Cultural Policy in Bosnia Herzegovina: Experts Report (Council of Europe)

Excerpt from “Togetherness in difference: Culture at the crossroads in Bosnia Herzegovina
by Charles Landry

Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 2002 (MOSAIC project) , pp.24-26.

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The status and role of state institutions

BiH has 8 state institutions and there is great uncertainty about them, they are: The National Gallery, National Theatre, the State Museum of BiH, the National Museum of Literature, the National and University Libraries, the Library for Blind and Sight Impaired Persons and the Centre for the Protection of Cultural, Historic and Natural Heritage. Under the constitution of the former Republic of Yugoslavia these were all acknowledged as national centres. After the war the different cultural groups, who define themselves as nations have all wanted their own national cultural institutions with the Croats and Serbs asserting that the existing institutions all of which are based in Sarajevo increasingly represent Bosniacs. There is, for example, a national library and theatre for RS in Banja Luka; and the Croats in Mostar are proposing a national Croatian theatre.

In a settled political environment none of this would particularly matter as long as the difference between the claims of the state and those of the nation were clear and not conflicting. There are numerous examples of national institutions within states from the Basques to the Scots to the Sami in Finland. It is for Serbs or Croats valid if they so wish to set up national institutions, but not to claim that those institutions should represent a separate state. Currently, for example,  RS desire a separate seat at international bodies. The real problem that is apparent to everyone, but which largely remains unspoken, is that if this were allowed the process of ethnic cleansing would be seen to have won.

This leaves the question open about what to do with the eight state institutions. To ensure their credibility as representing the whole of the state their content  has to reflect the diversity of the whole of BiH, which they largely do, but would need to continue to do. Crucially also their management and employment practices would need to ensure proper representation of Serbs and Croats. Without being formulistic about it would mean that sometimes these institutions would be run be someone who happens to be a Serb or Croat. However the prime condition of their appointment, as indeed of Bosniacs, is their cultural and technical competence and not their ethnic allegiance. In essence this means trying to de-politicize cultural appointments. Once this is achieved joint financing by all cultural groups is a valid proposition and an appropriate policy. In addition it may be wise to ensure some sense of geographical spread so that places like Donja Gradina or the national parks in RS are added to the list of state institutions and paid for by RS and the Federation.

Seen so one can also conceive of a situation where there is a state cultural institution such as the state library, which has national branches in Banja Luka or Mostar. Yet the state section would then truly have to represent the cultural richness of the whole country. In the case of the library have on-going collections of Serbian and Croat books. Thus also although there is a national library in Banja Luka it would nevertheless focus too on Bosniac books, although its core specialism would be Serbian material. Once this notion is accepted the core problem that Serbs and Croats have over national representation in international bodies could be solved in that they may on occasion be that state representative.

At the time of writing Sarajevo canton provided 62% of the funding for state institutions, a situation they do not want to continue, and it has practically no contribution from anyone else; the other cantons are locked into their tiny island worlds and RS refuses to fund them until there are changes in their management. It is clear that they should not be proportionately so reliant on Sarajevo. Furthermore current funding merely ensures survival at a minimal level, essentially trying to cover salary costs. Thus they live in a strange limbo land. The paradox is that the less they do the more they survive, because they have no money to spend on programming, development or initiatives. In this sense they are not fulfilling their public function and have hardly any relationship to their audiences. An extreme example is the state museum which has no heating and so is often closed to the public. In effect the employees have little to do not through any fault of their own.


State level initiatives and policy making bodies

The lack of a state level forum to discuss cultural policy and funding powers restricts possibilities and reduces aspirations. It is difficult to create a powerful cultural vision for the country as a whole.  It means that ambitious initiatives cannot take place either in maintaining current assets such as the institutions above or Donja Gradina and the national parks in RS or in developing new ones. For example, if a review were to consider that the main cultural management  school  or  cultural  tourism  course  or  dance  academy  for  BiH  should  be  in Mostar, Bihac or Prijedor there is no mechanism by which this could be discussed, agreed and funded.  Instead  there  is  likely  to  be  duplication  in  the  longer  term,  with  each  canton replicating facilities others already have, such as a multi-purpose cultural centre or the fact that there are now three music academies for such a small country. The original one in Sarajevo with 220 students, a new one in Banja Luka with 80 students and a third in Lukavica in Serbian Sarajevo with 15 students – and this whilst music professors have disappeared, so that the youngest professor in Sarajevo is over 50 years old.

