The crisis of seven cultural institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the national level:

Causes, Implications and Potential Solutions

Mapping the status quo – The summary of feedback by representatives of the affected institutions

Edited by the Platform, August 2012


Cultural heritage, representing the creative expression as well as the natural and social heritage of all people and ethnic communities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has been stored and exhibited at seven critical cultural institutions in the capital, Sarajevo. Due to a crisis concerning constitutional status and funding, these institutions (The National Museum of BiH, The National and University Library of BiH, The Art Gallery of BiH, The Historical Museum of BiH, The National Film Archive of BiH, The Museum of Literature and Theatre Arts of BiH, and The National Library of the Blind and Partially Sighted Persons in BiH), are facing serious risk of deterioration of their collections, buildings and staffs, and the threat of permanent closure to the public.

Aiming to initiate a productive discussion concerning the roots of the problems that led to this situation, and aiming to initiate a process devoted to seeking a solution to this crisis, CULTURESHUTDOWN.NET Platform conducted a series of interviews with representatives of the above-mentioned institutions, collecting the data summarised in this paper.

This document represents a summary of the issues, their causes and consequences as identified by representatives of the seven affected institutions, and these representatives’ suggestions concerning potential solutions to the crisis. Annex I gives the list of respondents (institutional representatives), while Annex II contains basic information and contact details of the Platform CULTURESHUTDOWN.NET. Individual responses by institutions summarized in this paper will soon be available online at



 Unresolved legal status of the ‘seven institutions of national relevance’[1] over the last 16 years, from the signing of the Dayton Peace Accord until the present day. None of the governance levels in the country (BiH – state, Federation BiH- entity, Canton Sarajevo – canton) have taken an official stance on the status of these institutions, which they should have, in accordance with the Annex 2/II and 2/IV to the Annex IV (BiH Constitution) of the Dayton Peace Accord.

  • The existing management believes that the majority of the operational costs required for the day-to-day work of these institutions should be covered by state funding (either from one level of governance, or combined), while a small percentage of income could be achieved through selling tickets, exhibition space lease, space rental for events, etc. Development and programme activities could be covered by various grants (institutions would be applying for them by open call).
  • The State-level Fund (established in 2006 to support these particular seven institutions ‘of national importance,’ which was the leading source of operational funding for these institutions), has gone through a metamorphosis since (due to political reasons), changing from a “grant for co-financing the seven institutions of national importance for BiH” (which more or less guaranteed adequate if not generous funding to each institution), into “a grant for co-financing institutions and cultural projects in BiH” to a maximum amount of 350.000KM (with no more than 20% to be used for operational costs). This change had a serious impact on these seven institutions, as it no longer provides them with the necessary minimum co-funding for day-to-day operations, along with funding from various other sources.
  • The seven institutions do not have a joint plan of action at present with regards to filing a request for status resolution. However, institutional management acted jointly on several occasions previously (sending co-signed letters to various local and international institutions in BiH, running press-conferences, and co-signing a Declaration[2]). Media pressure has had no long-term effect.
  • Thus far, the seven institutions have neither requested nor been offered any form of legal advice, nor have they filed a case against those institutions they deem responsible for their current plight and lack of status resolution.



Unresolved legal status of the seven institutions of ‘national importance’ in terms of the legal framework in which they operate (BiH Constitution, Dayton Peace Accord, laws inherited from former Yugoslavia): The state-level Ministry of Civil Affairs sees its role as ‘coordinatory’, claiming it is not responsible for solving the problems of these seven institutions (as, according to their interpretation of the Dayton Peace Agreement, ‘culture is to be dealt with on the entity/canton level’). The BiH Parliamentary Assembly rejected an effort to include this issue in its agenda for consideration, stating it is “not responsible” for the matter (as this issue was once submitted for consideration).

  • The existence of these institutions on the state level does not suit certain politicians in BiH, either because these institutions represent the ‘symbols of sovereignty’ of Bosnia and Herzegovina, or because these institutions do not represent the ‘vision of statehood’ that these particular politicians stand for (these factions aim for having institutions of similar profile on the entity level, hence strengthening them at the expense of the state-level).
  • Neglect by the authorities  in both entities, i.e. neglecting this particular issue at the expense of other difficult issues waiting to be resolved.
  • Lack of awareness among those in power about the importance of culture in general, and in particular about the threat that cultural heritage is facing, as institutions do not have necessary funding to ensure appropriate storage and display conditions (preservation chemicals, humidity level, room temperature…).
  • Lack of awareness among some figures in power and some cultural producers/workers about the difference between the nature of institutions in charge of preserving cultural heritage and the nature of institutions of ‘festival culture’.



