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More than six years after Banja Luka's celebrated Ferhadija mosque was dynamited and its remains carted away, the plot it used to occupy remains vacant. But reconstruction may begin soon.
While the city's remaining Muslim community would like to rebuild the landmark 16th century place of worship, Banja Luka's mayor, Djordje Umicevic, has refused to grant permission. He says that the re-building of the Ferhadija mosque would place "a hellish burden on the Dayton Peace Agreement."
In a statement issued on October 1, the mayor explained that "the Ferhadija mosque is not a national monument of any of the three nations of Bosnia, but a monument to its Turkish conquerors who treated the indigenous inhabitants of this region more cruelly than the fascists."
Yet it remains unclear whether such hard-line statements may slow the process, or only cause Umicevic to be sidelined so that he can no longer obstruct the mosque's reconstruction.
Meanwhile, Mustafa Ceric, the head of Bosnia's Islamic community, has said that he can already see the time when Serbs decide it is in their own best interest to rebuild the UNESCO-registered landmark. He even expects the Serbian Orthodox to become involved.
Work originally began on the Ferhadija mosque in 1576 under on the instruction of the Sandzak Beg Ferhat-Pasha Sokolovic. In communist times, it was considered one of Yugoslavia's national monuments and its architecture was admired by people of all ethnic origins. Nevertheless, it was blown up May 6, 1993.
In addition to the Ferhadija, Banja Luka's 14 other mosques were demolished in the same way between April and October 1993, with all trace of their existence removed. The 4,000 or so Muslims who remain in Banja Luka today use the offices of the Islamic community, which is by the site of the Ferhadija, for religious services.
Bosnia's Commission for the Protection of National Monuments, an agency established under the Dayton Peace Agreement, added the Ferhadija to the list of national monuments in the middle of last year. It has also told the Banja Luka authorities to protect the site--although now it is only dirt and rocks.
At the beginning of 1996 Bosnia's Islamic community made a formal complaint to the country's Human Rights Commission in which they charged the Republika Srpska authorities with preventing Muslims from practising their religion in accordance with the European Convention on human rights.
Following this complaint, Republika Srpska was ordered to "enable immediately the Muslims in Banja Luka freely to express their religion on the previous sites, to secure temporary premises for the Muslims to pray until the mosques are rebuilt, and to refrain from further destroying the remnants of the demolished mosques." The order has been largely been ignored.
Just over a year ago, the Banja Luka's authorities intervened to prevent the burial of the city's mufti on the site of the demolished Ferhadija mosque. Supporters of mayor Umicevic's party, the Serbian Party for Krajina and Posavina, gathered to ensure that the mufti's funeral could not take place.
As a result, the Human Rights Commission found in June this year that members of Bosnia's Islamic community "have been discriminated against, unable to enjoy their right to freedom of faith and the peaceful enjoyment of the site." It ordered Republika Srpska "urgently to issue the Islamic community with the necessary licenses for the reconstruction of the seven demolished mosques on their previous sites."
Umicevic issued his latest, uncompromising statement just when the Republika Srpska government, headed by Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, was supposed to respond to the Human Rights Commission with an explanation of how it intend to carry out the various orders.
Political analysts in Banja Luka interpret Umicevic's outburst as a calculated ploy to undermine Dodik and his government. The Town Planning Ministry will probably be obliged to issue the Islamic community with requested approvals and Umicevic and other nationalists will thus be able to accuse Dodik of betraying Serb interests.
Branko Peric is editor of the Alternative Information Network in Banja Luka.
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