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[Fwd: demands for the "ethnic" partition of cultural patrimony patrimony in Bosnia [Andras Riedlmayer]]
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- Subject: [Fwd: demands for the "ethnic" partition of cultural patrimony patrimony in Bosnia [Andras Riedlmayer]]
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I thought that the book arts list member might be interested in this. The
war in Bosnia has now gone over to historic manuscripts.
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From: Alan Fisher <fishera@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: H-ISLAMART:demands for the "ethnic" partition of cultural
patrimony in Bosnia [Andras Riedlmayer]
Date: Tue, 22 Dec 1998 14:24:31 -0500 (EST)
From: Andras Riedlmayer <riedlmay@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Although thousands of other precious manuscripts and cultural treasures
were destroyed or looted in the 1992-95 war, the most famous manuscript in
Bosnia - known as the Sarajevo Haggadah - survived. During the shelling
of the National Museum by the Serb nationalist forces besieging Sarajevo,
it was moved to the relative safety of a vault in the National Bank.
Now the heirs of those who sought to destroy the National Museum (and
succeeded in burning the National Library, the Oriental Institute, and
scores of other museums and libraries) are demanding the "partition" of
the Sarajevo Haggadah. The Bosnian Serb authorities have put forward a
demand that the ancient manuscript be taken to Banja Luka a third of each
year to be exhibited in "their" museum.
The Banja Luka museum, known before the war as the regional museum of the
Bosanska Krajina, is now called Muzej Republike Srpske. Its non-Serb
staff members were fired in the first year of the war. The institution's
new approach to cultural patrimony is exemplified by an exhibition it held
at the beginning of 1994, a month after the last of Banja Luka's sixteen
ancient mosques and other Islamic monuments had been blown up by the Serb
nationalists who control the city. That exhibition, entitled "Banja Luka,
centar Vrbaske banovine 1929.-1941." (Banja Luka, capital of the Vrbas
province, 1929-1941) included dozens of historic photographs of the city,
taken at a time when Banja Luka had 30 mosques. Not one of the photographs
exhibited showed any sign of mosques or minarets -- not content with the
erasure of the physical buildings, those responsible for the exhibition
had also "corrected" the historical record to show that Banja Luka had
always been purely Serb. (The "correction" of historic photographs to
construct an ideologically convenient version of the past is, of course,
not limited to the former Yugoslavia; cf. David King. _The Commissar
Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin's Russia_
New York: Metropolitan Books, 1997.)
The demand for a "share" of the Haggadah MS by the Serb nationalist
authorities was preceded by other demands for the ethnic partition of
Bosnia's cultural patrimony.
In October 1996, Helen Watasek and Dr Marian Wenzel were commissioned by
the Committee on Culture and Education of the European Parliament to visit
and report on the situation of museums in the Republika Srpska. Their
report noted (without inquiring into the reasons) that the museums they
visited had "lost staff in varying percentages of up to 60% in one case."
Museum directors in Banja Luka told Wenzel and Watasek that they would
like to gain access to documentation of museums and art galleries in
the Federation "to see what works they held by [ethnic] Serbian artists."
They ... indicated that they would then, through their
Ministry of Culture, like to arrange permanent exchanges
of works of art, so that their institutions could gain
ownership of works of Serbian artists held in Federation
museums, and in return would give objects by those artists
whose works they no longer wished to hold.
The director of the Art Gallery of the Serbian Republic
in Banja Luka made the (false) analogy that this desire
to acquire the works of [ethnic] Serbian artists held
in the collections of Federation galleries was the same
as the desire of the Egyptians or Greeks to see the return
of their cultural artefacts (such as the Elgin Marbles)
which were held in museums in Europe.
[Tenth Information Report on War Damage to the
Cultural Heritage in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina,
CoE Parliamentary Assembly doc. 7740, pp. 17-18]
The AP report (below) perpetuates several myths concerning the Haggadah
(incl. a new variant on the legends about its rescue during World War II).
For a recent scholarly examination of those Haggadah legends, and of more
recent tales about its fate during the recent war, see Kemal Bakarsic,
"The Story of the Sarajevo Haggada," Judaica Librarianship, 9 (1994-95),
The current condition of the National Museum (Zemaljski muzej) in Sarajevo
is also less dire than the AP story would lead one to believe. The National
Museum -- like all "national" institutions in post-Dayton Bosnia -- is
indeed starved for funds. However it is not in ruins and it continues
its activities, albeit on a limited basis. The Council of Europe report
cited above has this to say about its condition one year after the war:
There were great improvements in the situation at the
Zemaljski Muzej, though there is still much work to be done
to the fabric of the building. However, while the consultants
were there the repair of the museum roofs was completed, with
funding from Unesco. There is now glass in the windows, and
due to the lucky chance that the museum was selected as the
site for meetings of the Presidency, parts of the museum
(mainly the library) have been painted, carpeted and curtained.
