Politicization in Public Space in Bosnia-Herzegovina

    • Belgrade 2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Dilia Zwart, Independent Researcher, Brussels, Belgium / Harvard College, Cambridge, USA


    For centuries, the city Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina has charmed residents and visitors alike. Positioned on both halves of the captivatingly turquoise Neretva River, the city boasts an Ottoman era bridge called the Stari Most, famously reconstructed after suffering demolition during the brutal 1990s wars. The phases of Mostar’s transformations over the centuries are apparent in the cityscape, with Ottoman, Hapsburg, and Yugoslav influences, in addition to the still visible bullet holes from the war and the areas of the city now renovated by international funds. These parts of the city are not only testaments to the rich cultural history of Mostar, but have become politicized and appropriated by varying forces in the aftermath of the 1990s. For ethno-national elites, the city has become a map to be demarcated by religious and ethnic symbols. For international actors, Mostar is a symbol of a multicultural past and hope for an integrated future. Citizens are caught between the contesting projects of ethno-national and international actors, and attempt to influence the shape and structure of the city through civil society or informal activism. This paper focuses on one public space that is simultaneously an NGO and a cafe, thus fusing the international and the local, built in a site destroyed during the war and reconstructed by youth activists to be an inclusive site of artistic development and active citizenship. At Abrasevic young people converge to both discuss and celebrate their city. Coffee drinking, a popular national pastime, is the incentive that brings people together to engage in public discourse. The NGO aspect of Abrasevic aims to engage young people in the reforms of the city. Here, debates about identity and citizenship take place as young people strive to find common ground. In the context of national and cultural fragmentation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the appropriation of space in Mostar and the conversations that converge around this phenomenon illuminate how young people place themselves within the polarizing forces in their country.