Bosnian City's Unique Statue Choice: Bruce Lee

The ethnically divided Bosnian town of Mostar is planning to put up a statue of kung fu legend Bruce Lee. Veselin Gatalo, president of the organization Urban Movement Mostar, says Lee is a symbol the whole community could rally behind; one of "loyalty, friendship, skill, and justice." Robert Siegel talks with Gatalo about the unusual choice for a public monument.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Back in the 1980s and '90s, the city of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina was a scene of civil war between the Catholic Croats on the west side of town and the Muslim Bosniacs on the east side. The two groups co-exist today, but as you can imagine, it's hard to find symbols that unite them, which brings us to Veselin Gatalo, the president of Urban Movement Mostar, a group that has received permission from the municipal government to erect a statue.

And, Mr. Gatalo, I'd like you to tell our audience who is depicted in the statue that seems to have won approval across communal lines in Mostar.

Mr. VESELIN GATALO (President, Urban Movement Mostar): It's a statue to Bruce Lee.

SIEGEL: We're talking about Bruce Lee, the kung fu actor.

Mr. GATALO: That's a hero from our childhood. That's pretty clear--even your childhood. It will be in bronze. And it's not monument to one actor, not monument to China. That's monument to idea of universal justice, one idea having that justice, knowledge, honesty, good intentions can fight against corruption, evil, ignorance. And that's the reason we make that monument.

SIEGEL: And in the statue, in the statue of Bruce Lee, what is he doing? What do we see the great kung fu actor doing?

Mr. GATALO: Look, he'll be in defending position. If you know judo, it will be some kind of oji(ph) dachi with hands (technical difficulties) defending position turned to the north.

SIEGEL: Turned to the north.

Mr. GATALO: We have to be very careful with that things, you know. Doesn't (unintelligible) be turned to the east, west, Croats or to the Bosniacs.

SIEGEL: Are you saying that if the statue faced west, then the Croats might take offense that he's defending against them, and if it faced east, the Bosnians might take...

Mr. GATALO: Yes, yes. That's what I meant.

SIEGEL: So if he faces north then, he's in sort of a neutral position with respect to the...

Mr. GATALO: Yes, indeed.

SIEGEL: ...people of Mostar. After all of those years of war in Herzegovina and in Bosnia and, before that, in Croatia, I'm surprised that one would imagine a statue to Gandhi, to someone who didn't fight at all. It seemed, you know, a little bit more, you know, pacifistic than--granted, Bruce Lee is defensive in your pose, but he was a martial artist, yes?

Mr. GATALO: Our hero is not aggressive, you know. He was a highly educated man. He didn't take any narcotics or something like that. And that idea of universal justice, fight for justice, is very important to Mostar. Mostar is full of in--just like Sarajevo and whole Bosnia-Herzegovina (technical difficulties) full of corruption, money laundry, of breaking of human rights. Here in this country we see him as maybe stronger than that actually. And we have to show that we have many subentities; that we are not Muslims, Croats and Bosniacs. We are smokers, no smokers. I don't know. We are balding people, tall people, short people. And we have many other subentities, and one of that subentities is Bruce Lee. He is a hero from childhood of every one of us. Nobody will ask what kind of activities his people made during Second World War, First World War...

SIEGEL: (Laughs)

Mr. GATALO: ...in Turkishtine(ph). He is not Orthodox; he is not Moslem; he is not Catholic; he is not Jewish. It makes him an ideal hero for us, the Urban Movement. We have to show that we are positive.

SIEGEL: Mr. Gatalo, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Mr. GATALO: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Veselin Gatalo, who's the president of an NGO called Urban Movement Mostar, which has won approval from the government of that city in Bosnia-Herzegovina to place a statue to the late Bruce Lee, star of so many kung fu movies.

MELISSA BLOCK (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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