Rescuing cultural heritage, challenging state inaction
Bosnia and Herzegovina is often described as a fragile democracy. The truth, after more than 20 years since the end of the war, is that it is a “non-country” constantly on the verge of a new secession. It is a country trapped in a pervasive ethnic discourse that fosters and nurtures the three nationalistic oligarchies of the country's constituent peoples – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – while the population experiences rampant poverty and a high unemployment rate. In a society in perennial conflict over the recent past, and feverishly busy rewriting history to better serve ethnic divisions, the internet helps to spread the fire.
Political, economic and policy context
Yugoslavia signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) on 8 August 1967 and ratified it on 2 June 1971.3 At its collapse, the new states inherited the covenant through a succession process.4 Bosnia and Herzegovina acceded to it on 1 September 1993, during the war.5 This resulted in a constitutional provision reflecting the covenant in the Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitution.
The main document that provides the framework for legislation and decision making in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Dayton Agreement)6 signed in December 1995. The relevant sections, in our case, are Annex 6 (Agreement on Human Rights)7 and Annex 8 (Agreement on a Commission to Preserve National Monuments).8 This background is essential to understand the way in which cultural institutions and culture in general are framed in the post-war society. Annex 6 sets a framework for the respect of internationally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms, and establishes the Office of the Ombudsperson and its powers. Annex 8 establishes and regulates the creation of an independent commission to preserve national monuments, its power and processes.
“I Am the Museum”
The role of the internet here was to make a part of a forgotten collective culture accessible, and to provide access to valuable documents that were otherwise inaccessible. The four-year project, led by the feminist artists and activists Andreja Dugandžić and Adela Jušić, involved researching and curating materials from six different institutions in a unique virtual space. The archive was launched on 8 March 2015, and is available for anyone, including feminists, activists, students and researchers, to browse and learn about a historical period often mystified by the current political elites. The archive is a testimony once more of the strength of civil society collaborating with institutions as equal partners.21
Once more the rights holders – a specific group of citizens – took it upon themselves to fulfil the responsibility of the state as duty bearer. Perhaps because the initiative reached a smaller public than the Ja Sam Muzej initiative – its deeply political content could not count on widespread public interest – it did not receive state support, but instead turned to the public for support through crowdfunding.22 The web was used as a strategic tool to open up an archive which was otherwise inaccessible for the general public.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has submitted two reports to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR): in 2005 and 2012, while a third is expected in November 2018. In its reporting requirements for the first report, the Committee made a specific link between Article 15 on cultural rights and the impact of war on this right in the country: “Please provide information on measures taken by the State party to restore the cultural heritage damaged during the war.”23
This requirement was refined in the subsequent reporting cycles as follows:
Please provide information on legislative and other measures, as well as on the effectiveness of those measures, to ensure equal enjoyment of cultural rights by all groups, while preserving their own cultural identities and promoting intercultural understanding and appreciation of cultural heritage of other communities, in the entire territory of the State party.24
The internet cannot be an enabler of all ESCRs – and its potential to realise rights is diminished if there is no political will. Yet as this report has shown, it has the power to connect, to bypass restrictions and the limitations of authorities, to generate knowledge and to make content visible that is otherwise invisible. It has the potential to generate a critical mass of public support necessary for getting attention from the government as the principal duty bearer.
One thing that needs to be strengthened relates to seeing the internet as a “public interest” infrastructure. Bosnia and Herzegovina needs an open internet to host initiatives that challenge the fragmentation mastered by the political parties in power.
Politicians have learned that the internet is powerful, and after the massive protests in the country in 201326 and 2014,27 they have tried to control it, using terrorism and the safety of children as excuses. Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens cannot risk losing the internet they know if they want to continue their fight for human rights.
3In January 2012, Bosnia and Herzegovina was among the first 10 countries to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the ICESCR.
9Shaheed, F. (2014). Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed. Addendum: Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina (13-24 May 2013). www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session25/Documents/A_HRC_25_49_Add.1_ENG.DOC documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G14/117/22/PDF/G1411722.pdf?OpenElement
10The 17 minorities as recorded by the 1991 census prior to the 1992-1995 war: Albanians, Czechs, Germans, Hungarians, Italians, Jews, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Poles, Roma, Romanians, Russians, Ruthenians, Slovaks, Slovenians, Turks and Ukrainians. www.osce.org/bih/110231?download=true
11Shaheed, F. (2014). Op. cit.
12In her report, Shaheed refers to “the current uncertainty surrounding the fate of seven major cultural institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina: the National Museum, which had to close in 2012, as well as the National and University Library, the National Gallery, the Museum of History, the Film Archives Kinoteka, the Library for the Blind and Visually Impaired Persons, and the Museum of Theatre and Literature. These institutions were created by the pre-war Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but were never accepted by all as the official State institutions after the conflict.” Ibid.
21The online archive mentions the public institutions where the documents were sourced, such as Historijski muzej Bosne i Hercegovine; Nacionalni arhiv Bosne i Hercegovine; Muzej II zasjedanja AVNOJ-a, Jaice; UABNOR, Centar Sarajevo; and Muzej istorije Jugoslavije, but their banners are not included, suggestive of the democratic structure of the initiative.
23Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. (2004). List of issues to be taken up in connection with the consideration of the initial report of Bosnia and Herzegovina concerning the rights referred to in articles 1-15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (E/1990/5/Add.65) (E/C.12/Q/BIH/114). tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=E%2fC.12%2fQ%2fBIH%2f1&Lang=en
24List of issues: Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Pre-sessional working group. (2013). List of issues in relation to the second periodic report of Bosnia and Herzegovina (E/C.12/BIH/2), adopted by the pre-sessional working group at its fifty-first session (21-24 May 2013) (E/C.12/WG/BIH/Q/2). tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=E%2FC.12%2FWG%2FBIH%2FQ%2F2&Lang=en
26Mujanović, J. (2013, 11 June). “Bebolucija!”: The #JMBG Movement in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Politics, Re-Spun. politicsrespun.org/2013/06/bebolucija-the-jmbg-movement-in-bosnia-herzegovina/
27Kern, M. (2014, 3 March). The politics of division and sabotage. Bosnia-Herzegovina Protest Files. https://bhprotestfiles.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/the-politics-of-division-and-sabotage
This report was originally published as part of a larger compilation: “Global Information Society Watch 2016: economic, cultural and social rights and the internet” which can be downloaded from https://www.giswatch.org/2016-economic-social-and-cultural-rights-escrs-and-internet
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