Bruce Lee builds bridges in battle-scarred Bosnia

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The Independent Online

The town of Mostar, where the destruction of a celebrated 300-year-old bridge became a symbol of the war's savagery, is planning to erect a life-sized bronze statue of the late martial arts legend as a symbol of peace.

"The monument to Bruce Lee in the heart of Mostar would be a reminder of children's dreams of a more just world, where sheer force is not the value that counts, but rather the skill, speed and willpower of a man who fought for justice," said Veselin Gatalo, a local writer who helped to persuade the council to back the project.

Mostar saw some of the worst street fighting and shelling during the three-and-a-half-year war between the country's Bosniak Muslims, Croats and Serbs. Although the single-arched "Old Bridge" has been reconstructed, townfolk have remained stubbornly embedded on opposing river banks, with schools, football teams and even communal services such as rubbish collection divided along ethnic lines almost a decade after the end of the war.

But some citizens wanted a way to mark the town's better days, when its colourful ethnic make-up was a source of pride. They decided the answer was Bruce Lee, whose movies were wildly popular among the youth of former Yugoslavia, regardless of background. "I will never forget how we used to run to the cinema to watch his movies," Mr Gatalo recalled fondly. "Afterwards young Roma [Gypsy] kids, still carried away by the movie, would catch other kids in front of the cinema and beat them while others would shout, 'Give him the Karate Deathchop!'"

In fact, he says, quite a few Roma in Mostar are called Bruce Lee.

Despite some local criticism and a few raised eyebrows among Bosnia's international rulers, the statue, commissioned from a local sculptor, is due to be unveiled in November, with Lee's widow Linda invited for the occasion.