It’s been twenty years since the end of the wars in the western Balkans.
Diverse, complex and rich in culture and history, the region has much to celebrate.
When it comes to memorializing the recent militarized past, however, free space is limited.
This is a region both torn and united by identity, where, outside the Balkans there exists a sense of being ‘Balkan’, and within it there is division and jostling for ‘identity’. What role do states play in this? Do we entrust the state with constructing national identity through memorials? And how to construct a national identity in such an ethnically diverse region, without causing division?
The fall of Yugoslavia saw a change in “symbolic capital” in both Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where memorials no longer commemorate victims of fascism, nor glorify the Revolution; rather new monuments
refer directly to an “armed past”. A new law in Serbia forbids any monument threatening sovereignty, territorial integrity, totality and the independence and freedom of the Republic of Serbia.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, many monuments are seen to be sticking to a mono-ethnic or religious narrative, with memory being constructed around this. It is also brought into question whether a community is able to then publicly face its own “guilt”, when the recent initiative to establish an official day of commemoration to recognize the suffering of women in the recent war was not passed.
North Macedonia saw state memorialization taken to another level with the Skopje 2014 project, whereby a society was made to ‘celebrate’ and identify with largely unknown heroes from an ‘antiquized’ past (and was thus given its very own term ‘antiquization’). Now groups are trying to reclaim what they see as the authentic identity of the city.
What to do when memorialization manipulates through truisms? Does this condone and encourage collective amnesia?
Public representation of women in Kosovo is limited, outside of commemorating saints and victims. Is the space for ‘heroes’ and fighters reserved only for men? Or is the recent facelift given to Prishtina’s iconic ‘Newborn’ monument, an interactive installation of 99 faces of Kosovo women, an attempt to rewrite the narrative around women and Kosovo?
Meanwhile, families of the missing are taking private measures to bring to the public sphere, the personal stories of their loved ones, giving them a voice, a face, and not allowing them to be only a number or have their memory slip into oblivion.
When memories are divided, societies are divided. What can be done publicly, to broaden our understanding of the recent past and move towards inclusion and reconciliation? How can memorialization help us to do this?
What is the alternative – and is it one that we are willing to face?
Authors from across the region give their thoughts on memorialization, for this 11th issue of Balkan.Perspectives.
By presenting differing perspectives on topics relating to Dealing with the Past, we aim to encourage discussion and critical thinking. Your feedback is always welcome.
Editor in Chief