Culture of Bosnia-Herzegovina

Located on the Balkan Peninsula, Bosnia and Herzegovina boasts centuries of artistic culture adopted from Balkan, Asian and European influences. Despite the country’s small size, Bosnian artists, scientists and musicians have achieved worldwide acclaim, including Vladimir Prelog, who won the 1975 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and the renown filmmaker Emir Kusturica.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is known for its regional folk costumes and dances, showcased at various folklore festivals. Dances are performed in separate groups of women, men and children, or in other various groups. Usually dancers hold hands or are linked together by handkerchiefs, small towels or strings of beads, as well as grip each others’ belts or shoulders. Men’s dances are usually more vigorous, while women’s are a bit more graceful. Dances are accompanied by such traditional instruments as drums, flutes, lyres and violins. Some dances are performed without music, originally intended to express people’s independence from the Turkish regime, which once banned Slavic music.
The art and architecture of Bosnia and Herzegovina were strongly influenced by various religions. The more than 60,000 stecak, medieval tombstones of the Bosnian Kingdom, are the most complete expression of medieval art in the country, located at some 2,600 sites. Other medieval art attractions include the religious icons of saints and biblical subjects on wooden panels, as well as early church paintings associated with Orthodox and Catholic churches, mosques and synagogues. Most of the country’s religious buildings are centuries old. The largest Islamic monument and landmark in the country is the famous Bey’s Mosque in Sarajevo.
The origins of Bosnian literature can be traced back to the ancient monasteries and churches. Modern Bosnian writers reflect on subjects connected with their country’s struggles. Zlata Filipovic, a Bosnian teenager, wrote Zlatas Diary, which is a contemporary version of Anne Frank’s Diary of the Second World War. Ivo Andric is a famous Bosnian novelist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1961. His most important works include the Travink Chronicle and Bridge on the Drina, which explore the interacting histories of the Orthodox churches and Muslim mosques in Bosnian towns.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has also produced many distinguished films. A peak in Bosnian cinema included the production of the film No Man’s Land, by the Bosnian director Denis Tanovic, which won an Academy Award in 2002. Director Emir Kusturica has won international acclaim with many of his films as well.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has suffered a turbulent past with frequent foreign invasions and occupations, reflected in Bosnian music, which is a mixture of ethnic Bosnian, Serb, Croat, Roma, Greek, Hungarian, Macedonian and Turkish influences. When the country was part of the former Yugoslavia, cultural artistic societies existed, which played mainly Bosnian music. The national music of Bosnia, ‘sevdalinka’ (from the Turkish word for love), can also be seen in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These folk songs are a mixture of Bosnian and Turkish music, traditionally performed with a ‘saz’, a popular Turkish string instrument, and a single vocalist accompanied by an accordion, guitars, clarinets, or violins. Kadir Kurtagic, Hasim Muharemovic, Emina Ahmedhodzic and Muhamed Mesanovic-Hamic are popular sevdalinka singers, whose recordings are available today in Bosnian music stores.

Modern folk music in the country is an important and popular genre today. Not only does it combine the sevdalinka influence, but also other music of Turkey, Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia, incorporating elements of Pop music. In the former Yugoslavia, this genre developed both in Bosnia and Serbia, and performers enjoyed popularity beyond the two borders. Hip Hop music is new to Bosnia and Herzegovina and won popularity in the urban areas with the famous rapper Edo Maajka, who is also popular in other countries of the former Yugoslavia.

The architecture of Bosnia and Herzegovina is greatly influenced by the four major periods in its history. The social and political changes of the country influenced the creation of the architectural heritage of the country. The Middle Ages lasted until the invasion of the Ottoman Turks, when the social organisation of Bosnia developed into the Zadruga system, where families with common interests lived together in housing clusters. With the invasion of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th Century, the need to develop cities and urban areas was addressed and cities began to emerge in the basic form and organisation distinctive today. People used the river as a main element of urban life, which led to the construction of the Stari Most (bridge) in 1566, in Mostar, but was later destroyed.

The Austro-Hungarian invasion had a profound influence on Bosnian architecture. Urban planning and architecture were developed with new aspects, including new building code regulations. At the end of World War II, to overcome the conflict between anti-historicism and modern architecture, a design strategy was introduced for the majority of architectural projects. Today, the cultural preservation process in Bosnia and Herzegovina is seen throughout the country, exemplified in the reconstruction of Stari Most in Mostar. Many other structures with historical and cultural significance destroyed in the Bosnian war were restored as well.

An important centre of the country’s cultural life is Sarajevo, which is home to the Ars Aevi Sarajevo museum. The musuem houses some 130 works on display by such major artists as Jannis Kounellis, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Braco Dimitrijevic and Joseph Kosuth. A new museum building, built by architect Renzo Piano, will be open in 2009. The National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo owns the Sarajevo Haggadah, which is the world’s oldest Sephardic Haggadah, written around 1350 by Jews as they fled from the Spanish inquisition. Numerous cultural festivals take place annually in Sarajevo, including the Sarajevo Winter Festival, Bascarsija Nights, Sarajevo Jazz Festival and the Sarajevo Film Festival. The capital also hosts many theatres, including the most popular National Theatre of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2003, the first Bosnian opera was held in Sarajevo.