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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 July, 2004, 01:23 GMT 02:23 UK
Celebrations symbolise Mostar's hopes
By Nick Hawton
BBC, Mostar

As darkness descended, the diver climbed onto the edge of the bridge, flaming torches held in each hand.

A man dives from the bridge at Mostar
The spectacular diving display revived an old Mostar tradition

A moment later he was plunging the 25 metres down into the rushing waters of the Neretva River. The Mostar Bridge was finally open.

It was a night of spectacular celebration marking the rebirth of one of the Balkans' most famous historical landmarks the Stari Most or "Old Bridge" of Mostar.

Hundreds of VIPs gathered on the banks of the river to watch an evening of music, and dance, culminating in a fireworks display above the new bridge.

"It's a great day for my city and my country," said Adi Fejzic, a Muslim and an English lecturer at the local university.

Bitter fighting

"I'm very glad that the bridge has been rebuilt. It's a great symbol of our city," said Damir Sopta, a Catholic Croat who works in a local bank.

When we hate in this valley, we really hate, but when we love we really love... The hate is gradually passing
Former soldier

Both men were childhood friends but ended up fighting on separate sides during the war. Today, they are sharing a coffee in a bar in the centre of Mostar.

The original bridge was destroyed on 9 November 1993, during the bitter fighting between Mostar's Muslims and Croats.

More than $13m has been spent on rebuilding the 16th Century bridge and surrounding buildings. Traditional methods have been used and the stone has been taken from the same quarry used nearly 500 years ago.

"The reopening of the bridge symbolises the miraculous progress Bosnia has made since the end of the war," said the chief international envoy to Bosnia during his opening ceremony speech.

But while many welcome the return of the bridge, there is still a belief that Mostar is far from a united city.

'Hate is passing'

"It will take another 20 years before we are like we used to be before the war. The war caused so much damage, so many people died, so many buildings were destroyed. The wounds are still very fresh," says Damir Sopta.

The destroyed Mostar bridge
The single arched bridge, built in 1566, was destroyed in 1993

"Let's not kid ourselves, real progress has been made in this city but there's still much to do. Let's hope the bridge will bring more tourism and much needed money to the city. That will really help in the reconciliation between the people," says Murray McCullough from the European Commission in Mostar.

As the opening ceremony came to a close, the wind began to blow through the Neretva valley and, in the distance, lightning flashed across the mountains.

As one former soldier told me on my trip to Mostar: "When we hate in this valley, we really hate. But when we love we really love. The hate is gradually passing."

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen
"Escaping the past will take many more years of hard work"

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