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We Need More Inclusive Memory Communities! / Srdjan Hercigonja

    2015 Summer School Participant
    Course: Mnemonic Battles and Memory Activism in and after Conflict

    During our second session of the Mnemonic Battles During and After the Conflict course of the Summer School in Comparative Conflict Studies, conducted by Dr. Orli Fridman, we had quite an interesting assignment. We had to list three dates on which we celebrate or commemorate something. Since we were discussing political calendars, it had to be a date that is important in our individual memory, but that has some connection with social or political memory. I found this task challenging. At first, I couldn’t remember any date in the political calendar that I can really mark. A thousand thoughts have passed through my mind – all related to the question of my own political identity, since I was well aware of the fact that memory (including personal remembrance) and identity are interconnected.

    Although I personally never had a problem with my apartness from the newly constructed Serbian official political calendar, I felt a bit uncomfortable. As my colleagues were writing down and sharing their dates, my fear was that my choice would be perceived as ridiculous, insane, abnormal – my first choice that I wrote down was August 6th – the day when Omarska concentration camp in North-West Bosnia-Herzegovina was discovered by the group of British journalist in 1992, during the Bosnian war. This day has never even been mentioned within the mnemonic tradition of society where I live. On this day, every year, a group of survivors of the camp, including their friends and families, commemorate all those who were killed and tortured in this notorious camp for non-Serb population of the city of Prijedor. The commemoration takes place on the very site of the former camp, which is not marked by monument, but functions as a mine. Since 2010, I travel to Omarska every year, as a member of the Working Group Four Faces of Omarska (Belgrade-based art/activist group) to commemorate this event.

    I felt a sense of relief when I saw my colleagues’ choices – the vast majority of them did not mark a date representing the hegemonic memory discourse of their respective countries and societies. Tens of different memories flew over the room, and with many of them I could identify. Whether a colleague of mine was from West Bank, the Netherlands or Poland – I could easily identify with their chosen alternative calendars. In a way, I felt like I was able to be part of “their” mnemonic community as well, despite the fact they were coming from countries thousands of kilometers away from mine. This inclusiveness of mnemonic traditions I was confronted with made me feel comfortable; as someone who got used to be a member of counter-memory communities, I know how difficult it can be to oppose the hegemonic discourse, particularly in post-conflict societies.

    By participating at Omarska concentration camp commemorations for over five years now, the group I am part of examines the possibilities of the creation of a mnemonic community that would not be defined in ethnic terms. This task is quite challenging for the Western Balkans, since Yugoslavia’s successor states legitimize their nation-state construct based on ethnically framed collective memories. I believe that this endeavor (of creating non-ethnically defined mnemonic communities) is one of the crucial elements necessary for conflict transformation processes in the Western Balkans (and I strongly oppose the claims that region of the Western Balkans has went through the process of conflict transformation).

    During the course, one of the case studies we discussed was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly the memory of 1948 among Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. And I began to wonder, isn’t memory activism that would lead towards common and shared memories on Israel Independence Day/Nakba Day as important as negotiations on territorial issues? I believe it is (maybe even more important), and therefore I admire the work that organizations such is Zochrot conduct.

    During the course, I came to realize how important memory activism is for conflict transformation, no matter which conflict we speak about. It is important to create mnemonic communities that would be more inclusive, that would exceed the opposing narratives of conflict parties, and that would finally and definitely facilitate the processes of conflict transformation.

    Participant of the course: Mnemonic Battles and Memory Activism in and after Conflict
    Recepient of the 2015 European Fund for the Balkans EFB Scholarship


     

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