Aleppo can look to Mostar for healing

The carnage taking place in Aleppo, Syria, and reported daily in the news led several readers of my Gazette column to wonder whether I think recovery is ever possible from such destruction?

They were reflecting on my experience of surviving World War II in Budapest, Hungary, the scene of one of the hardest fought street-battles in Eastern Europe that left the city, often called the "Pearl of the Danube" in ruins.

But I assume, to find an answer to this question it is much better to draw a parallel between the history of Mostar, in Bosnia, and Aleppo.

To Carol Negus-Rosenfeld of Williamsburg who for 18 years served as president and CEO of the Richmond-based prestigious Council for America's First Freedom, and later become the founder and president of Bridging Boundaries International. The rebuilt Mostar Bridge became the inspiration for launching her organization.

The original Mostar Bridge was one of the world's most historic bridges. It spanned the River Neretva, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, once part of Yugoslavia. The bridge was built during the Ottoman Empire and stood for 429 years. It was proclaimed a World Heritage site.

hen, in 1993, during the Balkan wars, it was destroyed.

After the war, with the help of UNESCO, the World Bank and the City of Mostar, it was rebuilt and has become the symbol of the healing process that is taking place in this ethnically divided city.

Negus-Rosenfeld, who last summer led a contingent of American students to Mostar to participate in a workshop organized by Bridging Boundaries International, responded to the question of whether she sees a parallel between the history of Mostar during the Balkan wars and the current situation in Aleppo, said:

"I will tell you that in Mostar, the east side which is primarily Muslim, was heavily damaged, where the other side which is primarily Croat and Catholic was not at all. The Croatians really led the bombardment.... The famous Mostar Bridge was basically gone and a simple rope bridge was put in its place.... I actually, walked across that bridge."

She continued, "The way I tried to help with the reconciliation was thought the workshop with students that we started in 2002. Most of the students had never crossed the river to go to the other side. At the end of the workshop, the parents got involved and brought food for an ending celebration. So, when it comes to reconciliation in Aleppo, start with the children."

In a 2013 interview with the Gazette, Negus-Rosenfeld said: "I began Bridging Boundaries International with the goal of overcoming age-old discriminations and cultural conflicts that continue to be passed down through generations, particularly between Bosnians, mostly Muslims, and Croats mostly Catholics, inhabiting Mostar."

Reflecting on her latest visit to that city, Negus-Rosenfeld said," My experience in Mostar this summer was a great success with the workshop attended by 18 students. The facilitators, who were once participants, have been doing a superb job. In addition to lectures and classroom work, we had luncheons and dinners with the students and their parents."

I asked Negus-Rosenfeld whether her organization intends to extend its reach beyond Bosnia?

"Unfortunately, we are not going beyond Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mostar is actually in Herzegovina. That is a bone of some contention and we were often taken to task from some participants for using Bosnia to identify Mostar's location. But this is the entity that most in the U. S. recognize."

Shatz, a Williamsburg resident, is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com

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