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BIRN Launches Memorials Investigation in Sarajevo

Thursday, 27.06.2013 (11:10-12:03)
Hundreds of new monuments and statues have been installed across the Balkans after the 1990s wars, but many have reinforced ethnic divisions, a debate in the Bosnian capital heard.
BIRN presented the results of its investigation into memorialisation in the Balkans at the round-table debate in Sarajevo on Thursday, where participants discussed the problems caused by the post-war monument-building boom in the former Yugoslav region.

Amra Custo from the Sarajevo Canton government said that the monuments erected after the Bosnian war are being used by the government and the political elite to “legitimise their ruling system”.

“The relationship towards the memorials from the early 1990s demonstrates the great changes our society has undergone. From the joint, common approach to the [Communist] Partisan history in World War II, we went to the divisive, nationalistic approach to the [recent] wars in the region,” Custo said.

Professor Ljubinka Petrovic Ziemer from the ZFD Forum said that research about memorials in the aftermath of the Balkan wars reveals a lot about current ideologies.

“The monuments are all those of one national group and they serve essentially to mark territory. They send a message that the memories of others are not significant,” said Petrovic Ziemer.

“We see that memorials today are not serving reconciliation at all,” she added.

Sarajevo-based researcher Nicolas Moll noted that many countries in Europe have seen monument-building sprees in the wake of conflicts or major political changes, such as the periods after World War II or the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

But he agreed that in the Balkans, monument-building can “increase local divisions, tensions and disputes”.

The BIRN investigation drew attention to the fact that some state governments, particularly in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, have little idea how many monuments have been built since the wars and what they have cost the public.

Almina Jerkovic from the Bosnian ministry for civil affairs and refugees admitted that it was a serious issue that the country does not have a centralised database on the number of memorials erected.

“The problem is that everything in this country has to be decided by three sides. I am hopeful that all three sides will see the significance of adopting a common law on this issue,” Jerkovic said.

The round-table also discussed the idea of establishing different kinds of memorials which would not stoke existing disputes.

“Material memorials made from stone and concrete serve to reinforce ideologies, but we also have non-material ones, which are ideas, discussions and social relations between groups, not ethnic communities but citizens from all sides. This is something we must build on,” said Nenad Porobic from the Four Faces of Omarska project.
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