„…monument dedicated to the victims of the WW2 or to all those that lost their lives…“

written by Nebojša Milikić, Belgrade

When I saw the discarded tombstones that Elana Katz collected at some cemetery in Germany, I remembered my first encounter with the memory politics in Germany. It happened in Berlin, at the „New Guard House“ and it was kind of a traumatic experience. As far as I remember, from the text that accompanies the memorial one couldn’t conclude was the monument dedicated to the victims of the WW2 or to all those that lost their lives during battles or after involvement in some military operations that targeted civilians. Maybe I even wasn’t able to read or remember the text accurately since for years I participated in debates of that kind in Belgrade. In fact, series of debates and other activities that were focused around the following dilemma: is it possible to have the same monument for the victims of the wars in nineties, that is to say to the innocent ones that lost their lives without taking part in warfare, and to the soldiers fallen in action?

Whenever we start to deal with the Yugoslav wars in the nineties, the threads of memory culture inevitably bring us to the WW2 history and its interpretation. The socialist Yugoslavia treated all the victims of the WW2 as the victims of fascism but that was not possible with the casualties of the wars in the nineties. The simplest explanation of that impossibility is that there is no political consensus about the causes, realities and outcomes of the wars in nineties, while such consensus was achieved or established at the end of the WW2. Hence, the disputes that rule the actual political universe of the most of the former Yugoslav republics recreated or reinvented the gaps in understanding and interpreting of the WW2 history in former Yugoslavia. The once stabile notions of victim and victimization, the designation of perpetrators and their responsibility, are being rearticulated and reshaped by intense more or less official interventions in the culture and politics of remembrance. The history school books are reprinted and their texts and morals radically changed. The monuments to antifascist struggle are being removed, neglected, forgotten or desecrated. The new ones, dedicated to the proven collaborators of the occupying forces and even to the participants in genocides are being erected. The responsible institutions appear as week and incompetent to resist to political manipulations and brutal historical revisionism. But there is no wonder in that.

The historical revisionism is inspired by the vulgar anticommunism that characterizes most of Eastern-European political elites while it is also firmly embedded in the vulgar interest of their corresponding economic elites. The new regimes need new past that can legitimize their present position and domination. Why to remember emancipatory political movements, their successful or unsuccessful attempts to work on equality and dignity for all, for masses and peoples, not only for white westernized middle classes, to whom the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is exclusively affordable today? No political and economic profit can be extracted from such remembrance and this is the chief reason why it is suppressed.

But such a suppression cannot be properly realized without the simultaneous suppression of many other memories, because this is how memory functions, it survives only in clusters of interconnected terms, ideas and notions. This is how we arrive to the situation of possible forgetting even the millions of innocent victims. Or to the situation of intermingling the memory of innocent victims with the memory of their willing or accidental perpetrators. In my opinion, the remembrance to Holocaust is sometimes even used to disguise some of the abovementioned hegemonic politics and policies of memory. In such a context we all and we always need a place to stop and reflect. To freeze our own positions in order to detect and understand the social and political dynamics that embrace or govern us. To calmly consider our imperatives, our capacities, agendas and chances to resist the oblivion and to reclaim the historical narratives and truths. I think that an exhibition space can be a good place to allow for such a constructive break. As well as a doubtful silence of all graveyards and gravestones that anchor us in our inevitable past.

Picture; Elana Katz, 2013, UNNAMED 11, archival print