Mayor Komšić, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
I am honored to be here today to mark the successful completion of important restoration works to the Red Cross Society building, which were carried out with funding from the U.S. Embassy’s Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, in close collaboration with the Commission to Preserve National Monuments and our friends from the Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As you probably know, I am a newcomer to your city, but in my short time here I have been struck by the rich architectural heritage that makes Sarajevo such a beautiful and unique place to call home. Just walking down Ferhadija with my daughter I’ve felt transported from Ottoman times, to the Austro-Hungarian period, to modern day – all by the architecture around me.
I have also been struck, I must admit, by the scars of war that still exist – from bullet holes and mortar damage to houses and buildings, to the Sarajevo Roses on the sidewalks, and this very building, so tragically damaged by mortar fire on a spring day in 1992. All of these serve as a silent but powerful reminder of a darker chapter in Sarajevo’s history.
Our built environment – our homes, schools, offices, and places of worship – serves as the backdrop of our everyday lives. More than mere buildings and monuments, the architecture around us tells us something about who we are as a society: how we live, how we work, and what we value.
This is why the work of the Commission to Preserve National Monuments is so essential. By safeguarding and restoring buildings, monuments, and archeological sites, the Commission is preserving concrete, tangible expressions of cultural heritage for all citizens of BiH, as well as for future generations.
The U.S. Embassy is very proud to be a committed partner in the Commission’s work. Through the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, we have collaborated on sixteen projects to restore culturally significant monuments throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina since 2001, with the U.S. Embassy contributing a total of over $650,000 to date.
When we were approached by the Commission with their proposal to restore the Red Cross Society building, we immediately saw the great potential that this restoration project holds. Much more than an office building, the Red Cross building served for decades as a meeting point and cultural reference point for generations of Sarajevans. You can hardly mention the name Kino Sutjeska without getting a smile and story from those who knew the place before the war.
Unfortunately, that rich history came to a halt back in May 1992, and very little restoration or repair work was done to rehabilitate the building until the Commission started work on our Ambassadors Fund project in late 2013. In the interim, the building fell into disrepair and became a venue for crime instead of culture.
Today, with the completion of this project’s work to evaluate the building’s condition, remove debris, and provide urgent structural repairs, I’m proud to say that we have turned the page and that the future when the Red Cross Building can once again serve as a vibrant center in the city is not too far away. We are very optimistic that the work we have done here will attract additional financial support from local and international partners, to complete interior restoration work so the Red Cross and return to the building and the cinema screen can be illuminated once more.
Slowly but surely, projects such as this are reclaiming, restoring, and protecting Bosnia and Herzegovina’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. There is still much work to do, however, and all citizens – including civic leaders, businesspeople, students, and others – can and should play a part. Cultural heritage belongs to all citizens: it’s something all should be able to access and enjoy, and something that all have a responsibility in protecting.
Unfortunately, some of BiH’s greatest treasures, the art and artifacts in the National Museum, are currently behind closed doors and out of reach for school groups, citizens, and visitors alike. I feel strongly that the time has come to resolve this issue and reopen the Museum, and I am committed to working with the relevant authorities to reach an agreement that will allow the Museum to be reopened for all citizens of BiH to enjoy. For those of you in the audience who have a role to play, I hope you’ll join me in this effort.
Thank you again for the opportunity to join you in this important milestone in the restoration of the Red Cross building. The U.S. Embassy remains committed to supporting these and similar endeavors, and I look forward to continued collaboration with the Commission and our partners from the respective Institutes for Protection of Monuments, urban planning departments, municipalities, religious communities, and other local authorities.
With their joint commitment and support, we will continue the important work of restoring and preserving monuments of great importance to the culture and history of this country. Thank you.