The staff of Bosnia’s Zemaljski Muzej (National Museum) in Sarajevo and the civic action group „Akcija“ have been awarded one of the most prestiguous European prizes for museums, the Europa Nostra (Our Europe) Award for Dedication. It is a recognition of the outstanding commitment of the museum’s staff and Akcija to preserve this gem of Bosnia’s cultural and scientific heritage.

The award of what the Austrian migrant magazine „Kosmo“ calls the Oscar of Cultural Heritage couldn’t come at a better time.

Barely a year after its reopening after three years of forced shutdown Zemaljski Muzej is re-establishing itself as a centerpiece of cultural life in Bosnia.

(c) Ziyah Gafić
(c) Ziyah Gafić

Just this Friday the exhibition „Udaljeni Horizont/The Distant Horizon“ curated by photographer and activist Jim Marshall had its successful opening.

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(c) Adisa Marshall
(c) Adisa Marshall
Curator Jim Marshall (c) Adisa Marshall

And the museum’s homepage has been revamped, providing extensive information and a glimpse into the beauties of scientific and cultural heritage not only of Bosnia but of the Balkans in general the institution has to offer.

„A Truly Impressive Victory“

None of this would have been possible without the perseverance and dedication of the museum’s staff and the invaluable help Akcija provided.

(c) Ziyah Gafić
(c) Ziyah Gafić

The employees kept the museum alive after it was shutdown over budget disputes between Bosnia’s two entities Federacija Bosne i Hercegovine and Republika Srpska in 2012. They guarded and maintained the collection without pay until the re-opening in September 2015.

In its decision to award its prize for dedication to the staff of Zemaljski Muzej and Akcija the jury of Europa Nostra highlights what that meant.

“Throughout times of extreme turmoil, the museum workers at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the NGOs and activists who assisted them, worked hard and without pay for three years. Their commitment to their vocations which was publicly articulated through the large-scale, cross-border civic campaign conducted by AKCIJA, mobilised massive support from the public and the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina and beyond. Finally, it influenced policy at a state level. This victory for civil engagement in cultural heritage is truly impressive”.

This victory also is a sign for Bosnia’s civil society that comittment can make a difference.

And that there is a common cultural heritage that is worth preserving – for it may be the basis for a common cultural identity that transcends the nationalist narratives the people of this country are suffering so much under.

The world famous Sarajevo Haggadah (c) Ziyah Gafić
The world famous Sarajevo Haggadah (c) Ziyah Gafić

>And perhaps this award will also be sign to the world that Bosnia and the Balkans have a rich history to offer that is worth exploring first hand.

Zemajlski Muzej boasts a collection of no less than four million artefacts, making it one of the most important museums in South Eastern Europe.

So perhaps it would be a good place to start the exploration.

Title photograph: (c) Ziyah Gafić, found at flickr.com under CC license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.