Hans Koschnick: a Lutheran Reconciler in Mostar

The wall behind the entrance to West Mostar's tiny Pentecostal church is pockmarked by enormous bullet holes.  "That was my father-in-law," the young believer explained.  Overpowered by wrath at the church's secretary, the parent had taken up position in the yard and fired into the building with his Kalashnikov when he spied a woman moving about between the sacks of flour. 


Violence and corruption remain daily fare in the divided city of Mostar, Herzegovina.  Though only a tiny percentage of Mostar's citizens possess a legal occupation, Croatian West Mostar's car population appears nearly as impressive as California's.


Muslim East Mostar stems from another planet.  Destruction is on par with Stalingrad or Grosny, the streets are brimming with idle pedestrians.  West Mostar's currency, the Croatian "kunar", is rejected as "fascist", police keep traffic between the two parts of the city to a bare minimum.


The energetic mayor of both Mostar sectors, the German Lutheran and long-time mayor of Bremen, Hans Koschnick, explains: "The civil war here was of manageable size: The people know who chased whom out of their flats and across the river.  They know who threw whom in jail and who shot at whom.  In such a situation, reconciliation occurs at a much, much slower pace."


Koschnick, installed as mayor by the European Community on July 23, 1994, was welcomed by a rocket attack on his hotel six weeks later.  The mayor is matter-of-fact about the affair: "I knew before I came that I would be the target of three or four terrorist groups in West Mostar.  It's clear they wanted to eliminate the European administration, but we will not give in to extortion."


The reunification of Mostar remains Hans Koschnick's primary goal.  When he departs after two years of service, he hopes that "the people of the city will once again be willing to live, work, and attend school together.  But they'll still need to spend their evenings with their own friends and families.  For now, it's too much to expect them to spend their leisure time with persons of other religions or nationalities."


The experience of World War II led Koschnick, who grew up in a Marxist family ravaged by the Nazis, to Christianity.  He has since then dedicated much of his time to reconciliation with the citizens of Poland and Israel.  His efforts in Mostar are a part of that tradition.  He admits, that "the bridge builders here stem neither from the church nor from the Muslim clergy.  That's a problem for me.  After all, we're all children of the same creation."


Dr. Bill Yoder

Berlin, March 12, 1995


Written for “The Lutheran” in Chicago, 429 words


Note from November 2021: The Lutheran and SPD-politician Hans Koschnick (1929-2016) was mayor of Bremen from 1967 to 1985; he was then a member of the German Bundestag from 1987 to 1994. He was the EU’s administrator for Mostar for two years beginning in 1994.