We must not allow closure of these institutions

Author: Dr Behija Zlatar, Scientific Advisor and Director of the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo  (Sarajevo, 14  August 2012)

The crisis that has plagued these seven institutions of „national importance“ in Bosnia and Herzegovina is, first and foremost, the consequence of the political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina following the Dayton Peace Accords. Why have the state institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina not yet  indicated their stance on the status of these seven cultural institutions and found an adequate solution for this highly important problem? The answer to this question can only be given by officials who for years have been in the position to make decisions regarding the funding of science and culture, and who have been paid very well for the work they do. Refusing to find any solution whatsoever, they have caused some of these institutions to reach the point of possible closure. Regardless of the fact that managements of these seven cultural institutions reached a deal and searched together for a common exit from this difficult situation, nothing has been achieved, despite the press conferences that were organized with the support of numerous public, academic and cultural figures. The refusal to determine the status of these institutions at the state level and incorporate their funding into the state budget, owing to the fact that they represent „symbols of nationality“, is irresponsible at the very least, because those persons who could make such a decision live well enough off the budget of Bosnia and Herzegovina themselves.

If we analyze data that is available to us, ordinary citizens of this country, we can conclude that it would indeed be possible to find regular funding for the work of these institutions. However, these institutions need to be modernized as well. According to the information I have obtained, employees of these institutions have had opportunities to visit foreign countries. Therefore, they can make use of the experiences of similar institutions such as museums, galleries, libraries in those countries. Perhaps, a part of the solution lies in the  merging of some of these institutions (for example, a suggestion was made that the Art Gallery of Bosnia and Herzegovina become a part of the National Museum), as well as in the cooperative use of specific funds, and bidding in public tenders for the funding of cultural and publishing activities.

What must not be allowed under any circumstances is the closing down of these institutions. Their shutdown is clearly the aim of those who obstruct the resolution of this problem. Among other goals of the 1992 – 1995 siege of Sarajevo, all available means were used to destroy the institutions of particular importance, the guardians of our memory, of our common cultural heritage. With that aim, on May 17th, 1992, the Oriental Institute was burned down, and on August  25th of the same year, the same fate befell the City Hall (Vijećnica) which housed the National and University Library. Old manuscripts and archives of invaluable importance and numerous priceless books were destroyed. Those unique manuscripts and archives that went up in flames can never be restored. However, the staff remained, and they had enough enthusiasm and commitment to remake the Oriental Institute as it is today – a respectable scientific institution whose work is to research the cultural and historical heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The solution for the Oriental Institute, as well as some other scientific institutions, came in the form of the decision to fund them out of the Sarajevo Cantonal budget, although, the Oriental Institute was once financed out of the state budget.

We should keep committed to and under no circumstances quit our efforts to resolve the status of these institutions.  These institutions preserve the invaluable cultural wealth of our country. Our ancestors passed this heritage onto us, and it is our duty to protect it for the benefit of future generations. Therefore, we need to do everything in our power to find an adequate solution in order to salvage them.

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Behija Zlatar

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