When a country dissolves, as Yugoslavia did during the 1990s, almost nothing stays the same. Sports are no exception. I visited Bosnia-Herzegovina in the summer of 2008 and traveled to Mostar on a day trip from Sarajevo in order to see the famous Stari Most–Old Bridge. Football was a side attraction for me that day in Mostar, and thats why I could only fit in a visit HSK Zrinjski Mostar’s Bijeli Brijeg Stadium. Hopefully I’ll be back someday–perhaps for a derby–in order to also visit Velez Mostar’s Vrapcici Stadium.
I won’t go into too much history here, since it is bound to be disputed by those better versed on Bosnian history than I, but a little background is useful for understanding the significance of this particular stadium. The Bijeli Brijeg Stadium–“The White Hill” Stadium–is located on the Western bank of the Neretva River that divides the city of Mostar. The Western bank is mostly ethnically Croatian, while the Eastern bank is inhabited mainly by ethnic Bosniak Muslims. This geographic separation was solidified between 1992 and 1993 when city was under an 18 month siege; the Western side was controlled by the Croatians and many Muslims were expelled across the river to the Eastern side. It was during this siege that the Stari Most was destroyed, and that the Bijeli Brijeg became property of HSK Zrinjski Mostar–and renamed the Stadion Hrvatskog športskog kluba Zrinjski (Stadium Croatian Sport Club Zrinjski Mostar).
The 9,000 capacity stadium once belonged to Zrinjski’s rivals Velez Mostar, one of the most successful clubs from the former Yugoslavia as well as one that garnered support from all ethnic groups in the country. This cosmopolitanism made them a target for ultra-nationalist Croatians engaged in ethnic cleansing and ultimately led to their expulsion from the stadium and into the Vrapcici on the Eastern side of the city. To this day, they have not reclaimed the Bijeli Brijeg and it belongs solely to Zrinjski, as the busses parked outside the stadium clearly proclaim–Note the Croatian red and white checkers on the club’s logo below. Despite the tense political situation surrounding this stadium it’s setting is peaceful, in a valley below the rolling green hills that make Bosnia one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited.
For more information the following Wikipedia Links are helpful:
Also, in the literary realm, the Nobel Prize winning author Ivo Andric’s The Bridge on the Drina is a nice look at a town divided by a river and its ethnic identities. Although about the city of Visegrad in the pre-Yugoslavia years, much of it is still relevant to the situation in Mostar.
The Stari Most and Eastern bank, to the right:
The Stari Most and Western bank, to the right:
On the way to the stadium one can see the writing on the wall:
The Zrinjski Badge:
Just different shades of green as the pitch fades into the rolling hills above it: