Presented at the 67th annual meeting of the European Association of Archaeology, Thessaloniki, September 2002.

Alvaro Higueras ()

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Post-war Landscapes: Cultural Heritage and Politics in the ex-Yugoslavia

Evaluating the new strategies in museum and cultural heritage management by new countries is often a complex and broad topic. The contents of my abstract to this paper had quite broad objectives, so I have found it better to focus this presentation to the context of the seven year-old Bosnia and Herzegovina, and to monumental cultural heritage. This is alone a very complex issue given the very turbulent history of the country in the last decade and the very peculiar political organization that resulted from the 1995 peace agreements. 

The multiethnic composition and the three faiths practiced in Bosnia and Herzegovina (often equated to a micro-cosmos of Yugoslavia) is the key to its attractiveness and to its problems. But they are not the reasons for the 1992-95 conflict. I subscribe to the view that the conflict was mastered by politicians and fed to the people: it was a top-down affair. Interethnic suspicions, historical mistrust, or a rediscovered religious diversity –generated by increasing religious practices-- were not at the origin of the war. It is the communist politicians in power in 1992 that dumped communist rhetoric and politics and immediately brandished a nationalistic discourse. From convinced atheists during the various decades of low-key and condemned religious practices, they cemented their discourse on the religious differences of the “national” groups of Bosnia Herzegovina. That is why cultural heritage was not a casual victim of the war but rather a precise, rational target in the consolidation of the new monoethnic polities.
As Joel Halpern puts it: “ One of the notable features of the Yugoslav conflict is the unity of objectives of the warring parties. That is, they have all focused on the destruction of the cultural heritage of their enemies while cataloguing and mourning their own losses.” But then he adds: “ Particularly lacking has been a sense of a common heritage worth preserving. “ 

That was exactly the point of the destruction of cultural heritage: to leave no trace of any common heritage. This common heritage consisted in the coexistence of monuments of different faiths in a single town and in the underground tradition of sharing religious places during the communist period. And we can add that not even the potential attraction of this heritage for tourism was a consideration. Here we have a case where the nationalistic defeats the economic.

Bosnia had always been a single territory under Ottomans, Austrians or Yugoslavia since the Middle Ages. And heritage of different periods and religions were interspersed in the country with no clear demarcation for any ethnic of religious groups. While demographic distribution of populations has changed radically after the war and some towns have effectively effaced monuments of the “other” ethnic groups, other cases remain of continuity of this coexistence.

Bosnia is today in a period of reconstruction of its cultural heritage and cities. The question is how are decisions made about which destroyed monuments should be restored and which are to left to decay? Who makes these decisions? How is cultural heritage being integrated into the new urban, ethnic and historical scenario? 

The cases discussed here are Sarajevo, Mostar, and Banja Luka. They are, respectively, the main cities for the Muslim, Croat and Serb populations of Bosnia. All but Mostar are effective capitals of their respective entity: the Bosnian Federation and Republika Srpska, while Sarajevo is the official country capital.

Pre-war Cultural Heritage in the Bosnian Landscape
The main feature of cultural heritage in Bosnia during the Yugoslav period and before the war was that religious monuments of each of the three faiths were interspersed in the territory mimicking the even distribution of the three ethnic groups. The populations were so mixed spatially that it was difficult, at the start of the war, to define, for example, a “Serbian territory”. Today it exists. And overall it can be said that Muslim and Croat populations have drifted towards different sections of the country.

During the Yugoslav period, the preservation of the cultural heritage of the three faiths, despite a very low-profile religious practice, was the cornerstone of Yugoslav tourism. There was a policy for their maintenance and promotion. 

Post- war Cultural Heritage 
The actors in the process of reconstruction are at this time quite diverse. There are local governments and international organizations at heads on many issues. There is also urban expansion and increasing influence by religious groups (local and foreign in the shape of non-governmental organizations). 

