bosnia report
No. 14 February - March 1996
 
Cultural Preservation and the Dayton Accord
by Dr Marian Wenzel

The British registered charity and NGO Bosnia-Herzegovina Heritage Rescue (BHHR, founded 1992) has fulfilled a watchdog position in respect of Bosnia's cultural heritage since the beginning of the war, as well as conceiving and carrying out projects for its preservation. As director and co-founder of BHHR, I have been assisted by the fact that I have been in touch with Bosnian culture and cultural institutions since the 1960s, when I did fieldwork in Bosnia-Herzegovina for my doctoral thesis for the Courtauld Institute of Art, on Bosnia's mediaeval tombstones. This long familiarity gave me a clear perspective on the disadvantages under which Bosnia's cultural institutions were forced to operate during the war. I designed BHHR to be an NGO that would be able to mediate between those Bosnian institutions and such Western bodies as should be able to give them help. Now, with a peace accord in operation, BHHR is similarly in a position to assess the changes and challenges (not always constructive) that are coming to be made to Bosnia's cultural institutions, not by war, but by the new requirements of a rather unnatural peace.

The Present Condition of Bosnia's Cultural Heritage

Bosnia today possesses a blanket mass of important but terribly badly damaged historic buildings and moveable heritage. It does not have the money to cope with this. The world is not making the money available either: it saves face and conceals its indÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ°ifference with a smokescreen of token gestures to a few buildings, such as the burnt-out National Library in Sarajevo, and with a token dance of conferences, visits and fanciful town planning. Basically, the world wastes time pretending it is going to do what in the main it is not (this holds both for the European Union and for the Office of the UN Special Coordinator in Sarajevo).

It has been said that Bosnians must and will themselves restore Bosnia, and their own historic buildings. But for that to happen, the country needs a new and viable economy that it does not yet have. It thus cannot think, or afford to think, of mending buildings that will not aid development of the economy. Bosnians are, even now, mending some buildings, but only those that they most need.

Tourism is a potentially lucrative industry for Bosnia, and for tourism the continued presence of historic buildings is economically relevant. But today this holds only if the tourist objectives concerned are in towns, since those outside towns may be (or indeed are known to be) mined, with some of the 3-6 million mines that now pepper the country and that will take some 30 years to clear. The blowing up of tourists is a potential occurrence that Dalmatia is already having to take into account (it is an obvious concern not just to the tourists themselves, but also to travel agents and insurance companies); Bosnia, a fortiori, will have years ahead of it before tourists will be safe enough for the tourist industry to be expected to boost the economy. In this sense, tourism must be classed with forestry, as industries formerly lucrative for the Bosnian economy but for the time being out of the picture because of the danger from mines.

Even so, the big future economic potential offered to Bosnia by tourism ought even now to force attention towards the need to care rapidly for the remaining gutted shells of the country's gorgeous historic buildings, before they deteriorate hopelessly through neglect.

Obviously Bosnia's damaged and wrecked cultural heritage needs sensitive attention from caring outside funding agencies. Yet such bodies with a concern for Bosnia's cultural heritage are virtually non-existent, so compromises must be made. When priority needs, such as education, public health or therapy for war wounded, can be combined with reconstruction of a historic building - as with the Music and Grammar Schools in Mostar, or the Public Library in Sarajevo - funds are more easily found for restoring the specific buildings in which such useful activities are carried on. Similarly, priority in mine-clearing can be given to areas where cultural monuments coincide with the known presence of mines. (For instance, on 19 February 1996 BHHR - in collaboration with the Institutes for protection of the cultural and natural heritage of Split and Sibenik, and with the Mine Action Centre in Zagreb - begins surveys for this kind of project in Dalmatia: certain graveyards and castle sites will be studied with a view of mine removal, as a pilot project for similar activities in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

It is a tragic fact that Bosnia's historic religious structures - mosques and churches - are, for their own sakes, of priority to almost no one concerned with reconstruction, even though they have been a major target in this war and their restoration is deeply needed to restore security to returning refugees. A glorious exception here is the care given by the town of Tuzla to religious structures of all three main denominations: there, damage to such monuments was at once put right as a matter of principle. Occasionally elsewhere, in areas less affected by war, mosques and churches have been restored by locals; and the town of Florence is restoring the three domed mosques of Mostar. But the global problem remains basically unaddressed.

An additional danger to the restoration and preservation of Bosnia's war-damaged historic buildings, it must be said, comes from the general outlook of architects, who in Bosnia as elsewhere tenÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ°d to be influential as a a pressure group. Architects only too frequently prefer to build new monuments (to themselves, some would say!) rather than conserving what is already there - which tends not to be 'functional' in a new society. A lot of demolition is already necessary in Bosnia, and it easily spreads beyond what is necessary. Prime city space for new, economically viable buildings is what investors basically want. The majority of Bosnia's damaged historic buildings do not so much need architects as good builders, and enough left to be copied of each structure.

