American Corner Mostar: Building Bridges Through Education

Although the City of Mostar is best-known for its graceful stone bridge and Ottoman old town, this beautiful Herzegovinian city also has 500 years of tradition as a center for books and learning.

The city’s first library was constructed in the 16th century, just about the same time as the iconic Neretva-spanning bridge.  That library had only 37 books, but the knowledge contained within those volumes was open to all.  Unfortunately, during the recent war, many of Mostar’s 32 libraries were damaged or completely destroyed. 

Last week, I had the pleasure of helping to restore one library to this city with the opening of an American Corner.  This space, located in the Mostar Gymnasium (the local equivalent of a college-prep high school), will provide access to English language books, DVDs, music, the internet, and general information about the United States for local residents.  All people are welcome to use the American Corner.

Perhaps even more importantly, this American Corner will serve as a place for meetings and dialogue.  This is especially needed in Mostar, which remains deeply divided following the war, according to Bakir Krpo, the rector of the Mostar Gymnasium.

“The wounds that Mostar suffered are still healing,” Krpo told me, adding that his school is one of the few places in Mostar -- apart from the fire station and water department -- that serves residents from both sides of the city, regardless of religious belief.  “We want to show by our example that all kids can come together.”

The U.S. Embassy provided books, DVDs, computers, and a wireless Internet router for the new American Corner.  We also paid for the space to be refurbished.  But this work would not have been possible without help from our partners, including the City of Mostar, Herzegovina-Neretva Canton, Mostar Gymnasium and United World College, which is also based in the school.  I am thankful for their dedication and efforts.

American Corner Mostar is one of seven American Corners in Bosnia and Herzegovina (the others are in Sarajevo, Zenica, Bihac, Banja Luka, Tuzla, and Doboj).  Because we think these spaces are so important for helping people here learn English and learn about American culture – not to mention as meeting places – we’re opening two additional American Corners in coming weeks in Trebinje and Brcko.

Each of the American Corners has different programs – from a children’s book club in Sarajevo to film nights in Bihac.  The new director of the American Corner in Mostar, Ivana Čuljak, already has some great new programs planned for the space, including a visit next Friday by an American officer from the Embassy.

I wish to extend an invitation to all residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina to stop by their nearest American Corner to find out what programs are planned.  We hope these places will help to deepen the friendship between the United States and Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I am optimistic that the new American Corner in Mostar will play an important role in helping to restore that city’s proud legacy of libraries and learning.

Last week, after opening the new American Corner in Mostar, I had a chance to meet with Valentina Mindoljević, director of United World College.  She summarized our hopes for this new space: “Through education and educational activities, many differences can be breached.”