SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — It survived the breakup of the Austrian empire, two world wars, the longest city siege in modern history and a bloody war in the 1990s that killed 100,000 people. Yet after 124 years, Bosnia's National Museum closed its doors Thursday due to dwindling state funding and disputes among rival ethnic groups.
Having not received their salaries for a year, employees gathered at the fountain in the museum's botanical garden and threw a coin into it, making a wish that the institution will reopen soon. Then they left the building in downtown Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, and nailed wooden boards that read "closed" across its front door.
Museum director Adnan Busuladzic says he has lost hope that politicians will solve the problem any time soon.
"There are two opposing ideas on how this country should be organized," Busuladzic explained. "This society is at war over those ideas and nobody cares about a museum."
This museum and six other institutions that are the custodians of Bosnia's national heritage — and care for precious medieval manuscripts, religious relicts and natural history artifacts, among other items — are victims of the 1995 peace agreement that ended Bosnia's war. The deal split the Balkan nation along ethnic lines into two semi-autonomous parts linked by a weak central government and guided by a constitution that did not envisaged a ministry of culture.
This left the seven cultural institutions without a guardian and without funding.
For years they have been surviving on donations or often-insufficient, ad-hoc grants from different layers of government and hoping that political leaders from the country's mostly Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks will agree on what to do with Bosnia's shared historical and cultural heritage. The questions extend even to whether to preserve it.
Bosnian Serbs oppose giving the central government control over the cultural sites. Their leaders insist that Bosnia is an artificial state that should be dissolved and that each of the country's ethnic groups has its own heritage.