Bosnia's Cultural Institutions, Before, During and Since the War.

My personal acquaintance with Bosnia's state cultural organizations began in the 1960s, when my doctoral research required me to make a thorough survey of the thousands of 14th and 15th century tombstones scattered across Bosnia-Herzegovina. These lay along the mediaeval road system, mainly unrelated to the positioning of modern roads. Accordingly I walked over most of Herzegovina and much of Bosnia following mediaeval roads, using donkeys to carry equipment, and sleeping out. In order to perform this bizarre operation, it was necessary for me to understand, and operate within, the admirable structure of cultural institutions for the protection of monuments, which guarded and documented all major historical monuments in the former Yugoslavia.

The regulations governing culture in Bosnia-Herzegovina before this war were uniform with those prevailing throughout the former Yugoslavia, and were developed to a high standard: all major built monuments in the country were carefully recorded and registered. Two kinds of institute (zavod) for the protection of national heritage existed in Bosnia, as elsewhere : the regional and the federal. Regional institutes stored documentation relating to cultural material within large towns and their immediate surroundings, while federal institutes carried documentation relating to built and movable monuments at all relevant locations throughout a given republic.

The federal institutes for protection of heritage in each republic were responsible to a central federal institute in Belgrade, which was one arm of the federal ministry of culture. This central federal institute carried documentation on monuments throughout the country, overlapping in some cases with that held by the regional bodies. The same federal institutes mediated between cultural researchers studying monuments and the army and police, who to some degree guarded monuments and kept watch on the movements of foreigners visiting them.

As a foreign student doing fieldwork I had to get police permission to be in the field. I would first approach the Federal Institute for the Protection of Monuments, in Belgrade, from which I would get a letter to take to the federal police. From the federal police in Belgrade I would then receive a document giving be global police permission to work in Bosnia, which I would take to the Bosnian republican police, who would in turn give me individual, temporary permits to be in this or that part of the country for two or three weeks. This meant I had permission to sleep out or in peasants' houses, as I wished.

I made good use of the facilities provided by the two sorts of institutes for protection o cultural monuments in Bosnia itself (federal and regional), which possessed excellent documentation listing built and moveable heritage in their respective areas. Much of my own fieldwork involved re-examining monuments already classified by them, but difficult of access by motor vehicle and consequently little visited in recent years. My work ran parallel with that of Sefik Beslagic, Director of Bosnia's Federal Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage: he produced maps of graveyards, which I was interested in their tombstone decoration. The National Museum (Zemaljski Musej) in Sarajevo also under federal authority, functioned as a repository of moveable heritage from the whole of Bosnia-HerzegovinaÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ°, including certain unpublished collections of drawings and photographs of the tombstones that were my concern.

After the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina (RB-H) gained international recognition in 1992, the former Belgrade-based central federal institute obviously no longer retained authority over any Bosnian Institutions. Federal institutes for the protection of monuments were transferred to the authority of the RB-H Ministry of Culture. They now carried out the minister's wishes in respect to national aspects of the cultural heritage (so far as was possible in time of war), while the town institutes for the protection of urban cultural heritage remained as before, ie. responsible to the local town ministers of culture and caring for historical heritage within the towns. The continued functioning of these two types of institution in time of war was heroic, and a great deal of dcumentation concerning built and movable heritage was preserved.

On 21 January 1996 (the day of Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic's resignation), the whole cultural-institutional system of Bosnia-Herzegovina was reorganized. This reorganization had been planned to take place earlier, but had been postponed so that the newly composed ministry of culture would interlock with the personal team of Hasan Muratovic, the new Prime Minister. The former RB-H minister of culture was replaced by a minister of culture of the Bosnjak-Croat Federation, Fahruddin Rizvanbegovic. His ministry was relocated to Mostar, while there was to be a separate ministry of culture for the Republika Srpska.

At the same time, the Federation ministry of culture is to work with a new Institute for Protection of the Cultural and Natural Heritage, whose jurisdiction will extend throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina, and whose Director is to be appointed by 15 March 1996. Apart from that, each canton (based around a largish town) in the Federation and Republika Srpska alike is to have its own cantonal institute for the protection of cultural and natural heritage, as an implementing agency for the cantonal minister of culture.

In the case of Sarajevo, the cantonal minister of culture is the same individual (Fahrudin Isakovic) who was previously the city's minister of culture, education and sport. The Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of the City of Sarajevo (directed by Djenana Golos) now becomes the Institute for the Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage of the Sarajevo Canton.

