APPEAL FOR THE PROTECTION OF ART WORKS // 06. 1992.
AZRA BEGIC // ART CRITIC
ORAL HISTORY - INTERVIEW
ORAL HISTORY - TRANSCRIPT

June 1992

Azra Begic
Art critic
APPEAL FOR THE PROTECTION OF ART WORKS

‘There were a whole bunch of very, very, very hard-working and active young people who never regretted their work and never regretted putting their lives on the line. Regardless of the shelling, the bullets, and the alarms, we sent them to save cultural objects throughout the town. That was truly a heroic time, when we were organizing cultural projects in our town. The organization of cultural resistance went on for quite some time. That was only one of the projects in which I was active during the war, but one of those that I can say I am extremely proud of, together with all those who helped me. Because they worked extremely unselfishly, and came every day. Within each sub-committee, we decided what it was that we were going to do. Institutions helped each other out, we exchanged our knowledge and experience, we exchanged workers, we exchanged materials. And we proved that even under those conditions it was possible to get something done, that even under those conditions it was possible to do what could be done for our city, and to save, to pull at least some of our cultural monuments from the flames.’

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JUNE 1992


• A home for the blind becomes a perch for armed Serb paramilitary troops.
• The JNA leaves the largest barracks, “Marsal Tito,” in the city center.
• Telephone connection cut: Sarajevo – the World.


• The citizens, shut in their apartment blocks and basements because of the unending shelling, begin organizing block events.
• The city faces severe food shortages. The local community creates a mini farm at Buljakov stream to survive.


• When the aggressor attacks Aerodromsko naselje citizens turn their radios up to the song, “Don’t give up, Bosnia!”


• The UN leads negotiations on reclaiming the airport, which is under the control of the JNA and Serb terrorists.
• Sarajevan psychiatrists give advice to citizens on how to mentally survive: establish as many contacts as possible, avoid isolation, show solidarity, share everything with others, and do as much as possible – invent tasks rather than sit with folded arms.
• Methadone runs out, a treatment for narcotics addicts.
• The electrical power system in BiH is divided up.
• The Presidency of BiH proclaims a state of war and general mobilization.
• Louis Mackenzie, UNPROFOR Commander, brokers a two day truce as a condition for opening the airport.
• The building of the "Oslobodjenje" newspaper burns, under heavy artillery attacks.
• JNA planes target the TV transmitter in Mostre near Visoko, in the vicinity of Sarajevo.
• Serb paramilitary troop expel Muslim and Croat citizens from the Sarajevo suburb of Ilidza.


• The President of the Presidency of BiH announces that he will leave for a conference in Strasbourg on April 25 if the airport is opened and if UNPROFOR secures the road to the airport.
• Before the conference in Strasbourg, special units of MUP petition against a cantonized and divided Bosnia.
• The Public Prosecutor’s Office of BiH in Sarajevo issues a ban on the SDS. The proceedings are initiated by the Center for Antiwar Activities and the Prosecutor’s office makes the ruling.
• SDS barricades halt BiH Olympians on their way to the Olympic Games in Barcelona.
• "Gras" tram conductors transport Sarajevans, and a fifth column inquires as to the departure times of trams which are then told to SDS terrorists so that they can fire upon them fro the hills.
• Klaus Kinkel, the German Foreign Minister, feels helpless rage and falls into a deep depression over the inability of the international community to help Bosnia and Sarajevo.
• Strasbourg, June 25, 1992. A summit on BiH begins in Strasbourg. Presiding over the summit is Lord Carrington. Participants: Haris Silajdzic, Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman.
• Waiting for a ceasefire before opening the airport, Louis Mackenzie: the BiH government has an effective military in the city, while the Serbs state they will not fire at civilian targets, meaning they can fire at military targets.
• Sarajevans, being heavy smokers, smoke a variety of types of cigarettes in the besieged city; the healthiest are the KOKTEL cigarettes.
• MUP issues guidelines for safe movement in the city amid shelling and sniper fire.
• In the Sarajevo neighborhood of Alipasino polje, B block, a chess competition is held.


• The peace conference in Strasbourg collapses.
• Abandoned house pets roam the city because their owners have fled.
• Sarajevo′s “Velepekara” (mass bakery) no longer produces bread, the staple food of Sarajevo, because it lacks yeast.
• Table tennis players from Sarajevo go to Crkvenica to prepare for a European tournament.
• French President François Mitterand, makes a completely unannounced landing at the closed Sarajevo airport, and later goes on a tour of the besieged city. He visits the State and Military Hospitals, and on this visit resolves the crisis over the delivery of humanitarian aid, just as he later blocks eventual air strikes against Bosnian Serb positions.
• The Presidency decides to implement work quotas for all civilians.
• The blue UN flag flaps over the runway of Sarajevo airport, three minutes before the UN Security Council convenes at the deadline of the ultimatum given the Bosnian Serbs. The first planes carrying humanitarian aid arrive in Sarajevo.
• All contact with the outside world is cut off.
• New York, June 30, 1992. The UN Security Council adopts Resolution 761 which authorizes the Secretary General to employ UNPROFOR to establish the security and functioning of Sarajevo airport. Article 2 of the Resolution urges all parties to maintain an absolute and unconditional ceasefire.

