Symbol of hope in troubled land

JOURNALISM is not the glamorous pursuit many non-hacks seem to imagine, but it can have its perks.Some of the most memorable and enjoyable assignments of my career were a number of trips to Yugoslavia in the mid-1980s.

JOURNALISM is not the glamorous pursuit many non-hacks seem to imagine, but it can have its perks.

Some of the most memorable and enjoyable assignments of my career were a number of trips to Yugoslavia in the mid-1980s.

On the first of these, I was the only reporter among a group of travel agents. We were guests of the Croatian tourist board, whose aim was to assure us that the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl hadn't made the entire Soviet bloc a no-go area.

At that time Yugoslavia hardly seemed part of the Soviet bloc at all. True, every shop, bar or hotel - and, from what I saw, most ordinary people's homes - had the obligatory portrait of Tito on the wall. But there seemed to be general agreement that the one-time leader of wartime resistance had succeeded in creating a kindly form of communism.


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A communism that managed to keep Moscow happy - just - while also being friendly enough with the West to enjoy the cash boost of mass tourism.

A communism that appeared to have made one cheerful, progressive country out of the old uneasy neighbours of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and the rest.

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We hardly even knew the names then.

Six years after the great man's death, there was still unease about where the country he had made would go without him.

But there seemed little enough hint of the cataclysm that was to come. Or was that just me being naive, seeing and hearing only what my charming hosts wanted me to see and hear?

I wonder now, as I have often wondered in the intervening years, what became of those charming hosts.

I wonder too what became of the string of smart new hotels that were then springing up all along Yugoslavia's bright and beautiful Adriatic coast.

Their eager, optimistic builders obviously had no idea that within just three or four years they would be plunged into the horrors of war.

On my next visit, I made a glorious trip from Split, on the Croatian coast, to the magical town of Mostar. The old marble bridge there over the narrow gorge of the river Neretva was one of the most beautiful structures I have seen.

Mostar itself, with its mosques, minarets and old-fashioned little shops was a jewel.

It seemed, in a way, a world apart from cosmopolitan Split - but it was only a day-trip by bus, and you never noticed the point on the road where you crossed from Croatia into Bosnia.

Today that point is an international border-crossing. In between times, it has been a frontier for war.

I was reminded of these things this week with the opening of the rebuilt Mostar bridge. The original 16th-century structure was destroyed by shelling in 1993.

The bridge itself may matter less than the 4,000 Muslims who were butchered in the city during the bloody 1990s, but its reopening is a poignant symbol of their city and their country's rebirth.

When I visited Mostar in 1987, it was a town slightly larger than Ipswich - though as a visitor it felt smaller, perhaps because its historic centre was quite compact.

More than two thirds of its 120,000 population then were Muslim. Today, it is down to a population of 100,000, of whom only around a third are Muslims. That too is poignant.

SHOULD the FA sack Sven Goran Eriksson for having a secret affair with a secretary? The short answer is no.

They should sack him for being a dull, mediocre, negative manager.

People in other countries look on in disbelief at Britain's - or at least the British media's - obsession with the private (i.e. sex) lives of public figures.

What has Sven's choice of bed partner got to do with his ability at his job? Nothing.

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