Effects of the Dayton Accords

Upon this revamped Bosnian cultural administrative structure, an astonishing superstructure - set out in Annex 8 of the Dayton Agreement - is now to be superimposed. There is to be a 'Commission to Preserve National Monuments,' composed of five members, two from the Federation, one from the Republika Srpska, and two chosen by UNESCO, these last to remain in position for five years (with one of them as chair). They will have an office and staff, and a single task: 'To receive and decide on petitions for the designation of property having cultural, historic, religious or ethnic importance as National Monuments.' Property proposed for such designation may not be damaged (or perhaps tampered with) by anyone for a year after the proposal has been made. When the Commission finally makes its decision on the property in question - perhaps as I have said, after as long as a year - the 'entity' on whose territory the property is situated, and which has applied for it to be designated a National Monument, is ordered itself to take measures for the property's protection, including financial measures. There is no hint of any promise in the Annex that the Commission will do anything to provide financial help for the preservation of these newly designated National Monuments.

To impose this meta-activity upon a desperately needy cultural scene might at first seem some wild Ohian fancy devised by people totally ignorant of Bosnian culture - and of the attested ability of Bosnia's own cultural organizations to have long ago ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ°identified and listed their own National Monuments. For the duties of this Commission do not, as you might expect, direct and salary people for the task of drawing up an intelligent plan for the global restoration of Bosnia's manifold desperate surviving cultural monuments, already well known to one and all. Instead, its members are to meet at length to decide what chosen buildings are to be named as National Monuments: a process that may take as long as a year, after which period of further neglect many more choice monuments may have fallen down, or been pulled down, unless they are among the happy few that have been proposed as potential National Monuments by the 'entities' that own them.

Concerning the Dayton Commission to Reserve National Monuments, I have two things to say. First, the idea of spending long hours arguing the merits of one monument as against those of another, while spending no money during this time on any monuments at all, and while those in urgent need of help are allowed to fall down, could be said to be an identifying fingerprint of UNESCO involvement. Hence, the plan was probably conceived by some member of UNESCO imported to Dayton, rather than by any inexperienced Ohian. As a useful procedure, it was already put into practice by UNESCO in Mostar before the arrival of the EU. UNESCO-coordinated meetings on both sides of Mostar led to a list of priority monuments being drawn up. The UNESCO representative was particularly delighted that both sides had selected the Franciscan Church of St Peter and St Paul as a priority. Its listing as such, however, did not stop it being pulled down by the Franciscans themselves in September 1995, reputedly under encouragement from a prospective developer, in order to make way for a new church - and without reference to the Institute for Protection of Monuments on either side.

Secondly, the only benefit actually cited that a monument can gain from being proposed as a National Monument under the Dayton Agreement is that it may not be damaged while a decision upon it is being made. Since the Agreement is by description a peace accord, the danger of damage in war is ruled out. What is being considered seems to be some kind of peacetime damage, that might occur to any historic building unless 'preserved' by being proposed as a National Monument at this time. Such damage could, of course, arise out of a continuation of ethnic cleansing of monuments, in areas from which the ethnic groups who erected them have already been removed (such as Stolac).

A quite different, dark suggestion has been advanced, however, by some British and U cultural experts. They suggest that the proposed Dayton rescue scheme could in fact be a cleverly contrived way of diverting attention away from giving first-aid care to most of Bosnia's battered monuments before it is too late. For Bosnia's monuments need quick hospital treatment, not the vague promise of such treatment after a lengthy scholarly dispute.

In any case, one UNESCO official told me last week: 'We don't know if we can get the thing started. We don't know if Republika Srpska will play ball.' According to one devil's advocate, the whole scheme could have been designed exactly for this result. Republika Srpska eventually reveals itself not to be going to play ball. The upshot? More time has been wasted, and more high delicate historic monuments in prime city locations have been allowed to fall down in high winds, thereby enabling developers to move in with demolition teams, followed by the erection of new buildings which, unlike historic monuments, are designed for modern society and have the economic potential Bosnia 'needs'. Nature is thus itself allowed to eliminate 'charity projects' - which is how John Yarwood, Director of Reconstruction for the European Union, describes work put into any historic buildings lacking viable commercial use.

In May 1994, on a visit to lecture at the Building Conservation Department of the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, I was urÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌ°ged by the department chair to warn Bosnia against the American Corps of Army Engineers, who butcher historic buildings and are not allowed anywhere near them in the United States. Yet in Washington the word was they were going to be kept busy in Bosnia once the war was ended. 'In America,' said the Professor, 'you have to shout or you get the worst. Tell Bosnia to make stiff planning laws, and then shout.'

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