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War in Mostar

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I have had some experience working in war zones. This concerned experience of post-war reconstruction in Mostar, (Bosnia-Herzegovina), and in Kabul and South Sudan. I am. of course, an architect and urban planner, and the role of people like me in physical rebuilding is obvious enough. The nature of psychological, cultural and social recovery – particularly after civil wars – was the interest of my wife, who was formerly a Children's Psychiatric Social Worker (CPSW), but more recently occupied as a support worker for refugees in Britain and a counsellor for torture victims. The connection between urban rebuilding and these softer forms of recovery is a matter of note. Our experience suggests that most people do not so much need their personal traumas to be focussed on, but rather they need practical problems to be resolved and practical needs to be met. Typical examples are a dwelling, a job, an education, food and medicine etc. In other words, people need hope for a normal, decent life. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, may drive them to focus excessively on their memory of a horrific experience, and distract them from their future. In this sense, urban reconstruction – by virtue of its concrete, practical nature – is a huge help to aid the recovery of hopeand belief in that future.

Aaron Mashansky analyses seven urban warfare situations in terms of the success and failure of reconstruction efforts. The cases concerned are the Marshall Plan for Europe, Japan, Algeria, Kuwait, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Mostar and Iraq. He sums up one of his key points as follows:

One thing that was crucial to the rebuilding process was building a relationship with the local technical elites. (In Mostar) the EUAM technical team built relationships with Christians and Moslems who fought each other for years in civil wars and continued to fire on each other even during the reconstruction phase of the project. Yarwood (said) that a fundamental part of the rebuilding was to understand the cultural and psychological perspectives of the parties at hand and base the goals of the project on their perspective. There was a need to remove the ideals or preconceptions of the donor country.

Writing in 2004, he observes, rightly or wrongly, that the failure of the Americans to focus on the perspectives of the local people in the Iraq debacle led to their lack of success in reconstruction. In his paper, he discusses the parallel with British experience in Iraq after the First World War.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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