Institutions are trapped in ‘legal vacuum’. None of the governments (canton, entity, state) considers itself responsible for sustaining their viability, predictably referring them to another level of governance (ping-pong effect).

  • Unstable and unguaranteed financing of the overhead costs: institutions struggle to cover their expenses from various sources, mainly grants from cantonal, entity and state funds, with variable amounts (which ceased in case of impotence of the parties to form the state-level government in 2011), selling tickets, venue lease, donations and project grants from many local and international organizations.
  • Operating with reduced capacity, i.e. in ‘survival mode’, with no strategic plans for development, international cooperation and exchange, promotion and branding, modernization, reaching new audiences and digitalization, and with a significant reduction in service provision.
  • Any chance to change the status and the mode of operation of these institutions to permit the resolution of the financing issue has been disabled.
  • Increase in debts (unpaid electricity an heating bills, unpaid salaries)
  • Expert staff drain
  • In some cases, modernization of collection management practices (the manner in which collections are stored, conserved, exhibited and promoted is needed.
  • In that regard, poor and inadequate conditions in which some of the collections are stored and displayed may lead to their deterioration.
  • Demoralised staff and management. While some still cope by collecting grants from various sources (although an unsustainable financing mode), others are close to giving up.
  • There is a danger that these institutions will ‘dissolve in silence’.


Suggestions for tackling an untenable status quo

Lobbying and applying pressure on authorities to resolve status quo

  • Filing a unified case against the BiH State by all seven institutions together at the BiH Court
  • Adoption of a percentage financing system for institutional overhead costs (a secured, combined financing from the state, entity and cantonal budgets), with additional funding acquired from other sources for covering development and cooperation program costs (to be determined).
  • Change in modus operandi, and complete or partial integration of institutions of similar profile to reduce operational costs (museums, libraries…)


Annex I The list of respondents

  1. Sakib Pleh, Director, The National Library for the Blind and the Partially Sighted Persons in BH
  2. Elma Hašimbegović, Senior Curator, The Historical Museum of BH
  3. Devleta Filipović, Acting Director, The National Film Archive of BH
  4. Aida Kljuičić, Director, The Museum of Literature and Theatre Arts of BH
  5. Bedita Islamović, Associate Director, The National and University Library of BH
  6. Ivana Udovičić, Curator, The Arts Galery of BH
  7. Marica Filipović, Museum Advisor, The National Museum of BH


Annex II About the Platform CULTURESHUTDOWN.NET

The Platform CULTURESHUTDOWN.NET was founded in January 2012 as the initiative of a group of acedemicians, artists, librarians and other cultural activists living in the Balkans, United States, Austria and other European countries. We are a global volunteer, non-profit network of scientists, not connected to any governmental institution, or a political party. Our ultimate aim is to unite on the global level to help prevent destruction of cultural heritage that belongs to all the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and enriches World heritage. More information about our work can be found at

Contact us: [email protected]



Azra Akšamija, Artist and Architectural Historian, Assistant Professor in Art, Culture and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology [email protected]
Selma Gičević, Local contact person and press spokes person of the platform  CULTURESHUTDOWN.NET, [email protected]
Maximilian Hartmuth, Historian/Art Historian, Istanbul/Vienna [email protected]
Asja Mandić, Art Historian, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Sarajevo [email protected]
Andras Riedlmayer, Bibliographer and Historian, Director of the Aga Khan Documentation Center at Harvard University’s Fine Arts Library [email protected]
Jeff Spurr, Manager, Bosnia Library Project, 1996-2005; Chair, Middle East Librarians Association Committee on Iraqi Libraries; Board Member & Secretary, Sabre Foundation [email protected]
Mladen Vuković, Head Librarian at the Croatian Forest Research Institute [email protected]


[1] The National Library for the Blind and the Partially Sighted Persons in BiH, The Historical Museum of BiH, The National Film Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina, The Museum of Literature and Theatre Arts of BiH, The National and University Library of BiH, The Arts Galery of BiH and The National Museum of BiH

[2]The Declaration on the Requests by the Seven Institutions of the National Importance for BiH, passed at the meeting of the Cultural Forum on 23 April 2012

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