The ECoD Experts’ Jury member and Executive Director of the War Childhood Museum is the first person from the Balkans to be elected as President of the Jury for the selection of the European Museum of the Year.
While Bosnia and Herzegovina faces an unstoppable brain drain of high potentials who seek gratification for their education, knowledge and craft, there still live those who export expertise under the BiH flag. The knowledge of Bosnia and Herzegovina can be appreciated outside BiH even when it is not appropriated by other countries, as often happens with athletes from BiH who perform for other countries. The Executive Director of the War Childhood Museum, Amina Krvavac, is an example of a person who works and acts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but exports her expertise as one of the most valuable and respected people under Bosnia and Herzegovina brands. She was chosen as the Chairperson of the Jury for the selection of the European Museum of the Year. That it is not a matter of luck but of expertise is also proven by another choice, as Krvavac is also a member of the Expert Jury for the selection of the first European Capital of Democracy. Krvavac talks about her achievements, the importance of awards and the work of the War Childhood Museum in a BUKA interview.
BUKA: You were chosen as the chairperson of the jury for the selection of the European Museum of the Year, the most prestigious award in the European museum sector. It is the first time in history that someone from the Balkans has been elected to that position. How much satisfaction do you have in your work considering that the Board of Directors of the European Museum Forum unanimously elected you?
I see the trust shown to me by being appointed to the position of chairperson of the jury as a crown and recognition for the many years of my commitment and contribution to the work of the War Childhood Museum, but also as a contribution to the work of the jury itself, which I joined as a member in 2021. I was appointed to the position of chairperson at the beginning of 2022, for a term of three years. I believe that this is a positive sign and achievement for the entire museum sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina, because it serves as an indicator that despite all the difficulties that the museum sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina faces, with our work and effort, whether as an institution or an individual, we can achieve excellent results and be recognized by the most relevant instances of this sector throughout Europe.
In the next few years, my role is to chair and coordinate a team of excellent museum professionals, which currently includes colleagues from eight different countries, members of the Council of Europe: Switzerland, Great Britain, Estonia, Sweden, Poland, Germany, France, and with my participation BiH is also there. Coordination by an international team of experts is a great challenge and carries with it a great responsibility. At the same time, I am aware that this is also a kind of privilege – all of us, as members of the jury, visit and get to know the work of top European museums, which is a great opportunity for professional and personal growth and development.
The European Museum Forum, through its activities and programme for selecting the European Museum of the Year has been promoting innovation and excellence in the European museum sector for more than 40 years, and I am extremely proud to be part of such a mission.
BUKA: Are you faced with a difficult choice, and what should the best European museum have?
The decision will certainly not be simple. The European Museum of the Year should demonstrate excellence and innovation in all aspects of its work, but also a tendency to adapt its programmes, activities and performances to the challenges of contemporary society. Large and small museums, newly founded as well as museums with a long tradition, can participate in the programme.
The final decision on the holder of the title for one year is made by the jury, based on a rigorous and complex process of evaluating the work of the nominated museums.
I would also like to point out that as part of the programme to select the European Museum of the Year, several prizes are awarded, of which the following two are the main ones: the prize for the European Museum of the Year and the Museum Prize of the Council of Europe – of which the War Childhood Museum was the winner in 2018.
BUKA: You will personally hand out the award for the European Museum of the Year in Barcelona, what is the focus of the ceremony?
The Award Ceremony is the central event of the Annual Conference of the European Museum Forum. The entire programme of the conference and ceremony is designed to focus on the nominated museums, who present their work, learn about the work of other European museums and exchange views on contemporary trends in the museum sector. And yes, I personally have the honour of presenting the award to the European Museum of the Year at a solemn ceremony that will be held in Barcelona in May 2023 for this cycle of the programme, and for which preparations are well under way.
BUKA: Apart from this role, you are also a member of the Expert Jury for selecting the first European Capital of Democracy. While political developments foreshadow a stagnation in the democratisation process of societies, moreover increasing radicalism, the growth of the far right…, how much will the competition in democracy repopularize this form of government? And are there any cities interested in this title? What will the selection process itself look like?
In recent years, we have witnessed significant political turmoil, stagnation in the process of democratisation of society, but also anti-democratic actions. All these are characteristics of a global trend, which we can clearly see and feel on European ground as well. This is precisely why I think that standing up for democratic values is very important today. The goal of the initiative to select the European Capital of Democracy is to build a stable network of cities and their residents who, through joint action, will encourage the strengthening of open and inclusive societies based on democratic values, fundamental rights, and the rule of law.
