Chapter 4: The Bruce Lee statue in Mostar: ‘heritage from below’ experiments in a divided city
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Since the Bosnian Wars (1992–95), the city of Mostar has been divided into two sides, East and West, which are dominated, respectively, by residents commonly defined as Bosniaks (Muslims) and Bosnian Croats (Catholics). The Yugoslavian war has left an indelible mark on the physical space of the city, leaving behind ruined residential areas, destroyed religious objects, bombed statues and empty squares. As such, Mostar has become the most challenging (and expensive) Bosnian project undertaken by many state and non-state actors, who aimed at rebuilding and reuniting the war-torn city. This chapter focuses on the ways in which non-institutional actors constructed a different idea of cultural heritage in contrast to the over-politicized idea of heritage that was dominant in the state narratives after the wars. It looks in particular at one exemplary case: the Bruce Lee statue, erected in 2004 by the members of the local non-profit Mostar Urban Movement, in order to promote the figure of this Chinese-American Hollywood martial arts movie star, whose films were very popular among the youth in the last decades of Yugoslavia. They envisioned the statue as a symbol of common values and shared taste among individuals of all different ethnic and religious backgrounds in Mostar and, as such, as a symbol of togetherness and community in the divided city. Despite the fact that the statue was welcomed by many city dwellers from both sides, it had a very short fate – a few days after being erected, the monument was vandalized and, consequently, removed. The chapter thus reflects on the ways in which and through which heritage from below is produced and practised by local actors in this context. More specifically, the following questions are asked: What makes the ‘heritage from below’ so vulnerable and unsustainable in contested cities? In what ways and contexts can ‘heritage from below’ be better mobilized for reconciliatory existence in contested cities?

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