Bosnia's oldest and most prestigious cultural institutions begin to close doors

AP and Ahram Online, Wednesday 11 Jan 2012

Bosnia's cultural heritage is under threat as ethnic tensions lead to neglect

At the end of December 2011, Bosnia's oldest and most prestigious cultural institutions begun closing their doors, one after another. A key reason for the closings is the failure by political leaders of the country's Serb, Croat and Bosniak peoples to agree on what to do with Bosnia's shared historical and cultural heritage, and whether to even preserve it.

The heating in Bosnia's Historical Museum was cut off and its doors closed to the public. Despite not having received salaries for the past six months, its employees continued to work to try to shield its 400,000 historical artefacts from the elements.

The Bosniak-Croat region announced on Friday, 6 January that it will pay €25,000 to cover the bills, but added this will not solve the long-term problem.

Bosnian Serbs, in particular, oppose giving the central government control over the cultural sites, with their leaders often insisting that Bosnia is an artificial state and that each of the country's ethnic groups has its own heritage.

Bosniaks, meanwhile, insist that safeguarding the shared history of the Bosnian people is one way to keep the country unified instead of permanently splitting it the way many Bosnian Serbs would want.

Many other Bosnian cultural institutions face similar problems. Founded by Bosnian state authorities at different stages of the country's turbulent history, the top seven cultural institutions were left without a guardian at the end of Bosnia's 1992-95 inter-ethnic war.

The National Library is threatened to close its doors any time soon; the National Gallery shut down last summer.

Ethnically divided Bosnia has no culture ministry on state level and the political leaders of the country's Serb, Croat and Bosniak peoples can't agree on what to do with their common historical and cultural heritage.

"The National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina was founded in 1888 and is the oldest of the modern cultural and scientific institutions of Western type in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The initial idea to establish a museum dates back to 1850. However, nearly four decades were to elapse before its establishment, during which two empires ruled Bosnia and Herzegovina – Ottoman rule gave way in 1878 to Austro-Hungarian administration. The construction was completed in 1913 and the Museum was open to the public on 4 October that year. The complex, which remained for many years the only purpose-built museum in the former Yugoslavia, still houses the National Museum to this day," according to the museum's website.

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