National Museums in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia: A Story of Making ’Us’

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Publicerad: 2011-09-30


ISSN: 1650-3686 (tryckt), 1650-3740 (online)


This study explores the history of the five most significant national and regional museums in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia. The aim is to show how these museums contribute to the construction of national and other identities through collections; selections and classifications of objects of interest and through historical narratives.

The three museums from Bosnia and Herzegovina that are included in this study are The National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo; which was founded in 1888 and is the oldest institution of this kind in the country; the History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina founded in 1945 (Sarajevo) and the Museum of the Republic of Srpska in Banja Luka (the second largest city in BiH); which was founded in 1930 under the name the Museum of Vrbas Banovina. As far as Slovenia is concerned; two analysed museums; namely the National Museum of Slovenia (est. 1821) and the Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia (est. 1944/1948); are situated in Ljubljana; the capital of Slovenia. The most significant periods for the creation of museums as a part of the consolidation of political power and construction of regional and/or national identities can be labelled:

  • The period under the Austrian empire (-1918) and the establishment of first regional museums.
  • The creation of First Yugoslavia (1918-1941) and museum’s contribution in stabilization and universalization of the union of South Slavs.
  • The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1945-1992) and museological emphasis on socialist culture; politics of "brotherhood and unity" and regional differences.
  • The proclamation of independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia and the museological focus on the narratives about the struggle for independence and national history of the newborn states.

Both the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the National Museum of Slovenia were established as provincial museums within the Austrian empire in the nineteenth century. At the time of their establishment; the aim was; through preservation of historical artefacts of interest; to contribute to the cultivation of provincial (regional) identity on one hand and the Austrian Imperial identity on the other hand. For the museum in Ljubljana; the geopolitical and museological space of interest was much smaller during the period of the Austrian Empire (Austrian-Hungarian Empire) then it is today. In fact; it only included the province of Carniola with Ljubljana as the administrative and cultural centre. After the disintegration of the Austrian Empire in connection to the end of the First World War; the first Yugoslavia (The Kingdom of Serbs; Croats and Slovenes/The Kingdom of Yugoslavia) was formed. This political and administrational change led to a shift in ideological and identification-making focus of both museums insofar as the museums had to re-orientate towards more proclaimed trans-Yugoslav and monarchical identities; with Belgrade as a political and administrative centre; while at the same time maintaining the regional character. The formation of the first Yugoslavia also meant that almost all of the Slovene-speaking population was now; for the first time; united within one political and administrative entity in which the Slovene language had predominant position. Hence; the National Museum of Slovenia had to broaden its horizon in order to include the political; social and cultural history of the majority of regions where Slovenian was used.

After the Second World War; the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (also known as second Yugoslavia) was formed and it consisted of six republics; namely Slovenia; Croatia; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Serbia; Montenegro and Macedonia. The political change also implied a boom in the establishment of new museums whose focus was to interpret the contemporary past in accordance to strict guidelines of the communist regime. The institutions that today are called the History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina; the Museum of the Republic of Srpska and the Museum of Contemporary History of Slovenia played together with the national museum’s important part in the construction of a trans-Yugoslav communist identity; legitimization of the communist system and Titoism Titoism was socialist/communist ideology named after Josip Broz Tito; the leader of Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) as well as the assertion of the slogan “brotherhood and unity”. Parallel to this; all five museums continued to have distinct regional characters (i.e. Bosnian-Herzegovinian and Slovenian respectively). Unlike the other four museums; which had a regional (Slovenian or Bosnian-Herzegovinian) geopolitical perspective on one hand and a Yugoslav perspective on the other hand; the Museum of the Republic of Srpska had; since its establishment in the early 1930s; Bosnian and Herzegovinian; Yugoslav and explicit local vantage points; namely north-western Bosnian (since 1990’s the Republic of Srpska; which covers 49 percent of Bosnia and Herzegovina and includes northern and eastern parts of the country).

In connection to the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s; all museums changed their ideological; political and identification-making point of view. While the History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina treated Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent and unified entity; with a specific cultural and historical development; the Museum of the Republic of Srpska embraced the ideological standpoint that gave a special attention to the Serbian population within this Bosnian-Herzegovinian region. In this way; the museum differs from the other four museums which have had pronounced national and sovereign perspectives (i.e. Bosnian-Herzegovinian or Slovenian).


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