Under the supervision of the UN and the stabilization forces of NATO local administrations are constructing a completely new civil society based on free elections and a market economy. Oddly enough it is often ex-communist politicians that practice that agenda. With regard to cultural heritage their position is often opposite to what occurred during the Yugoslav period and to what the international community proposes to reinvigorate the new multiethnic mosaic of Bosnia. Tourism will not be an issue when it comes to decide the reconstruction of Ottoman mosques in the Serbian Republic: they simply will not be reconstructed. On the other hand, the UN is often at odds with local governments regarding reconstruction of heritage.

In Bosnia today it is not only a matter of how the local populations see their past and plan to manage their heritage, but coping with the political decisions of the international community that are often imposed for political purposes. 

The capital of the Republika Srpska of Bosnia is a city that before the war had a strong Moslem flair. Today a majority Serbian population peoples the city as the Serbian Republic of Bosnia. Ten years ago the Muslim populations made about 20% of its population. It is clear by recent events that the Republika Srpska will forge a new perception and construction of the past that will most probably omit references to remnant minorities. 

During the war in 1993 fifteen mosques in the city were razed to the ground. (The Catholic Church still stands.) Among them was the second largest mosque in the Balkans. Moslem cemeteries and Moslem mausoleums were in most cases preserved. They stand today alone amid the empty areas were mosques and minarets were. Several mosques have been restored in the countryside in all-Muslim villages (with people returning from their exile). But when it came to rebuild one of Banja Luka’s main mosques the riots by nationalists dented once more the rocky process of coexistence. The UN had imposed this decision. The international community is favoring a fast-track reconciliation process, which does not consider the sentiments of the locals. It is difficult to understand that any reconciliation can occur in so little time, seven years, and under external pressure. The natural process of reconciliation is therefore accelerated in Bosnia, with the only result of exacerbating hatred between ethnic groups. 

Mostar provides another example of the reconstruction of the cultural landscape. It is now a divided city, which has swapped its former Serbian population and strengthened its Croat population. A large number of mosques have been restored. While there has been little financial help from foreign NGO’s for Catholic churches. This is understandable given that none were considered heritage. Nevertheless, there has been local money poured on the Croatian side to build new catholic churches and display of crosses. One might argue that it is to counterbalance not the richness of Muslim heritage, but the number of mosques and minarets that are being restored which were systematically destroyed during the war. The jewel of Mostar, the Stone Bridge, is still being reconstructed.

In addition, the international administration has sponsored a new project for the construction of a synagogue, on the former front-line between Muslim and Catholic buildings. They want to have in Mostar a true multiethnic town, no matter that Muslims and Croats are divided and the current Jewish community of Mostar is very small.

Despite three years of siege and constant bombardment, Sarajevo’s cultural heritage survived the war in a relatively good shape. The exception is the library that was burned and all its holdings lost. Sarajevo has received most of the funds In Bosnia for the restoration of its old town and monuments. Rightly so, it continues to be a thriving multi-ethnic city where the coexistence of the three ethnic groups maintains pre-war patterns.

Final comments
The management and future of the cultural heritage in Bosnia is a process in the making. However, in some sense the politics of the war continue to exist in some parts of the country. This is not abnormal. It takes more than seven years to dissipate resentments. It may even take five decades and a fight as has happened in Western Europe to acknowledge past events. I believe it is a mistake of the UN to impose reconstructing a mosque today in the center of the new Serbian State of Bosnia. 

Observations of the patterns of reconstruction and restoration of monuments are showing us that important decisions regarding new landscapes have been made and will be made in the future as reconstruction progresses. Because of the changes in the country the state of cultural heritage will be radically changed forever. And the new societies of Bosnia will either have to continue to preserve the cultural heritage of the past (like in Mostar), or will have to start rebuilding its heritage with new monuments. That is the case for Banja Luka that is reconstructing an old Orthodox Church destroyed in the First World War. This church is part of that future.

The analysis of cultural heritage in the Balkans is part of a larger project that analyzes how the remote and recent past is remembered, reconstructed and promoted. This “archaeology of war” studying ravaged landscapes punctuated by crimes against humanity on monuments is complemented by a forensic component that deals with the effects of ethic cleansing and crimes in current populations.