History as Elephant in the Room: Observations from Serbia’s Memory Lab

Where does a contemporary history of Serbia begin? How is the Yugoslav legacy reflected within it? And does all the talk about memory and forgetting in post-conflict societies really help to answer these questions? With such doubts I left for Serbia this October. For the past six years, I have participated in excursions about memory culture across the post-Yugoslav region. Most of the study trips were organized by “Memory Lab”.

logo310This is a network of individuals interested in the culture of dealing with the past in Western Europe and the Western Balkans. Since our first meeting in Sarajevo in 2010, forty memory activists and analysts have travelled together to explore how the societies in Western Europe and the western Balkans perform their history. We have visited Bosnia and Hercegovina, Croatia, France, Germany and the German-Polish borderland, Kosovo and Macedonia, Belgium; and in 2016, our joint study trip has lead us to Serbia.

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Croatia: Living the Past, Not Confronting It

Coat of Arms of the Republic of Croatia - by Croatian Parliament - ZAKON O GRBU, ZASTAVI I HIMNI RH TE ZASTAVI I LENTI PREDSJEDNIKA RH which based its decision on the design by Miroslav Šutej F.C.A. proposals. MaGa (based on Decision of the Parliament) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Coat of Arms of the Republic of Croatia – illustration: Croatian Parliament – ZAKON O GRBU, ZASTAVI I HIMNI RH TE ZASTAVI I LENTI PREDSJEDNIKA RH which based its decision on the design by Miroslav Šutej F.C.A. proposals. MaGa (based on Decision of the Parliament) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Like every country and its society, Croatia has a complicated and somewhat disputed 20th century history. As a country achieving independence in 1990s, Croatia was present on the historical and geographical crossroads of various empires and states, like Austro-Hungarian and Turkish Empires. Through a long process of the complete formation of its national identities through culture, art, religion and political struggle, Croatia was a relatively dependent entity for a long time, either in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Kingdom of Yugoslavia or socialist Yugoslavia.

When socialist Yugoslavia fell apart, or was torn apart (as some historians claim), falling into civil and international war, Croatia, as well as some other former Yugoslav countries, looked back into its past in order to find its foundations, on which it can historically, ideologically and, most importantly, symbolically lay on. Today, Croatian society faces considerable historical revisionism or even forgery – especially with regard to remembering the crimes at Jasenovac concentration camp.

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