Capital Sarajevo
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 387
Mobile Codes 61,62,63
ccTLD .ba
Currency Bosnian Convertible Mark (1EUR = 1,96 BAM)
Land Area 51,129 sq km
Population 4 million
Language Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian
Major Religion Islam, Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity

In with Nationalism, out with Culture: How Sarajevo’s Museums and Libraries Are Being Affected

By Lana Pasic

While news of Bosnian political parties’ agreement to form a government – after fourteen months without one – has been well-covered in the media, another worthy story from the capital has not received the attention that it deserves.

Disagreement based on political and ultimately ethnic lines has created an impasse in which some of Sarajevo’s leading cultural sites are being seriously affected  These include the National Museum, Historical Museum, National Art Gallery, and National and University library, all of which have been forced to close or severely curtail their operations.

No Money for Culture

Due to the country’s financial difficulties, some significant cultural and educational institutions are being forced to close down. The long lack of government, and thus budgetary allocations and payment processes, has made it impossible for them to pay either the utility bills or staff salaries. Worse, there is still no agreement regarding who should pay for these institutions’ operational costs, and whose national heritage they even represent.

An outsider might marvel at how libraries and museums can be shutting down because of financial problems, while Bosnia’s officials continue to boast the highest salaries in the region.

It seems that the problem is one of jurisdiction, as well as the lack of interest in one’s culture and heritage, if these are not seen as very nationalistic ones. Bosnia and Herzegovina has no Ministry of Culture. Both entities have their own Ministries of Culture, which are supposed to pay for the maintenance of the monuments and objects of cultural significance on their territory.

The National Museum: Solution only Temporary

However, the objects which have national importance for the country as a whole, such as the National Museum, are not included in this agreement. The proposed legislation regarding their maintenance has not yet been discussed in Parliament. At the moment, the Federation’s Ministry of Culture has agreed to pay the National Museum’s utilities and some other costs, according to the BBC. Both the representatives of the Ministry and the Museum’s Director have agreed that this is not a permanent solution and that this grant has only delayed the crisis. The financial problems will resurface in a couple of months, predicts Dnevni Avaz.

The National Museum in Sarajevo is one of the city’s historical landmarks, which houses the wealth of the diverse cultural and religious history of the country. The building itself was built during the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia.

Since its establishment, the National Museum has been home to items dating to Roman times, monuments of the Bosnian medieval kingdom and unique holdings such as the Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish manuscript made in Spain in the mid-1300s, which was even protected by the citizens of Sarajevo during the Nazi occupation of the country during the Second World War. The museum was expected to close due to unpaid electricity bills and six months delay in the employee’s salaries.

Cold Reality for the Historical Museum and National Art Gallery

The Historical Museum, which was founded in 1945 and which houses 400,000 pieces of art, documents and photographs was closed on the January 4, 2012, due to unpaid heating bills, six months of unpaid salaries and legal issues regarding the ‘ownership’ of the museum.

These financial difficulties make running of the museum and preservation of its holdings all but impossible, reported Dnevni Avaz. In a similar fashion, another cultural landmark, the beloved National Art Gallery has been closed since September 2011, due to the same difficulties, notes Sarajevo-x.

The National and University Library- Bring a Sweater

Sarajevo’s bibliophiles and students are also being frozen out. While the National and University Library is still open, it is functioning at a reduced capacity, as a result of the cuts in power and heating, according to Dnevni Avaz.

It thus cannot be expected that many readers will be using the institutions’ facilities in any meaningful way without heating in the middle of the winter. This will limit not only reading and study opportunities for citizens of the capital, but also related patterns of social and intellectual interaction related with the library.

Public Expenditures: 500,000 Euros per Hour, Being Spent Elsewhere

The news of the closure of these cultural institutions of national importance has not gone unnoticed and unlamented by Bosnian citizens. And these unfortunate developments have come at around the same time as the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a Bosnian NGO, installed a public expenditure monitor in Sarajevo, which has provided some interesting data.

According to the monitor, the Bosnian government – which was missing-in-action for the entire last year, in which the conditions that have led to the endangering of the cultural institutions were set – spends just under one million marks (about 500,000 euros) in one hour. As the expenditure clock is ticking away at 282 marks a second, the cultural institutions, one by one, are locking their doors.

The National Museum in Sarajevo has been the place to which I personally have always taken my guests and friends, regardless of whether they come from the region or from other continents, in an attempt to show them that Bosnia has more to offer than what the international media has suggested over the past two decades.

Some time ago, in our land there were leaders who built the country and who had a genuine interest in its progress. The diverse nations of Bosnia had worked towards preserving the cultural wealth of those who despite being different also inhabited the same territory. Today, those occupying the highly-paid positions in the government(s) of Bosnia and Herzegovina do not seem to share the same goals, as is clearly seen in the current closures of important centers of cultural life in the country.

Looking for More Publications?

Find articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle