Academies of science and arts have a long history of being intertwined with political and religious issues, and this is perhaps nowhere as evident as in the troubled Balkans – the meeting place of Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim faiths, where many ethnicities lay claim to the land.
I wrote about some of the issues surrounding science academies as proxies to nation-state building in Science a couple of years ago, when new Roma and Bosniak (Muslim) academies were being set up. Serbia and Montenegro both have two science academies – both still fighting it out.
The issue is not going away anytime soon, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which just got its 5th science academy last month – depending on whose count you trust.
(In case you’re wondering what the contribution of all these eager academicians is to scientific research, the figures speak for themselves: BiH only invests around 0.02% of GDP in R&D.)
The official state academy of sciences dates back to 1951, and was officially launched in 1966 as the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
But in a land with a recent bloody war where ethnic and religious tensions remain – and are fuelled further by a political system set up by the Dayton Accord, intended to quash the war but now widely regarded as inefficient for peaceful times – having a single, multiethnic academy does not seem to be enough.
The Serbian entity in BiH, Republika Srpska, which under its current leadership has been flirting with separatism, was quick off the mark, founding The Academy of Sciences and Arts of the Republika Srpska in 1996.
Its program is geared towards “placing universal values of science and art into the service of our nation’s rebirth and prosperity” according to its website. The academy, the website adds, is “a symbol of the spiritual sovereignty of Serbian people in the Republic of Srpska”.
(As a side note, in 2007, The Bosnian-Herzegovinian American Academy of Arts and Sciences (BHAAAS) was founded in Charlotte, North Carolina, as “a voluntary non-profit, non-governmental, non-partisan, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural organization, whose purposes are exclusively educational, scientific and charitable”.)
The Bosniak Academy of Sciences and Arts was founded in 2011 in Novi Pazar, Serbia, and has headquarters in Sarajevo, BiH, and Serbia. It is led by a religious figure, the grandmufti of Bosnia, Mustafa Cerić.
Its website lists ‘Islamic tradition’ next to ‘social sciences and humanities’ and ‘natural sciences’ departments, but there is no content listed yet under any of those sections or in its publications section.
By June 2012 Croatians are – a bit late in the game – catching up, establishing the Croatian Academy of Science and Arts of BIH in Mostar, BiH. This is led by another religious figure, historian and friar Fra. Andrija Nikić.
Its founding document states that “it brings together the membership of academics culture and art lovers in order to achieve a European level above all to serve Croatian people, to scientifically validate its language, its history and literature, providing superior quality through development programs in the areas of education, culture and art…” (no, it doesn’t make much more sense in the original, I’m afraid).
Like the Bosniak academy’s website, actual content is non-existent when it comes to sections on ‘projects’ and ‘publishing’ – I am not sure why they even bother putting them up there.
But guess what, the newly established (June 2013) Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts of BiH under the same name, also headquartered in Mostar, does not approve of its predecessor from 2012.
The president of the newest academy, agronomist Jakov Pehar, told local media at the launch (23 June) that the academy did not back the existing Croatian academy in Mostar, but it was said that it will work with the official state science academy – the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The new academy seems a bit more official than the friar-led academy (which is essentially set up as a civil society) since it appears to have a stamp of approval from county-level government. There doesn’t seem to have been an official reaction from the official science academies in Croatia or BiH.
So, one hilly country, 3 to 4 million people, some 700 full-time scientists, 5 science academies. That’s present day Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He runs the EuroScientist blog Balkan Science Beat.
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