Society in Bosnia and Herzegovina still stuck in the mud of primordialism

Author: Damir Nikšić, artist (Sarajevo, 28 August 2012)

The cause of the crisis of seven cultural institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina has its roots in the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina did not have a government to adopt the budget for 2011 for a period of 18 months. Consequently, the crisis of government reflected itself on those cultural institutions which had national attributes, and which were funded out of the state budget, rather than entity or cantonal budgets. In other words: the crisis of the BiH cultural institutions was an inherent part of the crisis of government at the state level.

It is a good thing that all of us, some less, some more, have addressed this problem, some concerning the issue of management and self-financing of these institutions, and some concerning the issue of concept, role and general social and political importance of these institutions. If one has carefully watched and analyzed things, relations and events, one could have observed and realized on the basis of this case to what extent the state of Bosni

a and Herzegovina really does exist or not, to what extent it is functional or dysfunctional, how it manifests itself, which further prompts questions about whether it should exist, whether it would  be possible for it to cease to exist altogether. Assuming its reality one must still ask what the state’s role and significance is, and, most importantly, what the role, function and significance of the city of Sarajevo is as the administrative, cultural and educational center of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

When the cultural institutions themselves are concerned, the problem does not really lie in their financing. The problem lies in their conception, and the perception of them, which reflects on  their functioning even when the salaries, meals, heating and all other costs for staffing them are covered. The problem, therefore, lies not only in that employees do not know what to do, or do not know what they are doing, or do not know how to do their jobs, but lies in the fact that many of us do not know what the very purpose of these institutions is, i.e. what their function is in the present climate.

On the basis of what we have heard so far, we could conclude that many believe that these institutions are only symbolic, that they have a symbolic value, i.e. that cultural institutions are themselves cultural monuments and that they have no practical value besides, perhaps, a touristic one. Yes, tourism is exactly what many loudly stated as an argument for the existence of museums and galleries, even as a possible source of self-financing. This cultural-touristic vision and approach by the city of Sarajevo where the national cultural institutions are concerned reeks, on the one hand, of the old colonial cultural policy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which founded some of these institutions, while, on the other hand, it bears this primordial, folkloric trait of the souvenir-like cultural-artistic view that would imply that we, native Bosnians, possess a built-in knowledge of our own cultural heritage that is in our genes and that is defined by our birth. Thus, what is only left to do is to package it all nicely and serve it to others, primarily to the tourists coming to this country and this city.

Deficiency or lack of cultural and educational vision of Sarajevo as a scientific, academic and student city is caused by the fact that the University of Sarajevo no longer has a serious scientific or research character that would give it a real and genuine purpose and function. The museums, galleries and libraries are insufficiently used during the school year as places where important scientific research projects are conducted. If the University had a significant scientific and research reputation, cultural institutions would once again express more profound qualities, genuine purpose, value and function in the everyday life of the student and and, by extension, the broader population of Sarajevo. If that were the case, the call for the rescue of these institutions would not be made and argued for by sentimental citizens of Sarajevo through pointing to their value as symbols, but primarily by the university students coming from all parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina for whose studies these institutions are of vital importance because they house collections and educational material that they are studying and researching. Finally, help could also come on from the tourists who could enrich their visits to the tourist attractions by way of protests and donations for their preservation.

An important thing that we have found in the darkness of the seven shut-down national cultural institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina is this hollowness in the form of a nonexistent state ministry of culture and education. Bosnia and Herzegovina has no ministry of culture and education and, therefore, has no single educational system and scientific approach towards its cultural heritage. For the same reason, Bosnia and Herzegovina has no science, art, or production of the modern civil culture in the cosmopolitan spirit of the 21st century. For the same reason,  society in Bosnia and Herzegovina is still stuck in the mud of primordialism.

Damir Nikšić u Zemalskom Muzeju, Januar 2012

The cultural heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina is still institutionally ideological. It is sentimentally and territorially divided. It is also approached as if it were folklore. It is mythologized and romanticized, while the heritage of the “other” is demonized. Such an attitude towards cultural heritage, which implies its instrumentalization and weaponization, is inherited. For example, it was typical of the SANU’s at the end of the previous century. This ideological approach towards cultural heritage was one of the drivers and motives for the eruption of armed conflict in ex-Yugoslavia. It would have been logical that war ended on that level, on scientific and academic one, by manner of paradigm substitution. Wise heads in Dayton should had known that, due to the nature of the conflict in such a multicultural environment in the multicultural heart of ex-Yugoslavia, namely in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a logical step would have been specifically to establish as one of the primary common institutions of the common state, as an agent of peace and reason of essential importance,  the ministry of culture and education of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Such an institution could have sent all ghosts of the past — monstrous ideological and racist interpretations of national histories — where they belong: to museums, freeing, thereby, the space in pre

sent time for the production of contemporary and cosmopolitan culture of Bosnia and Herzegovina, of modern science and art. That did not happen back then, and has not happened yet. The ministry of culture and education of Bosnia and Herzegovina has never been established. Its work is being done, or not done at all, by the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

The absence of a single cultural policy and single educational system in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the nonexistence of the Ministry of Culture at the state level, and ubiquitous presence and importance of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, all reveal the true character of the temporary state of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a bureaucratic apparatus aimed at administering citizens indefinitely.

Damir Nikšić


Damir Nikšić

Damir Nikšić, MA, Bosnian conceptual artist, studied on arts academies in Sarajevo, Milan and Bologna. 2000-2004 Damir pursued graduate studies at the University of Arizona, USA, graduating in arts and art history in 2004. He was a lecturer at the Northwestern University, USA, co-founder and member of the Maxumim art group and a participant at the Venice Biennale in 2003.  He lives and works in Sarajevo.


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