Cultural survival

The besieged city defends itself by culture and thus survives. Groups and individuals create whatever they used to create before the siege In impossible circumstances they produce films, write books, publish newspapers, produce radio programs, design postcards, stage exhibitions, performances, make blueprints for rebuilding the city, found new banks, organize fashion shows, shoot photographs, celebrate holidays, put on make up... Sarajevo is the city of the future and of the life in the post-cataclysm. In it on the ruins of the old civilization a new one is sprouting, an alternative one, composed of remains of urban elements Sarajevo lives a life of futuristic comics and science fiction movies.

CULTURAL SURVIVAL

Sarajevo is a unique city on the planet. It is the site where our civilization has been dismantled in the course of intentional violence.
But Sarajevo is also the symbol of civil defense, the site where violence has been fought back with tolerance, fascism with art and culture, destruction with rebuilding, death with humour, the outburst of rural culture with the one that's urban terror with stubborn maintaining of normal city lifestyle.
Sarajevo has been deprived of all the civil, existential and social rights. It has been deprived of the right to live. Everything that makes normal urban living has been taken away from Sarajevo and its citizens, everything that could have been taken away has been taken away, all except for the right to survive by maintaining the right to culture.
But among all that destruction and dying, kids are being born, birthdays celebrated, weddings carried out. In the city surrounded by the deadly circle of primitivism the exhibitions are being opened, movies made, festivals organized, theatre plays and musicals performed.
Sarajevo lives the post-cataclysm. It is the picture of civilization emerging out of cataclysm, making something out of nothing, giving messages for the future.
Not because the future is necessarily a future of wars and disasters, but because humans are growing older and being born into a world which is ever less secure.
All that has been left under the ruins of Sarajevo, all that has survived the shelling of our civilization is the spirit of the cultural survival. The reconstruction of that spirit, the spirit of Sarajevo must start – now. Otherwise – Sarajevo will become the graveyard of the principles of multiethnicity and human rights.

Azra Begic
She was born in Pocitelj, Bosnia, on October 23, 1931. She graduated from the Architecture College in Sarajevo and from the Philosophy College in Zagreb, the history of art department. She got MA in Belgrade. She also studied at Ecole de Louvre in Paris. She taught history of art at the Philosophy College in Sarajevo. She spent a long time in Paris and in Cairo, where she researched all phases of Egyptian art, and especially Islamic civilization and culture. She has organized many exhibitions and published a lot of articles in the country and abroad. Since 1959 she has been working as curator and art adviser at the Art Gallery of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

THE SIEGE
At the beginning of the siege she and her colleagues sent many futile appeals for the salvation of Bosnia’s cultural heritage. During the siege she was elected president of the executive board of the National Museum, where she still works today. She worked on the art projects “Spirituality and Destruction” and “Witnesses to Existence.” During the whole war she participated in congresses, open discussions, symposiums, TV and radio shows, wrote articles for press and catalogues...

It there were life after life, in what shape would you return?
As a person who continues where she stopped in the previous life.

How do you describe perfect happiness?
As a perfect inner fusion.

What is you biggest loss?
The death of the dearest.

What is your biggest gain?
Friendship.

When and where were you happiest?
In November 1980, and in March 1982, in Puttaparatha, India.

What are your lost illusions?
As a Bosniak, I have lost illusions about democracy, justice and human rights of the western civilization.

Describe your day at work.
Meetings and participation at cultural events, organizing exhibits, searching for the fax and the journalists-couriers. Nothing spectacular.

Sarajevo?
A trap for those who love it.

What words don’t you use anymore?
I still use all words, trying to enrich my vocabulary.

In your opinion, is morale a virtue?
Yes, of course, I am old fashioned.

Where would you like to live?
In Prasantha Nilayam.

How have you survived?
1) I have been missed by bullets and shells, and the Bosnian Army has put itself between me and the Chetnik knife. 2) Thanks to a) my sister Jasminka who let me into her own home, where I live today, being a refugee in my own city, b) the help of my family and numerous friends all over the world.

What are you afraid of?
Of spiritually falling back.

Does the past exist for you?
Yes.

This is the end of a civilization. What will the next one be like?
I am not a futurologist, but I hope it will be better than this one.

Can you give us a recipe for mental health?
Premeditated work, faith.

How would you like to die?
Fully conscious.

Do you need hope to live?
Yes.

What did ’92 look like, and ’93, and ’94?
92, a shock (What are they doing to us?). ’93, Godot will never come. ’94, Everything is as it was before.

How would you call this period of your life?
A long war period.

Your message from the end of the world, from a country of last things?
I don’t know the country of last things.

Do you like life, and what is life all about?
I love life very much. “I threw away this very small thing I call “myself”, and became an endless world.” (Soseki, Japan.) It is difficult, but possible, say the ones who know.

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