The election for the European Capital of Democracy was launched by an institute from Vienna with the aim of celebrating innovation in democracy and connecting cities to exchange best practices. It is interesting that more than 20 cities from 11 countries have already expressed interest in becoming the first European Capital of Democracy. Interested cities are currently in the process of finalising their applications, which will then be evaluated by an Expert Jury. Upon completion of the evaluation, in December of this year, the Expert Jury will select 3 to 5 candidate cities and forward their applications [short-list cities] to the Citizens’ Jury, which will make the final decision on which city will receive the title of the first European Capital of Democracy. The Citizens’ Jury is made up of 10,000 residents from the Council of Europe member states. The registration for the Citizens’ Jury from those countries is still open to all those who want to participate in the selection and thus contribute to the promotion and strengthening of the democratic future of Europe.
BUKA: You are also a member of the Board of Directors of the “International Coalition of Sites of Conscience” for the European branch. The coalition globally consists of over 350 institutional members: museums, memorials, places of remembrance/suffering, organisations dealing with the promotion and protection of human rights. What is the connection between the difficult events of the past and the challenges of contemporary society? Could the past be a warning for the present and the future because somehow it seems that there are many people in the world who have not overcome the history of conflict?
Judging by the current situation and the number of active war hotspots around the world, perhaps the real situation is more reflected in the question: Are there individuals in the world or rather societies that have learned the lessons of the past? The unwillingness to face the difficult past on a collective level is reflected in the increasing prevalence and lack of an adequate reaction to historical revisionism. Coalitions such as the War Childhood Museum and other related initiatives, work actively to establish a dialogue between the past and the present, drawing attention to the fact that it is precisely in the lessons of the past that we can very often find effective guidelines for facing the challenges of contemporary society.
BUKA: You are the Executive Director of the War Childhood Museum in Sarajevo, which in 2018 received one of the Awards in the programme for the European Museum of the Year – the Museum Award of the Council of Europe. How many painful fates, hidden by the exhibits of the museum, show the cruelty of war?
When we talk about the pieces exhibited as part of the permanent or one of the temporary settings of the War Childhood Museum, each of the exhibits testifies to the difficulty of growing up in war and contributes to a better understanding of childhood in war as a social phenomenon.
Considering the topic that the Museum deals with, it is inevitable that a large number of exhibits also talk about the extremely difficult and painful experiences of children whose childhood and upbringing were marked by war. However, personal items, stories and testimonies from our collection clearly point to the fact that childhood in war, as well as childhood in peace, should be observed and studied as a multi-layered experience, without any tendency towards simplification.
Our globally unique collection, with more than 5,000 personal items and stories of children and young people from 16 different war-affected areas, above all points to the fact that children are active participants in society, even during war, and that their perspective is something we should not ignore.
BUKA: In the exhibition there are numerous pieces of inestimable memorial value of people whose family members’ childhood was stopped, or people whose childhood suddenly transited to the harsh world of adults. Can you figure out the reason why people agreed to give you those objects, photos… which for many people are, perhaps, the only memory of the stopped lives of loved ones?
One of the biggest challenges, but also a priority from the early stages of creating the War Childhood Museum collection, was building credibility and trust in the community. Why would someone entrust us with their extremely valuable memories? Among other things, this was one of the initial thoughts when developing a methodology for documenting and collecting personal memories.
In order to best respond to the needs and complexity of the entire process, the methodology was developed in cooperation with a team of experts from various disciplines and sectors, including the association of psychologists. With this approach, we showed the general public in a short period of time that we approach everything we do very seriously and responsibly, but what is even more important, we showed that the safety and well-being of participants in the process of creating and expanding the collection of the War Childhood Museum are central to our work. We are proud of the fact that in a very short period of time we managed to build the desired trust and offer a “safe place” for all those who decide to share their lived experiences, which often touch on traumatic events, injuries and personal losses of loved ones.
Donating a personal item and story to our collection is much more than just the act of donating. Namely, it very often happens that people contact us who, for the first time after the end of the war, decide to share their lived experiences with someone and entrust us with the safekeeping of extremely valuable memories, such as the only photograph or drawing of a murdered brother or sister, their mother’s bag or the only toy from of that period, which they made by hand from old pieces of clothing – thus leaving a part of the difficult past in the Museum – which allows them to move on and turn to the future.
BUKA: In addition to materialising the weight of wartime childhood in Bosnia and Herzegovina, you are also doing this with wartime childhood in Syria and Ukraine. How similar are the fates of children in the wars in BiH, Syria, Ukraine…?
For several years, we have been working on documenting the experiences of children from other war-affected areas as well. In our collection there are personal items and stories that tell about childhood in the war in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Syria, Kosovo and many other current or post-war zones. We have noticed that despite the differences that are reflected in the local specificities of each of these societies and the different character of the armed conflict itself, it is clear that there is something that we can say is a common thread – wars leave huge and long-lasting consequences on the physical and mental health of children, wherever in the world and at any time it happened.