Urbicide: A Tale of Acid, Racism and War Crimes

By: Zarith Pineda, Founder of Territorial Empathy

Originally written March 9, 2020

“It was the attack of a madman who throws acid in a beautiful woman’s face and promises her a beautiful face in return,” was how former mayor of Belgrade and architect Bogdan Bogdanović described the maniacal delusion to destroy Vukovar, Sarajevo, and Mostar. Ancient cities whose cultural sites wove a tapestry of diversity and liberalism contradicted the sectarian and nationalistic Bosnian War of the early nineties. Bogdanović claimed the bombardments were “intentionally aimed at object[s] of extraordinary, even symbolic beauty.” A beauty violently taken, evaporating with it millennia of precious artifacts narrating a story of peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Jews, Orthodox and Catholics. The incomprehensible cultural loss of patrimony as a result of the said assault resulted in the creation and proliferation of the term “urbicide” or as Mayor Bogdanović put it, “the intentional attack on the human and inert fabric of the city with intent of destroying the civic values embodied within it – the very spaces for interaction where cultures are generated and shared.”

Postcard depicting the Bridge of Mostar before War (Left) Destruction November 1993

As Americans we fundamentally understand the notion that places embody civic values.

While we may not have the same sense of mourning for the Bridge of Mostar, a breathtaking example of Islamic architecture commissioned in the 16th century by Suleiman the Magnificent, we can conjure images of places that embody American values. Take for instance the National Mall, a familiar backdrop for many of the movements that shaped America. We can clearly place Martin Luther King, Jr. in front of the Lincoln Memorial delivering his powerful “I Have a Dream” speech. Or perhaps images of anti-war protesters, the aids quilt, and/or historic inaugurations come to mind. My own instinctive association with the area includes a sea of hot pink hats worn by millions of women coming together for the 2016 Women’s March defiantly marching past the White House and Capitol Building calling for gender equity.