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17 Oct 12

Bosnia’s Travelling Artists Lament Lack of State Support

Artists attempting to exhibit or show films outside the country say they can rarely count on any official support.

Amina Hamzic
BIRN Sarajevo
Opening of the exhibition “Ancient symbols of peace and tolerance” by Bosnian artist Nesim Tahirovic in Kragujevac, Serbia

Works by the Bosnian visual artist Nesim Tahirovic went on show twice outside the country in recent months, in Belgrade on June 14 and in Kragujevac, central Serbia, on September 21.

Although the exhibition, “Ancient symbols of peace and tolerance”, was widely praised, no Bosnian officials were present at the opening.

The exhibition had to rely on finance from the Serbian government, and Serbian state officials attended the opening.

Tahirovic voiced disappointment with the lack of support from his home country.

This culminated in September, when the he failed to get a meeting with the Bosnian Federation entity culture minister, Salmir Kaplan, on prolonging an export licence for his artworks.

The licence for his paintings from earlier exhibitions in Slovenia and Italy had expired. Although a routine administrative problem, Minister Kaplan had not helped resolve it, he said.

“The temporary export of my pictures, which enabled my exhibitions to take place in Serbia, was successfully implemented thanks to the good organization of the Chamber of Commerce of Bosnia and Herzegovina,» he recalled.

«But the key problem, which I haven't succeeded in solving, which I've primarily addressed to minister Kaplan, is the return of my paintings from Italy and Slovenia, because my ATA Carnet has expired,» he added. 

The ATA Carnet is a customs document, simplifying the procedure for the cross-border transport of merchandise, so that importers and exporters need use only one document to resolve all formalities.

Empty handshakes:

Tahirovic told Balkan Insight that Bosnian officials should do more to follow and support artists and other cultural workers exhibiting abroad.

“The duty of officials is not an empty handshake and a photograph,” he said.

“Their duty is to follow, help and visit those that work in the ‘factory of truth’, where history… tradition, culture and existence is created,” he added.

He said that he still hadn’t had an opportunity to meet Kaplan who had allegedly declined to be involved in Tahirovic's project.

“I'm angry because Minister Kaplan didn't give me opportunity to meet him. He didn't want to be participate in the realization of a regional project promoting peace and tolerance,” he said.

Balkan Insight sought an explanation from the ministry concerning the problems that Tahirovic said he had experienced, but no one responded by the time of publication.

The President of Bosnia’s association of visual artists, ULUBiH, Admir Mujkic, said Tahirovic had been let down.

“He is an artist who has been presenting Bosnia and Herzegovina in the best way for over than half century,” he said.

General problem:

Mujkic said other members of ULUBiH had the same problems with the government in terms of support.

“Every year we need to ask for money for our main exhibition. In any normal country, we would have a constant budget for it,” he said.

Mujkic said there was interest in the region in the work of artists from Bosnia, but lack of domestic support meant that cooperation remained a distant goal.

He said that artists in the region exhibited abroad whenever they could, but all had the same problem.

“In the culture of the countries in the region there is a similar situation, as institutions only have money for domestic art and rarely fund cooperation at an international level,” he maintained.

Filmmaker Srdjan Vuletic agrees that the Bosnian government is far from helpful to the arts world.

He complains of having only 750,000 euro of state funds per year for competitions for co-financing movies.

“The film industry has a budget of 750,000 euro per year, while the National Theatre has a budget of about 4 million,” he said.

“Where does that money go? The theatre is empty, they make only a few visits to the region and they keep on old employees who only want to keep their positions,” he added.

Serbia has much larger funds available for cultural projects, he maintained.

“There is no difference between a filmmaker from Bosnia or Serbia. A filmmaker from Serbia has the same problems as I do, except that they have more funds for culture projects,” he said.

He said the poor financial situation in the Bosnian culture world was not the fault only of the government, however. Cultural institutions were not doing their job.

“The government is to blame… but every cultural institution must have a strategy and plans for the immediate future,” he said.

Better experience:

On the other hand, another filmmaker, Pjer Zalica, says he has had a better experience with the Bosnian authorities.

He told Balkan Insight that he had obtained good cooperation with regional authors and regional funds, but also with some levels of the Bosnian state.

“Some of my projects in the region have been supported,” he said.

He noted that he had shown a number of his films at foreign festivals, such as “Orchestra”, which was shown in Nis, Serbia, in Bjelovar, Croatia, and in Holland while “Gori Vatra” was shown in Kosovo.

“Festival organizers have invited me to festivals and paid expense and often paid a decent fee for the right to the screening,” he continued.

Zalica said that he had had a positive relationship with some levels of the Bosnian state.

“The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Film Foundation has facilitated the realization of all my films,” he recalled.

“I’ve also had a little assistance from the City of Sarajevo and the Sarajevo Canton. And all municipal and state public services have been very helpful.”

When it comes to actual ministries, he said it all depends on the personal qualities of the minister.

“Ministries in Bosnia depend on the personal qualities of minister to a greater extent than it should normally be, because the system is not well established and developed,” he said.

A few plays:

 Last season the Bosnian art scene was presented in the region mostly through plays, especially through plays with a smaller number of actors whose settings are easy to transport.

However, a report from the Bosnian National Theatre states that only 16 performances took place outside Sarajevo, of which only four were outside Bosnia.

The opera made only two visiting performances, both inside the country and the ballet none.

Srdjan Vuletic says that culture institutions are victims of a wider problem.

“Unfortunately, I know that these institutions are all victims of the system, political beliefs and, of course, the overall political situation,” he said.

“Culture should not be a parasite on the budget,” he concluded.

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