Bosnian artists plan Cold War museum in Tito's secret bunker

KONJIC, Bosnia (Reuters) - A group of Bosnian artists plan to turn a former atomic-bomb bunker, once the best kept secret of socialist Yugoslavia, into a vast museum dedicated to the Cold War.

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A labyrinth of tunnels, dark chambers and heavy steel doors, the Atomic War Shelter built by Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito has hosted art exhibitions since 2011. But now the artists plan something new.

“We want to make a Museum of the Cold War, a hybrid museum that will be both military and artistic,” said Edo Hozic, who has driven efforts to open the shelter to the public. “Once inside, we’ll travel through time.”

Built 280 m (920 ft) below ground over 6,500 square feet (604 square metres), the shelter is almost invisible to passersby outside the town of Konjic in southern Bosnia, 40 km (25 miles) from Sarajevo.

Tito, who led former Yugoslavia from the end of World War Two until his death in 1980, exploited the Cold War to balance the country between East and West and build alliances worldwide.

The shelter’s existence became public when Yugoslavia fell apart in war in the 1990s and it became the military property of independent Bosnia. It has since been turned over to an ammunition factory in Konjic, which wants to use two of its storage sites, though the bunker itself is a national heritage site.

Last week, Hozic opened the Third Biennale of Contemporary Art in the bunker, with works by 25 artists focussing this year on alternative ways of life during the Cold War, such as anti-war protests and the environmental and women’s movements.

One display, the Time Chamber by British artist Delaine Le Bas, featured candles and 1960s music in a chamber turned into a hippie room complete with Flower Power garments.

“The art works cover the period of the Cold War, everything that this bunker slept through during its long isolation,” Hozic said. The proposal to create a museum has been submitted to the government, and ministers have given verbal support.

Albanian artist Helidon Gjergji said: “I think it’s a visionary idea (that) should be a role model for others.”

Bosnian soldiers, who would once have guarded the top secret site from prying eyes, now watch over art work lining its walls.

“The project would lose sense if the army was not present,” said Sandra Miljevic-Hozic, the chief coordinator of the project and Hozic’s wife.

Editing by Matt Robinson, Michael Roddy and Tom Heneghan