Rebuilding together. France helps UNESCO rehabilitate cultural institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina



In the aftermath of the devastating floods of 2014, France together with Slovenia and the European Union convened a Donors' Conference to mobilise further support to Bosnia and Herzegovina. In a mark of solidarity, France donated 1 Million euro to support the reconstruction of 3 cultural institutions: Doboj, Maglaj & Bosanski Šamac. The project is not only a rebuilding challenge but also an opportunity to contribute to the full recovery and wellbeing of the population heavily affected by the floods through the re-establishment of essential cultural public services.

On 13-18 May 2014, the worst floods in living memory of the Balkans affected an estimated one million people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a fourth of the population. The devastation was colossal in a country still recovering from consequences of the war. 81 municipalities were reported to have suffered substantial damages, losses, social or environmental impacts of different degrees; and, hundreds of thousands of households, many of whom, mostly vulnerable groups, displaced and without proper shelter.

As part of the Government-led Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) exercise - conducted at the request of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina with the support of the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank -, UNESCO undertook an evaluation of the damage and reconstruction needs in the municipalities most affected by the floods. Key cultural infrastructures in the 3 municipalities were identified as exceptionally needful of intervention, having in mind that the continuous interruption of cultural and educational services severely impacted on the population, especially in terms of human development.

UNESCO responded to this emergency recovery need with the project on “Revitalisation of cultural institutions and services in flood affected municipalities Doboj, Maglaj and Bosanski Šamac”. The project implemented by UNESCO through its Regional Bureau for Science and culture in Europe, Venice (Italy), and its Antenna Office in Sarajevo has received the generous financial assistance of 1 million euro from France.

Of chief importance for the project is the involvement of the local authorities and the inhabitants - especially schoolchildren and young people. Access to culture and the ability to practice one’s culture are essential components of human rights; they likewise contribute significantly to the psychological healing of post-disaster traumas and the strengthening of the social cohesion and resilience of the affected communities. Taking into account the social dimension of the recovery and the undeniable power of culture, the expected outcomes of the project are that of bringing stability and, in the long term, helping build up a stronger cultural sector that can lay the foundation for lasting peace and economic recovery.

The project of a duration of 24 months was initiated in April 2015 with coordinated efforts to rehabilitate the people’s library of Doboj (Narodna Biblioteka in Doboj), the Cultural Centres in Maglaj and Bosanski Šamac. These institutions serve the local population by giving access to a broad range of cultural resources and facilitating the practice of cultural expressions and culture dialogue: traditional crafts, music, costumes, dance, concerts, poetry readings and book presentations. Their rehabilitation is a vital component of the sustainability and development of those communities affected by the floods, that, over the decades have seen a large demographic population shift as many departed the region.

Within the framework of such constructive cooperation, the Institut français of Bosnia and Herzegovina in partnership with UNESCO and the French Embassy in Sarajevo are convening on 3-5 February 2016 an encounter entitled  “Deconstruction/Reconstruction: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Laboratory of Europe”. The event is organised in cooperation with the European network LIKE - European Cities and regions for culture with a view to reinforcing capacity building for the cultural and creative sectors.

The meeting hosted by the Institut français in Sarajevo will allow for an exchange of know-how and experiences around the question: "How does culture foster intercultural dialogue?". Bearing in mind the link between European integration and reconstruction, Sarajevo will be illustrated as a laboratory city in Europe with its cultural diversity and its post-conflict situation. The encounter will comprise a series of lectures, workshops and round tables to speak about deconstruction/reconstruction of European territories and to challenge participants to express concepts and ideas. A thematic in-the-field day “Reconstruction beyond rebuilding”, with visits to Maglaj and Doboj, will close the event.

Link: Le rendez-vous de Sarajevo: Deconstruction/Reconstruction