Day of Solidarity with the Cultural Institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina: March 4

Foto_RSE_ Midhat Poturović

Planks nailed to the main entrance of the National Museum in Sarajevo symbolically marked the closure of one of the most important cultural and historic institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina, October 4, 2012. Foto: RSE / Midhat Poturović

Imagine if Congress refused to fund the Smithsonian Institutions — the most visited museum complex in the world — not because of “sequestration” or spending cuts but because Democrats and Republicans in Congress could not agree on whether it should be supported as a federal body. That’s effectively what has happened to seven museums, galleries and libraries in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the past year. The fractured federal parliament in Sarajevo can’t agree to fund them, so one after another these institutions have been closed, shuttered and powered down, without staff to support or protect their collections.

The strange irony, of course, is that most of these cultural institutions — at the hands of their heroic curators and other devoted supporters — survived the war of the early 1990s and particularly the siege of Sarajevo. Now, the political dispute in the federal parliament deprives the institutions of the support they need to preserve some of the most important artifacts in the Balkans.

As I learned traveling and visiting not just some of Bosnia’s museums and galleries in 2010 but others as well, this is not just a matter of access, but of curation and preservation. Cultural institutions are not simply boxes in which paintings, ancient finds, and objets d’art are stored. The subjects of our cultural heritage require care and attention from professional staff properly equipped with tools of their trade. The failure of the Bosnian parliament to support its own national cultural institutions threatens their heritage with slow ruin after surviving centuries.

On March 4, cultural institutions around the world will symbolically “close” parts of their exhibits in a Day of Museum Solidarity with Bosnia to pressure the parliament to resolve this crisis. You can join them by visiting cultureshutdown.net to add your voice and take action.

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About James Thomas Snyder

U.S. Foreign Service Officer, writer, translator and former NATO and U.S. Congressional staffer. All opinions expressed here are my own. My work has appeared in the International Herald Tribune, Military Review, Joint Force Quarterly, Internationale Politik, Dissent, The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, among other publications. In 2013, Palgrave-MacMillan published my book, The United States and the Challenge of Public Diplomacy. In 2004, TAMU press published my translation of Pierre Hazan's Justice in a Time of War, a history of the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in 2004. I earned a joint JD-MA from American University in 2001 and a BA from UCLA in 1995. I also studied European and international law at the University of Paris X-Nanterre and international security at Meiji Gakuin University in Yokohama, Japan.
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