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.