Bosnia and the Destruction of Cultural Heritage
By Helen Walasek, ed. Richard Carlton, Amra Hadžimuhameović, Valery Perry and Tina Wik, contrib.
2015, Ashgate, 978-1-40943-704-8, $144.95 hb
Reviewed by Tom Verde on January 24, 2016
In a story in The Times of London in August of 1992—early on in the 1992-1995 Bosnian War between Orthodox Serbs and their Bosnian Muslim and Catholic Croat neighbors—journalist Roger Boyes wrote of “the hidden heart of darkness in the cruel” conflict. “After centuries of intertwined cultures, one ethnic group is trying to wipe out another: not merely its soldiers or civilians, but its memory.” Boyes’s testimony is one among many in this probing collection of studies. Editor Helen Walasek, a museum specialist, together with fellow contributor Richard Carlton, an archeologist, were the first academics to gather first-hand evidence of the war-torn region’s cultural destruction. “The exceptional defining feature of the devastation was the systematic . . . intentional targeting of cultural property,” predominantly churches, mosques and libraries, Walasek observed during field trips in 2000 and 2001. Although the war by its nature breeds violence beyond the battlefield for all sides, the “massive and intentional destruction of cultural and religious property” by Serbians “became a seminal marker in the discourse on cultural heritage in both the professional and non-professional spheres,” ultimately informing and altering international humanitarian law, Walesk writes. This thorough volume offers a comprehensive overview of one of the ugliest chapters of the tragic Balkan war.