We have a problem with politics, but not history – history is OK

January 27, 2015 10:15 AM

museum sarajevoThe crisis in funding cultural institutions highlights the complex nature of modern Bosnian politics.

The fact that there are 13 separate ministries of education shows how fragmented, and vast, the political structure is.

Ethnic identity has become ever more important in politics since the end of the war, and many blame the Dayton peace accords for making that inevitable.

Setting up a national ministry of culture has proved more controversial than establishing a defence ministry – and the central government still doesn’t have one.

But musician and political activist Damir Niksic says given the country’s violent history, caused by ethnic tension, a national ministry of culture is essential, and so are the museums.

“People refer to different periods as the periods of their identity, like Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian or medieval period.

“So I say let’s put all these historical periods in departments of the museum and liberate daily life from the mutated monster of history that was created by quasi- historians.”

At the heart of the crisis of cultural institutions in Bosnia-Hercegovina is the very identity crisis of the nation itself.

It is something prime time TV host Aleksandar Hrsum tries to address on his weekly, and hugely popular, live debate show “The Forbidden Forum” on Pink TV.

He is technically a Bosnian Serb, but refuses to describe himself as such – preferring simply “Bosnian” as his identity.

“I believe in Bosnia-Hercegovina and I tell my audience to believe in their country, we can change our country. Separate politics and culture, please.”

But the very notion of a national identity is rejected by many on all sides of the cultural divide.

Some don’t even recognize the legitimacy of the country they live in.

Serb writer Nedeljko Zelenovic argues it is better to keep everything separate.

“There is no such nationality as Bosnia-Hercegovinan, it’s not possible. There is no unified national identity, no one would agree to it.”

But maintaining such a fractured system is not just confusing, it’s expensive.

Sixty-percent of taxes go towards financing the sprawling government, and that is in a country with an unemployment rate approaching 40%.

Many argue it is time to start spending money on bringing the country together, and building the economy, not in maintaining cumbersome separate administrations – in a country with a population smaller than that of Manhattan.

The National Museum and other institutions have managed to get by on ticket sales and grants from the central government for the past few years, but when yet more political wrangling left the country without a central government for most of 2011, the grants stopped arriving and the money ran out.

The hope is that the central parliament will now be able to agree on a budget to fund the national institutions until a more permanent solution, or even a central ministry of culture, can be set up.

National Museum Director Adnan Busuladzic believes the country’s history doesn’t have to be a problem.

“We care about the heritage of all the people of Bosnia-Hercegovina: Serb, Bosniak, Croatian, Jewish, Gypsy.

“Our history is mixed, our society is mixed. We have a problem with politics, but not history – history is OK.”



By Rebecca Kesby

(Source: BBC)


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