New challenges in the European year of cultural heritage
Heritage is a complex and seductive notion. Exactly the latter makes many think they know everything about heritage and that they know how to handle it. However, in the year ahead of us which is called the European year of cultural heritage, I would suggest that everyone in Serbia dealing with this area takes the test of conscientious heritage management. It appears not many actors in this field would pass it. First of all, for something to be classified as European cultural heritage significant academic and scientific efforts should be invested so we could make sense of the transformations of the past and understand the flow of time, then we should do everything so people today through metamorphoses of the past conjoin in something noble. This will be a trial stepping stone of our readiness to be a part of Europe. I know that many will retort to this statement of mine: but we are already in Europe! We are not as long as doors are widely open to those dealing with heritage without consulting the profession, not until we understand that inheriting is a process of cultivating heritage rather than merely owning it. Without professionalism in dealing with this field we will sell our heritage out for a song!
I have spent the last decade pondering the space of the reputable place Tršić with the aim of redefining it, bearing in mind that in the period during the end of XX and the beginning of XXI century it was a derelict ambient lacking ideas. I will share with the readers a short overview of what has been done with the hope that to some of them this could be an encouragement to contemplate and an action model with the intent of cultivating heritage.
Tršić is a reputable place owing its reputation to Vuk Karadžić, the reformer of the Serbian language in the same way Yasnaya Polyana owes its recognition to Leo Tolstoy or Stratford-upon-Avon to Shakespeare. Vuk Karadžić conducted the reform of the Serbian language by creating a standardised language out of a vernacular dialect and by finalising the begun reform of orthography. Vuk collected a vast folk treasure, customs, oral narratives and beliefs and wrote them down and published them in several books. He also published the first Serbian grammar book and dictionary.
Due to his work Vuk Karadžić enabled a different perception of Serbian culture and changed its foundations. Milan Kašanin, a notable theoretician and critic, called Vuk a literary statesman (Kašanin, 2001, p.5) due to this, a man who set completely new boundaries in Serbian culture, language and literature and thus changed its perception not only within Serbia, but also in Europe.
In my perception of Europe, literature and languages make up exactly the strongest basis of the final weaving called diverse cultural heritage of the old continent. Regardless of languages being a barrier, they are exactly what guides us and enable permanent and continuous dialogue between literatures, philosophies, theatrical and other types of creativity and thus, through this dialogue, forge the identity of the community of European peoples. The first lesson on this was delivered exactly by Vuk.
A great mythical and symbolic potential is interweaved in the name and work of Vuk Karadžić. This great symbolic potential is omnipresent in the village of his birth which has been charted on the cultural map of Europe since 1933 when the memorial house of this language reformer was opened and the first Vuk’s gathering of manifestations dedicated to linguistic and artistic creativity took place. Since then Tršić became a space where the real and the imaginary are inscribed in the same location. And in this way they notify our perception about what was happening in the past, but at the same time open a vast field of the possible. Tršić is a space filled with possibility written down by Vuk and his collaborators, opponents, his predecessors and numerous successors and interpreters of his work in the past 200+ years.
Bearing all of this in mind, in the beginning of 2008 I started realising the project of redefining the reputable place. In several points it went on like this:
– Primarily it was necessary to conserve the devastated buildings, including Vuk’s memorial house which was completed in 2008,
– Following this, during the same year, USDIA approved the project of revitalising the buildings at the assembly point: a traditional tailor workshop, gingerbread making workshop, Museum of Vuk’s gatherings (with the aim of nurturing culture of remembering through critical presentation of history of the oldest cultural manifestation in Serbia), workshop of old crafts, study room Vuk and Science were opened. These buildings had no content in the previous period, and through this project the space was revived, offering visitors the possibility to get familiar with a portion of our heritage and to participate in the creation of tradition they are bearers of through work with experts,
– In 2010 the House of Writers was opened which until today hosted numerous authors from: Spain, Great Britain, Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, Japan, Egypt, Australia, Germany, the Republic of Srpska, Croatia, Russia, Israel, Canada… Through the realisation of numerous residential stays of literary writers, translators and artists Tršić is living its grand potential. Through its exquisitely beautiful nature, intertwined with symbols, Tršić became a space which liberated its visitors, according to their own testimonials. Residential stay of artists, their mobility, makes this reputable place a space of great dialogue, a meeting place of cultures and a place of open liberal talks. The mobility of artists and cultural workers is exactly what contributes to the greatest extent to developing of consciousness and empowerment of the feeling of a common European cultural space,
– By opening the Museum of Language and Letters in 2011, additional emphasis of the importance of language was enabled in the domain of immaterial heritage and the story about the importance of the contact between different cultures was expanded. The following activities were initiated in the Museum of Language and Letters: a literary workshop for primary and high school students “Dugo leto za kratke price” (“Long summer for short stories”), sound workshops “Vuk i ZVuk“(“Vuk and Sound”), summer internships for students of ethnology and anthropology, summer language schools, schools of cultural history and translation for students whose mother tongue is not Serbian. They left their art works, their translations, and their texts dealing with different topics and written for different purposes. In this way they multiplied the semantic field of our “small culture”. We are using the notion “small culture” in the sense it has with professor Norris in his work “In the Wake of the Balkan Myth”. Professor Norris said that each small culture is aware that its semantic field is created from the outside and that the space for interaction is minimal (Noris, 2002, p. 105). Of course our culture is from this corpus of small cultures and exactly due to this reason there was a great need to use a flattering recognition to its maximum – UNESCO proclaimed Vuk Karadžić a citizen of the world, a man who through his work moved the boundaries of time and space. Being led by this idea we opened Tršić for interaction, for outside intervention, exchange of ideas, knowledge, and translation on all levels which in Tršić became a synonym for the highest forms of creativity.
– Parallel to this we worked on profiling the manifestation Vuk’s gathering, which in 2012 was added to the List of protected immaterial cultural heritage,
– All of this led to the Museum of Language and Letters being a candidate for the European Museum of 2015, ensued by the opportunity to present our achievements in the field of translation and language as the carrier of immaterial cultural heritage at the conference of the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies in Cambridge in 2016.
By using this example of contemplating a very rich symbolic potential borne by the work of Vuk St. Karadžić, I hope I demonstrated it is possible to define our heritage, our culture, our identity as an open model and that it is possible to think about this not only through “what we are”, but also through “what we want to be” in the way Jürgen Habermas defined identities as “our own project”.
During the European year of cultural heritage I would like to continue these numerous activities in Tršić. A confirmation that these expectations are realistic lies also in the fact that last year the Educational-cultural centre was opened, which has excellent conditions for work and accommodation of participants of workshops, seminars, scientific gatherings and schools. The only hope that remains is that true professionals will receive an opportunity to express their knowledge and potential in this space.
I would say that we are greeting the European year of cultural heritage exposed to numerous challenges both due to the lack of documents regulating the field of heritage and also due to the lack of money, due to the lack of motivation of experts, however, we have faith that difficult times can also be a reason more for comprehensive changes.
Milan Kašanin, Sudbine i ljudi, Srpsko kulturno društvo „Prosvjeta“, Zagreb 2001, p.5
David Norris, In the Wake of the Balkan Myth: Questions of Identity and Modernity, Springer, 1999, p.105
Dajana Đedović, cultural worker. Graduated philosopher, magister of science in the field of cultural policy and mediation in the Balkans, author of the project of founding the Museum of Language and Letter and the House of Writers in Tršić. Advocate of the idea of open dialogue and within the same spirit the nurturing of culture of remembering.