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16 Sep 15

Bosnia Museum Re-opens After Three-Year Wait

Bosnian treasures including a famous medieval Jewish manuscript are now again on show after the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina finally re-opened after three years.

Elvira M. Jukic
BIRN Sarajevo
  People gathered before the re-opening of the Museum
Photo by Elvira M. Jukic

Some of Bosnia most valuable items of heritage are now on display once again Bosnia's National Museum finally re-opened on Tuesday with a ceremony attended by dozens of pupils.

The museum managers decided to close the institution on October 4, 2012, after years of struggling with financial problems.

Three years later, the authorities found a way to finance it from budget reserves but also from donations, including one from the US embassy.

“It's a great day for the children... a very important moment for the next generation in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” US ambassador Maureen Cormack said, announcing a donation of more than 500,000 euro for repair works to the museum that would come from the embassy's fund for culture.

The director of the Museum, Adnan Busuladzic, thanked both Cormack and the authorities but then said he was resigning, arguing that his goal to re-open the museum was now achieved.

The Council of Ministers, Bosnia's state-level government, approved around 300,000 euro for the administration of the staff.

Groups of students came for the reopening, organized by schools or individually, to see the museum interior, walk in the botanical garden and see the exhibits, which show the cultural and historic heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Senad, 18, from the High School for Metalworking Occupation in Sarajevo, told BIRN that he was delighted the Museum had re-opened and that everyone could see the treasures inside.

“I am glad it is open for people to know who we are, so those who come to Sarajevo can know our museums, the way we visit theirs,” he said.

His colleague Adnan added that it was high time it reopened because the museum represented a kind of birth-certificate for the country.

Hamza, 18, from the Sarajevo High School of Applied Arts, said that he had come with a group of colleagues organized by the school.

“For me this is a return of something that was missing, as we see this place as inspiration for some of our work,” he said. “People did not appreciate the museum before, but that there will be more interest now it has re-openened.”

After the Dayton Peace Accords were signed in 1995, the government failed to agree new legal and funding status for the country’s state-level cultural institutions, since most government powers devolved to the country's two entities and ten cantons within the Federation entity.

For years, Bosnia’s top cultural institutions, such as the National Museum and several others, were financed from a variety of budgets, including the cantonal and entity ministries of culture and the State Ministry of Civil Affairs. Facing a chronic lack of funds, however, they they had to shot their doors.

The National Museum was kept intact by the hard-working employees who looked after the empty building and its exhibits for three years, until this autumn.

Among the treasures in the Museum are the famous 14th-century Haggadah, one of the most valuable items of Bosnian heritage. Brought to Sarajevo by Jews fleeing persecution in Spain, it has been in the Museum since 1894.

The identity of the artist who illuminated it is unknown. It is assumed that the manuscript came to Bosnia as part of a dowry, or as a bribe, or as the property of Jewish refugees seeking sanctuary in the Ottoman Empire, of which Bosnia was then part.

According to the Bosnian Jewish Community, one of the first objects that Nazi German forces sought after entering Sarajevo in 1941 was the Sarajevo Haggadah.

But thanks to the museum staff, the book was hidden from the Germans and allegedly hidden in a mosque in Mt Bjelasnica, near Sarajevo.

After the end of the World War II, the book returned to the National Museum and remained there until the onset of the 1992-95 war, when it was rescued by several policemen and transferred to the vault of the National Bank.

In 2002, with the help of several donors, the National Museum opened a special room for the manuscript, where the book still lies.

Before the official re-opening of the Museum, officials of the state-level, entity, cantonal institutions and several municipalities signed a memorandum of understanding aiming to support the work of the cultural institutions of common importance and interest for Bosnia and Herzegovina for the period of 2016-2018.

This will help several cultural institutions including the National Museum.

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