Whilst at the level of core legislation such as copyright agreement has been found, in part because there is international pressure, it will be in the optional areas that problems emerge. For example, if there were a cultural industries assessment of the country and a cluster of talent, say in crafts or music, identified in a geographical area how would that potential be maximized? The larger initiatives cannot be funded at a cantonal level nor at entity level. This means that Sarajevo which is already culturally powerful is likely to remain so, because it is the only canton that could in principle attract larger ambitious projects. These include the Soros Centre for Contemporary Arts whose innovative and radical programme might be difficult  to  stage  in  a  smaller  community  or  the  proposed  Ars  Aevi  initiative,  the contemporary arts collection that has been donated by international artists and is seeking to build a home for itself.

These issues throw up the need for top level co-ordination and ultimately for a cultural ministry – perhaps in fact called a ministry for the arts and thus a revision of Dayton. It is more effective for such a ministry to develop the overarching legislative framework and financial regime or cultural diplomacy and foreign representation of cultural interests. The fact that there has been no ministry  could be turned into an advantage by creating  a new style ministry  of culture.   Its primary roles should be:

•    To act in partnership with key stakeholders as the strategist of cultural development and national coordination, and ensuring that culture plays a full part in every aspect of BiH’s reconstruction and development.

•    To develop a comprehensive and forward-looking cultural policy in partnership andcollaboration with arts and heritage interests, the cultural industries; the Federation and RS as well as the cantons; other ministries whose work has a bearing directly or indirectly on culture such as economic development, tourism or urban planning; civil society organizations and key foundations.


Elements of such a policy might be:

•    Assessing incentives such as matching fund schemes, whereby the public sector puts in a certain amount of resources if it is matched by other funds; the blank tape levy to support the audio-visual sector; the establishment of lottery style initiatives; dedicated local hotel taxes; import customs preferences for cultural goods based on the Unesco Florence agreement pledges; export incentives whereby commerce or foreign affairs ministries support exports.

•    Establishing state wide schemes involving non-monetary incentives such as public recognition or awards and prizes for best practices.

•    Ensuring  the  taxation  regime  acts  as  an  incentive  to  greater  effectiveness  and productivity

•    Ensuring that legislative standards meet European best practice.

•    Lobbying that legislation is implemented in order to benefit the cultural sector, such as dealing with counterfeiting and other copyright infringements.

•    Exploring  joint  representation  at  festivals  or  trade  fairs  as  well  as  ensuring  that appropriate mechanisms exist to undertake international collaborations such as in film or publishing.

•    Helping develop overarching programmes to gain international support for culture.

•    Acting as a role model for BiH best practice, for example by awarding prizes for certain commonly agreed objectives.

•    Acting as advocate for culture so that it becomes an integral part of the government programmes of social and economic development and renewal.


Such a Ministry would ‘generate debate, articulate objectives, coordinate interests and instil a sense of purpose, basing its credibility on a broad overview, open dialogue and consultation, clear objectives, and the transparency of the structures, procedures and criteria it employs for funding and decision-making’. (ref: Moldova Report)

The objective is not to increase centralized powers for the sake of it and to overload any central body with many tasks, but to identify a few strategic tasks that are appropriately undertaken by a slimmed down ministry at a state level. Indeed the notion of subsidiarity, placing decision making as close to the people as possible, is clearly important for the context of BiH. Other lower tier levels then will identify activities appropriate to their level of responsibility and fit for purpose.

As the ministry idea will take time to take hold an interim  solution is to set up a cultural commission  or cultural task  force with a representative structure, but an executive group that is delegated the tasks outlined above. This will fill the gap of having no structured mechanism to share information between and within entities. Developing and updating the cultural policy National Report as an on-going process gives the task force a raison d’etre and is perhaps its first task.

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