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Employees from Bosnia's National Library gathered in Sarajevo on Wednesday to voice an appeal for funding, as the institution faces imminent closure.
Numerous professors and students came to support an appeal sent to Bosnian officials asking for an end to political disputes over the financing of the library.
“We have sent appeals many times to the Council of Ministers but we've never received an answer,” Ismet Ovcina, the library's director, told the crowd on Wednesday.
National library staff, who have not received salaries since September, have been forced to reduce their services after the heating was switched off in the building on January 6 due to unpaid bills.
Bosnia's largest library shares its funding problems with six other cultural institutions in Bosnia. At core of the problem is uncertainty over which body is responsible for financing the top museums, galleries and libraries in the country.
Bosnian writer and professor Ljubica Ostojic joined the call for help on Wednesday, recalling her days spent studying for exams in the building.
“One of the hardest moments in my life was seeing [Sarajevo City Hall] Vijecnica in flames,” Ostojic recalled, “And today when I see the treatment of this institution I lose faith in anyone's promises.”
The pre-war building of the National Library, Vijecnica, was one of the architectural symbols of Bosnia's capital. It burst into flames after being bombed in August 1992 during the siege of Sarajevo.
Faruk Caklovica, the rector of the University of Sarajevo, recalled the war-time burning of Vijecnica and said that another “flame” is threatening to destroy Bosnia's precious book collections.
“I hope the National library will not be shut down,” Caklovica said, “it has to work for the benefit of citizens of Bosnia.”
Bosnia's library risks facing the same fate as two other top cultural institutions, Bosnia's History Museum and Art Gallery, both of which recently closed because they could not pay for basic operating costs.
After the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, seven of the most important cultural institutions in the country, including museums and galleries, lost the status of 'state institution' that they held before the war. That status guaranteed their funding from the state budget.
The government never established a new legal and financial status for the institutions after the war, and it is unclear which agency is responsible for funding them, so they have been financed from a variety of budgets.
As Bosnia does not have a state-level culture ministry, most funding for the institutions comes from the Ministry of Civil Affairs. Since 2006, a yearly grant of €1.5 million from that ministry - which covers the seven main cultural institutions - has been divided among roughly 60 institutions.
The library's €40,000 heating bill could not be paid because the institution did not receive any funds last year. The library needs some €600,000 yearly to cover its operating costs.
The National Museum of Bosnia in central Sarajevo is facing closure, drawing attention to the government’s failure to establish a system to fund cultural institutions.
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