Project: Why Does Serbia Not Have Museums?

Authors: Delije (Red Star football club fans), Vesna and Nikola Božović

Photo: Saša Reljić

Video: Miloš Lužajić

As a result of our cooperation, the match Red Star-Vojvodina of the last round of the autumn football championship, which took place on 7 December 2013, featured two banners: “Why Does Serbia Not Have Museums?” and “Open the National Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art".

In our country, but also in the world, this seems like an odd inclusion of football fans in solving national problems. However, it is not so. For some time now, we have been observing similar performances in sports stands: fans’ demands to the State for the improvement of conditions in certain hospitals, the completion of works on a certain stadium, raising money for refugees and internally displaced persons, etc. However, this kind of community service is, for some reason, very rarely reported and commented on by the mainstream electronic and print media. Nevertheless, the practice of criticizing and making fun of certain government actions by fans in sports stands is generally quite common.

This time, the question and request posed to the authorities at the final match of the championship focused on two major national cultural institutions and they represent an expression of activist art. We reacted to the situation in which these two institutions have been in for some time now, by bringing together elements that had never been brought together before. On the one side, there are the museums, which are part of our national and regional, as well as the world heritage, and on the other side, there are the Red Star fans, whose symbolism is not generally related to cultural engagement. We incorporated them into a work of art which sent a strong message about the situation in our country by means of the unexpectedness of the combined elements. Thus, with the help of the Delije, we managed to draw attention to our long-standing national shame, namely, that the Museum of Modern Art and the National Museum have not been open to the public for years. Actually, to be more precise, Serbia has these two museums and they do perform their regular activities, but their reconstruction has not been completed and they are not open for visitors. The criticism is therefore directed towards those who should remember these institutions at the time of the budget allocation and provide the financial means for the completion of the reconstruction works. The above-mentioned example of this kind of collaboration – bringing together people who seemingly come from different cultural patterns and have different interests, caused a lot of public attention and it represents one of the ways in which life in Serbia could be improved.

After a “collectivist dictatorship” that reigned in Yugoslavia, for the past twenty years, we have been only dividing and shredding, and now we are in a position where we all have the impression that we have reached some kind of an end. Everything has stopped and we slowly lose the ability to imagine a better future. What is left is solely the idea of joining the European Union, where a new better life will begin. And this idea, also, has less and less believers. Homosapiens, they say, differs from all other living beings, among other things, by the necessity to possess an optimistic vision of the future in order to keep on living. In Serbia, there are less and less optimistic beings. The divisions are clearly in the interest of certain individuals, among whom politicians are not the only ones. “Profiteers of the divisions” can be found among artists, cultural workers, scientists, and others who, forced to choose sides, seem to have begun to perversely enjoy it. In fact, everything has gone so far that people speak the truth only when they have no interest to lie. Topics on which we disagree are constantly emerging. Just when we think that we have got used to something, another issue appears about which we are ready to cut each other's throats. We live in a small and poor country, which is divided into two or more so-called Serbias. None of these Serbias has the capacity to reconstruct and open our two largest museums by itself. Among the Delije, there are some who believe that the museums have been closed on purpose. They may be right.

When we see what the Delije did for the museums, we wonder what this act of theirs means, and immediately afterwards, we ask ourselves the question of what it means that the State does not have the capacity to solve the reconstruction problem of our two most important national museums. Here are a few answers.

- It means that politicians feel that they are not among the important national priorities.

- It means that if they do not open the museums during their term of office, this will not be held against them in the next elections.

- It means that at least two generations of students graduated art history from the Faculty of Philosophy without having an opportunity to see a single exhibition in person within museum walls.

- It means that some people have finished primary and secondary school without visiting these two institutions.

- It means that if you are a tourist who has come to Belgrade twice for the last nine years, you have not been able to see the largest regional collections of art works.

Comments regarding the Delije’s act are particularly interesting and worthy of an analysis, especially those left on social networks: “Great! Well done!”, “By what rat routes did these banners arrive at the stadium?”, “The real art has long been only in sports stands.” One philosopher reminded us of the Protestants’ request posed in Paris in 1968: “Burn the museums.” A colleague artist commented: “This engaged happening is not only a powerful idea, but an even more powerful achievement of this idea as well!” A radio music editor asked: “Are fans in Serbia not, as well as artists, spokespersons of certain policies, a two-headed dragon ...?” A colleague artist doubted that the fans’ demands had emerged from their honest needs, and so on. 

The news had several hundred shares and a few thousand likes on Facebook.

It may be that, in high policy circles, the requests from the sports stands have been taken more seriously than numerous requests by the cultural community.

Nikola Božović