By Stefanie Kappler
On 5 March 2018, we hosted the interreligious choir Pontanima from Sarajevo at Durham University. Pontanima are known as an important peace-maker in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina, composed of members from different ethnic and religious groups and performing songs from Bosnia’s different religious traditions (Jewish, Orthodox, Islamic and Roman Catholic). Through this, they send a powerful message of appreciating diversity and reconciliation. The eclectic elements of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s religious heritage are thus understood as an asset and precondition in which the trauma of the war can be overcome – based on a memory of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a multicultural nation.
Nedžad Avdić from Srebrenica was travelling with the choir on their UK tour (Cambridge, London, Durham). Nedžad is a survivor of the atrocities that were committed in Srebrenica, having been shot multiple times and witnessing the killing of many others. By telling his personal story, Nedžad is trying to raise awareness of the detrimental consequences of hate of any kind. He says that he had returned to Srebrenica to “show them I am still alive”.
In that sense, one might think the combination of the choir, which emphasises a notion of reconciliation, and a survivor who expresses the need to remember the atrocities, may seem unusual. Is this about retribution or reconciliation?
But it is exactly that that Nedžad Avdić’s story and the choir may be read as: namely the need for suffering to be acknowledged so reconciliation can happen. Independent of which side the suffering has happened, it seems to be crucial for pain and injustice to be recognised and taken seriously if they are to be transformed into a creative energy (such as music, with the example of Pontanima). This does not mean that we need to look at reconciliation as a linear phenomenon or with a clear directionality (suffering > acknowledgement > reconciliation), but instead to recognise the importance for personal testimonies to be listened to throughout.
Peacebuilding, I would suggest, should therefore create spaces in which suffering can be acknowledged. Those spaces can then give rise to conversations and transformations, where the arts can deploy their special impact. This is not to say that acknowledgment alone is sufficient to overcome societal divisions (indeed, a critique that has often been voiced against the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been its lack of focus on material reparations for the victims of apartheid). Instead, it means to engage in a serious conversation with those who want or need to remember and have felt the impact of war on their own lives.
Stefanie Kappler participated in the conference Troubling Histories: Public Art and Prejudice in South Africa and presented the paper Post-Conflict Curating: the Arts, Audience and Politics of Belfast’s Peace Walls” (with Antoinette McKane).
Date: 15 – 18 November 2017
Venue: Research Chair of South African Art and Visual Culture, Johannesburg, South Africa
By Susanne Buckley-Zistel and Timothy Williams
When it comes to analysing the memorialisation of the past, Berlin has much to explore. The city is interspersed with sites that commemorate various victims groups of National Socialism and the German Democratic Republic: the
Memorial and Information Point for the Victims of National Socialist “Euthanasia” Killing, the Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism or the Memorial, the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial, the Memorial to the
Murdered Jews of Europe, to name but a few. Berlin’s memorials also pay tribute to moments of resistance, such as the German Resistance Memorial Center, or to perpetrators such as the Topography of Terror, adding to the diversity of the memoryscape. These photos from a recent visit convey the kaleidoscopic array of different memorial and education attempts which compete and coalesce in remembering the Nazi past.
Timothy Williams participated in a conference organized by Historical Dialogues, Justice and Memory Network, at Columbia University in New York City, 7-9.12.2017 and presented the paper “Transnational memory and digital spaces. A comparative study of web-based reactions to genocide memorials”.
Timothy Williams participated in the conference Digital Approaches to Genocide Studies, 23-24 October 2017, University of Southern California, USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research. He presented a paper concerned with his ongoing work on digital memoralisation and tourism: “‘Awful, but you have to go…’ Memory in the Digital Sphere of Tripadvisor.com Reviews of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Cambodia”.”
Johanna Mannergren Selimovic will participate in the international conference The Image of War in Stockholm 24-25 November 2017 at Bonniers Konsthall. What is the theoretical status and the actual function of images of violence? Departing from the exhibition The Image of War, amidst presentations by artists, representatives of organizations like Reporters without Borders, The Swedish Institute for International Affairs, the daily paper Dagens Nyheter and Amnesty International will offer points of view to make up a larger conversation around subjects like witnessing, monuments and the use of images as evidence.
New blog post: Angelina Jolie’s intervention in the Khmer Rouge memoryscape. Timothy Williams thinks that Jolie’s new film manages to bring in nuances of responsibility, agency and victimhood.
Our first Working Paper is out: Memory Politics, Cultural Heritage and Peace. Introducing an analytical framework to study mnemonic formations. The paper presents a framework for analysing how memory politics impacts on the quality of peace in societies transitioning from conflict. It is designed to capture the inherent fluidity and friction of memory politics and can be used to develop a typology of memory regimes. By Annika Björkdahl, Susanne Buckley-Zistel, Stefanie Kappler, Johanna Mannergren Selimovic and Timothy Williams.