In the last decade of the 20th century, the newly recognized country of Bosnia and Herzegovina was under attack by two neighbors, intent on destroying it and dividing the spoils between them. Croatia attacked from the north and west, making Mostar, the provincial capital of Herzegovina, the center of their assault. From the east, Serbian forces attacked, focusing on the national capital, Sarajevo. Both enemies of the fledgling nation claimed that the attacks were made by local militia, but it was clear that the materials of war and its strategies came from the two largest countries of the former Yugoslavia. The sieges of Mostar and Sarajevo, which lasted for years, and other towns such as Srebrenica, were resisted by the undersupplied armies of the small nation, at a great cost in lives, many of them civilians.
It was during this dark time that I imagined a defensive wall that could be constructed to protect Bosnia from the invaders. Aerial warfare had been effectively banned by the European powers and the United States, through the creation of a no-fly zone over the entire country, enforced by NATO fighter aircraft. The war was fought, then, on the ground, in an almost Medieval manner, though with tanks and artillery. The idea of the wall was not to build an armed fortification in order to repel invaders, but rather to make it function as a sponge, and absorb them.
The wall would be built very high, with a vast labyrinth of interlocking interior spaces, creating a structurally indeterminate system that would be extremely difficult to bring down by demolition charges or artillery fire. Tanks and mobile artillery could not be brought through the wall. Foot soldiers could not climb over the wall in large numbers, but would have to go through it. Once inside, they would become lost. Many would not be able to escape. They would either die, or, as it were, move in, inhabiting the spaces, even forming communities. Local farmers from the Bosnian side, could arrange to supply food and water, on a sale or barter basis. In time, they would move in, too, to be close to their market. Families would be living together. The wall would become a city.
Of course, it was a fantasy. There was not enough time to build such a wall, even if there had been the will, and not enough metal and industrial scrap-yards to supply the materials. I never proposed that it should in any way be realized, as I did with other reconstruction projects during and after the war. However, as a metaphor and even an architectural strategy, it has some value. Walls can be an armature for transformation, an instrument not for dividing and separating, but for bringing opposing ideas and people together. It all depends on the design, the architecture of a wall. Later, in my proposals for La Habana Vieja and The Wall Game, I pursued this idea at a less fantastic and more realistic, realizable scale.
The post-Cold War world, breaking into pieces:
Presidents Tudjman (Croatia) and Milosevic (Serbia)—the architects of destruction:
Sarajevo’s embattled position:
The wall of the Bosnia Free State: