 monasteries and other places of religious significance also were damaged or ruined.

All sides share the resulting pain, but one Croatian art historian suggested the pain is shaded with hope.

″Two parallel lines always exist in human civilization, one which creates and the other which destroys,″ said Radovan Ivancevic. ″But there will be always more creation than destruction in this world.″

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