Collections have largely been removed from their basement stores
and brought to upper levels for inspection and cleaning before
being restored in their original cupboards. ... At the time
of the consultants' visit there was a display of town costumes
from Sarajevo in the foyer of the museum. Staff morale is
greatly improved. One staff member in the Natural Sciences
Department has returned from abroad and the botanic garden has
been given more assistance.
During their visit to the Republika Srpska, Wenzel and Watasek "were able
to inform museum staff [in the RS] how museums in the Federation had
fared. ... There was particular interest in the Zemaljski Muzej, and
surprise was expressed on a number of occasions that so many Serb curators
had chosen to stay in Sarajevo and that they were still working at the
museum (as at other museums in Sarajevo and elsewhere in the Federation)."
In the brave new world of ethnic partition, it is indeed a matter for
great consternation that not only works of art but the people who care
for these objects continue to remain in "ethnically-mixed" circumstances.
Let's hope that those circumstances continue to endure, and that the ever-
hopeful "ethnically-pure" museums of Republika Srpska and "Herceg-Bosna"
continue to be confounded in their desire to partition Bosnia's heritage.
(cross-posting of comments only permitted)
December 22, 1998
Bosnian Groups Clash Over Treasure
By Aida Cerkez-Robinson
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Dec. 22 (AP) -- After carving up
Bosnia's territory, the rival ethnic groups are now fighting over one of
the country's cultural treasures -- a 600-year-old Jewish holy book.
The Sarajevo Haggadah, handwritten on bleached calfskin, dates
back to the once-thriving Jewish community in Spain. A Haggadah
tells the story of the exodus of the Jews from ancient Egypt, and
Jews recite from it during the Passover holiday.
The 109-page Sarajevo Haggadah was carried to Italy in 1492
after King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain expelled the
country's Jews. It was brought to Bosnia by a rabbi and passed down
through his family until a descendant, Joseph Kohen, sold it to the
National Museum in 1894.
As part of the museum's collection, the priceless manuscript
belongs to the government of Bosnia-Herzogovina.
The 1995 Dayton peace agreement, however, effectively
partitioned the country along ethnic lines -- Serb, Muslim and Croat.
Now the Bosnian Serbs are demanding one-third ownership of the
manuscript and are insisting it be exhibited in Banja Luka, capital
of their mini-state, every third year.
In principle, the Haggadah would also be exhibited every third
year in Mostar, the unofficial Bosnian Croat capital. The Muslims
would prefer the Haggadah be kept in what had been its traditional
home -- the National Museum in Sarajevo.
But the National Museum was heavily damaged during the wartime
siege of Sarajevo, and the bullet-scarred structure from the
Austro-Hungarian era has not been rebuilt. For now, the manuscript
is kept in the vault of the National Bank.
Jakob Finci, the head of Sarajevo's Jewish Community, wants
the manuscript to remain in the national capital. Finci says Bosnian
Serb and Bosnian Croat nationalists have a record of destroying
cultural and religious monuments of rival groups during the
1992-1995 Bosnian war.
``They (the Serbs) blew up the Ferhadija, the others (the
Croats) blew up the Old Bridge,'' Finci said, referring to an
ancient mosque in Banja Luka and the world-renowned Ottoman bridge
in Mostar, which were both more than 400 years old. UNESCO had
designated the span a ``world heritage site.''
``Bosnia's body is our common history. But they are now building
-- let me use a Jewish expression -- three ghettos,'' he said
bitterly. While Western Europe is moving rapidly toward unity,
``only we are going in the other direction,'' he said.
The Sarajevo Haggadah has become a symbol of Bosnia's long
struggle against the forces of religious, cultural and ethnic
During World War II, when the city was occupied by German
troops, a Nazi general demanded that the National Museum surrender
the volume. A museum director, a Catholic Croat, and the Muslim
curator lied, telling the general another German officer had
confiscated the manuscript that morning.
The curator then wrapped the Haggadah in newspapers and
delivered it to a Muslim preacher who lived deep in the Bosnian
mountains. The preacher buried the Haggadah under the doorstep of
the village mosque until the end of the war.
In 1992, when Bosnian Serbs began shelling Sarajevo, the
museum's Muslim director, Enver Imamovic, and three volunteers
braved shell and sniper fire to enter the museum. With the help of
a Bosnian Serb, they broke into the museum vault, removed the
Haggadah and brought it to the National Bank, where it has been
kept ever since.
Although foreign donors and the joint Muslim, Serb and Croat
parliament have made funds available to reconstruct hotels, shops
and government buildings, money has not been provided for the
``Now, everybody wants his own museum and because of it, it's
a shame, but all museums in this city are closed,'' Finci said.
``The Haggadah is proof of the multi-ethnicity in Bosnia,''
Finci said. ``It is a testament that even in worst of times other's
values were not destroyed.''