Bridging the gaps in a deeply divided city

LOCAL HEROES: Sir Martin Garrod
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Mostar had its municipal elections on 30 June, the only such poll in Bosnia so far. Since then, it has been trying to agree on the two top officials, to begin the process of reuniting the city. Incredibly, last week, the two former warring sides agreed to appoint one mayor, a Croat, Ivan Prskalo, and one deputy, a Muslim, Safet Orucevic.

It is an important beginning; Mostar, where the internecine fighting was among the most bitter, is now the vanguard of peace-building.

Much of the credit goes to the European Union special envoy, Sir Martin Garrod. Perhaps it is the heat, but Sir Martin, 61, looks ascetic, ecclesiastical, almost delicate. Not at all someone you would imagine swinging, Tarzan- style, through the Royal Marines' commando course, although, as their former commandant general, he undoubtedly passed it. Nor would you necessarily imagine him as their champion pistol shot, in the 1950s.

When Sir Martin speaks, people from both local sides listen. They would never admit it, and certainly not to a foreigner, but both factions respect him. The fact the local press has avoided its usual hysterical attacks is proof enough of his unusual status. Sir Martin, for his part, turns the macho ethos common to this part of the world to his advantage.

Announcing the results of the mayoral elections last week, he said, pointedly: "Leadership in these discussions doesn't just include sticking to your position [but] includes the courage to make concessions to bridge gaps". Compromise is macho, okay?

Sir Martin and his small staff are all employed by the eastern Adriatic unit of the foreign office, and were seconded to run the EU Administration in Mostar (EUAM). Previously, Sir Martin spent four months in Mostar in 1993 and was head of the European Community Monitoring Mission (ECMM) in Bosnia-Herzegovina. His knowledge of the country, his reputation, and his interests - his younger daughter is married to a Russian - made him an obvious choice to take charge of Mostar two years ago, on 23 July 1994.

"It's been very difficult over the last few weeks", he admitted. Almost every practical problem in Mostar is political - even the rebuilding of bridges over the fast-flowing Neretva in its deep gorge.

Only one of the five bridges has been permanently rebuilt, as a symbolic link between east and west Mostar. The other four link Muslims with Muslims or Croats with Croats, and investment in any one implies favour to one community or the other.

Arguments also halted a 12m German mark (pounds 5m) project to restore power using a hydro-electric facility at Salakovac, to the north. The "Bosniacs", or Muslims, proved intractable, and the DM12m was cancelled.

The EUAM mission was to finish in July, but has been extended to the end of the year. By then, the aim is to hand over to a "fully stable, unified administration".

"In spite of the many problems, setbacks, frustrations, there has been progress," said Sir Martin. "I never dreamt I would see women and children walking down the boulevard that was the confrontation line ... Although people - the European nations - get fed up and frustrated at the seemingly intractable nature of the problem, it's only two years since the shooting stopped".

Christopher Bellamy