Mostar Bridge: SFOR lifts the first stone
by David Taylor
First published in SFOR Informer #20, October 1, 1997
Mostar - The first three-ton block of the destroyed Old Mostar Bridge came to the surface of the Neretva River exactly as planned during a ceremony held September 29 in Mostar.
Against a backdrop of the shattered remains of the bridge, Alija Izetbegovic, Bosnian member of the BiH Joint Presidency, Eric K. Shinseki, Commander of the SFOR and Maj. Gen. Christian R. Delange, Commander Multinational Division South East, other dignitaries and SFOR soldiers of many nations watched as soldiers of the Hungarian Engineering Contingent began to winch up the first of the pieces of bridge.
Every available vantage point for the moving historical moment was taken up by citizens of Bosnia and Hercegovina, many of whom had travelled long distances to be there.
Security was provided by MND-SE in a colourful mix of the uniforms of this nation-rich multinational division.
One month of hectic planning and construction by SFOR Engineers came to fruition on a beautiful sunny afternoon in the war-ravaged city of Mostar as the first glimpse of local limestone rippled to the surface of the river - the first stage in a reconstruction process that had been hailed in speeches by Izetbegovic and Delange as symbolic of the whole reconstruction process encapsulated in the Terms of the Dayton Peace Agreement.
The stone had lain under the river since the bridge was destroyed in November of 1993. SFORs decision to become involved in the reconstruction process had meant intense work for the HEC and will not be completed until all the recoverable stones - some weighing up to 30 tons - have all been lifted and placed to dry on a specially constructed platform on the riverbank. The actual rebuilding of the historical monument will be undertaken by civic engineering companies.
The lifting of the stone involved a co-ordinated movement of the pontoon winch-bearing structure through the use of cables and a boat. The stone was literally floated upstream and then lifted ashore by an Hungarian crane. The lifting from the bank up to the platform was carried out by a French Engineer crane provided specially for the day. Applause from all along the riverside erupted as the stone finally landed on its temporary home. Music from the fanfara of the Italian Bersaglieri broke out and soon found itself competing with jubilant traditional local music and a colourful swirling of boys and girls doing traditional dancing in celebration of the moment.
A BBC journalist who had stood almost on the same spot reporting the destruction of the bridge four years ago was visibly moved by now standing here reporting the resurgence of the ancient structure. An SFOR translator, born in Mostar but now based in Sarajevo told how her father used to entertain tourists by diving from the bridge. She said she could hardly believe she was being photographed along with SFOR soldiers working to lift the bridge, as her city symbolically moved along the road to reconstruction.