Institutions in no man’s land as a collateral damage of the openness of the Dayton Peace Agreement

Author: Muharem Bazdulj, a journalist and writer (Sarajevo, August 31, 2012)

It is obvious that the causes of the current crisis are political. Seven cultural institutions “of national importance” in Bosnia and Herzegovina  (B&H) have found themselves in a ‘no man’s land’ as collateral damage of the Dayton Peace Agreement, due to its openness to different interpretations. If we were joking, we could claim in this context that the Dayton Agreement (and the B&H Constitution as its inherent part) is an open work – in the sense of how Umberto Eco had used the phrase. That openness was the reason for the permanent political crisis which has engulfed B&H for the past seventeen years, as well as caused the agony of the seven previously mentioned institutions.

The consequences of this crisis are difficult to estimate, and it is even more difficult to overestimate them. A separate text could be written for each of the seven institutions, analyzing in detail the importance of each one. The most obvious things are often the most difficult to explain. After all, what is a country without the National and University Library? The war destruction of Vijećnica (then the B&H National Library) is one of the emblematic images in the history of the last decade of 20th century Europe. Some B&H intellectuals recently compared the problems that the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sarajevo, Ars Aevi, had faced, with the destruction of Vijećnica. Even if we forsook the absurdity of that hyperbole, it is strange how this Ars Aevi problem generated much more public attention than has the two-decade-long problem of the National and University Library as an institution. The same can be said about the other six institutions of “national importance.” It appears that everybody has become numb to their agony.

As far as the abstract of opinions of these institutions’ employees is concerned (“The Crisis of the Cultural Institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Causes, Implications and Solution Modalities”), I consider it to be precise, clear and descriptive. From my outsider’s point of view, I wouldn’t add or take anything away from it.

With respect to the modalities for the solution of this crisis, we should keep in mind that it has been proven over and over again that the political status quo in B&H could be prolonged indefinitely. In an ideal situation, the issue of these institutions should have been one of the priorities in all scenarios concerning the constitutional changes, meaning that all parties which declare themselves as pro-Bosnian should tie the problems of these institutions with the “package” of other problems that must be solved in the first “phase” of constitutional reforms.

The principle is simple – these institutions should be under the authority of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, so long as there is no Ministry of Culture at the state level. However, if we know (as we do know) that all the former attempts of the constitutional reforms have consistently failed, this idea could be thought of as a utopian optimism in terms of daily politics. With this situation in mind, it should be considered that the funding for these institutions could be provided by the lower levels of the government – at least temporarily.

Although such a solution could be perceived as degrading and unpatriotic by the B&H public, we should point to one example which shows that it does not necessarily need to be regarded as such. The National Theatre in Sarajevo is financed out of the Sarajevo Canton’s budget, and regardless of that, it is still treated as the national theatre, analogue, to some extent, with the position of the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb. Naturally, that is not an ideal situation; however, it is better than the continuing agony and possible complete collapse. 

When the initiatives of the institutions themselves are concerned, their hands are tied in many respects. For me, the attacks on the heads of these institutions which claim that they are “managerially incompetent,” are wrong. Everywhere in the world, institutions of this character can function only if the majority of their financial needs are covered out of the governmental budget funds.

One – and not the smallest one – of the dangers for these institutions is the possibility that the B&H public might grow accustomed to their predicament, and due to its numbness, believe that the current conditions are actually normal. For that reason, the very existence of the platform CULTURESHUTDOWN.NET is far from insignificant. As long as it keeps the problem of these institutions continually visible, the “radar” of the public critical attention will register it as well.


Muharem Bazdulj

Muharem Bazdulj is a journalist, interpreter and author from Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was born in Travnik. He graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy in Sarajevo – Department of English Language and Literature. His works have been published in various journals and newspapers, such as: Abraham, Dani, Iza, Lica, Oslobođenje, Kolaps, Divan, Reporter, Vreme, Feral Tribune, Novi Omanut, Pontes, Zarez, Bal Canis, Forum, Naše Pismo and World Press Review. He is a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Theory, Culture and Visual Arts Tvrđa (Zagreb). His books have been translated into German, English and Polish, while his stories and essays to a dozen more languages. He lives and works in Sarajevo.

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