Public Spaces and Conflict Transformation: From Mostar’s Old Bridge to Its United World College

Joan Davison, Jesenko Tesan


The purpose of this analysis is to offer a complementary approach to top-down ethnic conflict resolution which depends upon international organizations, peace treaties, laws, and political elites. While legal and institutional approaches can possess merit, they neglect the necessity of engaging people and rebuilding community. Further, citizens can perceive a top-down approach as coercive. This paper focuses upon an alternative approach of transformation through the construction of post-war public spaces which create places for interaction and sociability, and thereby possess healing power. We adopt the philosophy of architect Lebbeus Woods, who offered specific principles for the post-war reconstruction of Sarajevo. These guidelines included an acknowledgement of the damage and destruction, but also the necessity of community participation in rebuilding. We also accept the contentions of Keller Easterling who identified the potential coerciveness of ‘extrastatecraft’, that is structures imposed upon a community from above by the state, or from outside by international organizations. The specific focus of this research is upon Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the work of international organizations and national political leaders ended the military conflict in 1995, but still fails to reconcile the three ethnic groups to a shared future. The method is rooted in comparative political anthropology, which entails an evaluation of processes, agency, and structures, as well as an account for the emotional aspects of identity and politics. Interviews regarding conflict and reconstruction, and ethnographic observations of public spaces are employed. The work concludes that the contributions of the United World College – Mostar contrasts to the relative failure of the reconstruction of the Old Mostar Bridge partially are due to the emphasis of the former on community engagement and inclusion. The results admit the difficulty of post-conflict transformation in ethnically divided systems, but contend that both the process and outcome of community engagement in the reconstruction of public spaces facilitates reconciliation and democratization.


Bosnia and Herzegovina, conflict transformation, extrastatecraft, heterarchy, post-war reconstruction.

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