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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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  3. Salonika and the Jews
  4. Salonica: Slaves and Trade
  5. Thessalonika: 1923
  6. Ohrid: Rise and Fall
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  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?
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  32. Dubrovnik: England, Wine and Wool
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  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
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  54. Turkey: Osman's Dream
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  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
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