21 September 2012

20 years later: The National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Vedran Smailović plays his cello in the destroyed National Library, Sarajevo

1992: Vedran Smailović plays his cello in the destroyed National Library, Sarajevo.
Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev

20 years have now past since the deliberate destruction of the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina (NULB&H), also known as Vijećnica.

What has happened since?

Vijećnica, one of the most representative of Sarajevo's buildings and a former bastion of books and knowledge, burnt during a summer night in 1992. Despite of extraordinary efforts of firemen, employees and book lovers, approximately 2 million library items and a great part of its special collections were consumed in the flames.

On 25 August 2012, employees of NULB&H honored the 20th anniversary of the library's destruction—remembering the terrible event and also acknowledging the incalculable role libraries like Vijećnica play in building a civil and knowledge-based society for the 21st century.

Dr. Ismet Ovčina, the current Director of NULB&H, had this to say:

NULB&H is a custodian of Bosnia–Herzegovina (BH) cultural and historical heritage and [such a great loss is] a thorn in anyone's side connected with preserving the continuity of BH sovereignty. Documents from a thousand years of state history in the stormy Balkans are its treasure.ʺ

Many important items were saved from the flames, including: manuscripts, postcards, maps, graphics, personal archives and various original documents from different periods of BH development. Unfortunately, only 19,700 items from these special collections could be saved from the original 200,000.

Dr. Ismet Ovčina, Director of the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Dr. Ismet Ovčina, Director of the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Dr. Ovčina also spoke about the present, critical situation that the NULB&H faces. He emphasized that its still temporary home is at the Campus of University of Sarajevo, where the Library exists as a subtenant. However, since the burning of Vijećnica the NULB&H has successfully reconstituted itself, expanding with new library materials and extended services; it has in effect reestablished all its functions.

On 6 April 2012, the NULB&H received the City of Sarajevo Award for its successful role in the field of culture, education and science.

Dr. Ovčina specifically pointed to the precarious financial situation of the Library today, which along with the other six institutions of cultural and national significance (including the National Museum, National Gallery and the National Cinematheque, etc.), remain in an unresolved legal status and therefore receive no regular funding.

The Director of the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dr. Adnan Busuladžić, explained that the NULB&H experienced two culturocides: first in 1992 with the burning of Vijećnica and now with the present situation—as the NULB&H is in danger of perishing along with the six other cultural institutions of the BH state.

Source: Obilježena 20. godišnjica od stradanja NUBBIH u Vijećnici, National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina. (28 .08.12)

See also:

Cultural heritage, Preservation, National libraries

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