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The Museum and Bosnian Identity

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National Museum

Bosnia-Hercegovina was occupied in 1878 by the Austro-Hungarians. The whole country soon began to undergo major changes, nowhere more so than Sarajevo. In 1884 the city's museum was founded. However, as Robert Donia explains in his history of the city, the museum was not opened simply to provide amusement and education.

At the heart of the museum's political agenda was the belief that a dualist religious heresy known as Bogomilism had been widespread among members of the medieval Bosnian church. After the Ottoman conquest, Bogomils were believed to have converted en masse to Islam to preserve their privileged social status and retain their large landholdings.

In the view promoted by museum researchers, Bogomils were proto-Muslims unique to Bosnia-Herzegovina and the forefathers of its contemporary population. Bosnians could trace their origins to identifiable antecedents that long preceded the arrival of Islam. Throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina, the museum's scientific investigators encountered thousands of distinctive medieval burial markers, some decorated with architectural, floral, and human motifs. Museum researchers saw in these tombstones, known as stećci (singular stećak), the sculptural evidentiary remains of vanished Bogomilism. They argued that the primary sculptural motifs found on the tombstones were unique to Bogomil beliefs and practices.

Subsequent research has established that the stećci were used in pre-Ottoman Bosnia by believers of all faiths and incorporated an eclectic mixture of motifs favored by the Dubrovnik stonemasons who crafted many of them. Some of the largest and most elaborately carved stećci were transported to the Regional Museum for display on the grounds, where they remain as of this writing in the open air, gradually deteriorating from weather and pollution.

Today the museum is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 10.00 am to 2.00 pm.

Sarajevo: A Biography. Robert Donia. 2006.
[p. 90 / Hurst]

January 2007
Tim Judah

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  1. Istanbul: Pamuk's City
  2. Istanbul: Swimming across the Bosphorus
  3. Salonika and the Jews
  4. Salonica: Slaves and Trade
  5. Thessalonika: 1923
  6. Ohrid: Rise and Fall
  7. Tornado of Dust - 1944
  8. Awake Romania - 1989
  9. Novi Sad: Nest of the Serbian nation
  10. Nis: War Capital, 1915
  11. Belgrade and the Selenites
  12. 1996: Serbia Calling
  13. Belgrade Train Station - 1964
  14. Srebrenica: Vengeance
  15. Srebrenica: Blood
  16. Srebrenica: July 1995
  17. Mealtime - Interwar years in Travnik
  18. Dayton: The Napkin Shuttle
  19. London Buses in Sarajevo
  20. The Museum and Bosnian Identity
  21. Foča: The Bosniak
  22. Kosovo: The Swiss Front
  23. Mitrovica: 1908
  24. Pristina: Kosovo like Namibia?
  25. City without traffic - Pristina 1966
  26. Durham in Pristina - 1908
  27. Tirana: 1962
  28. Zog's Tirana
  29. The Kotor - Constantinople Express
  30. Kotor and the Montenegrins
  31. The Rabbi of Stolac
  32. Dubrovnik: England, Wine and Wool
  33. Cetinje: Nikola Under the Elm
  34. Cetinje: 1858
  35. Dalmatia: Ships & Grapes
  36. Prophet of Yugoslavism
  37. The head of the world
  38. 1919: Mushrooms and Lies
  39. Sofia: Bulgaria's Jews during WWII
  40. Zamfirovo: Rural livelihoods in the mid-1990s
  41. Kosovo
  42. Romania: 1914
  43. Istanbul: Food and the frugal Turks
  44. Micklagard: Surprising, cosmopolitan Constantinople
  45. Sukhumi: The history of the region became ashes
  46. Black Sea: The coming of steam and rail
  47. Mestrovic: Motherhood and the Victor
  48. Rizvanovici, Bosnia: Gnashing
  49. Down the Danube with Magris: Ruse
  50. From Pristina to Tskhinvali
  51. Serbia, Historians and Hitler's War
  52. Balkan Strongmen: Bulgaria's Zhivkov
  53. Sarajevo: The Siege Within
  54. Turkey: Osman's Dream
  55. Durres 1961: Beijing on Sea
  56. Cetinje: Eggs for the Ladies
  57. Bosnia: Land of Immigrants
  58. Ottoman Croatia
  59. Harem: All the Sultan's Women
  60. Sibiu: Regime Change, European Style
  61. 1929: The Balkans and the Great Crash
  62. Rumeli and how the Balkans became the Balkans
  63. 1948: Stalin, Kosovo and Swallowing Albania
  64. Transforming Turkey: the 1950s
  65. McMafia and the Balkans
  66. 1916: Serbia in Corfu
  67. Princes Amongst Men
  68. Limp Shevardnadze
  69. Knin: War and Suburbia
  70. In the Mountains of Poetry
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