Memories – at least the important ones, constitutive for identity, whether personal or collective – can be positive, encouraging and negative, traumatic. However, problems in international (interethnic, intercultural…) relations emerge when feelings about these very events are contradictory – for some of them they are beautiful and liberating, and for the other ones they are painful and undesirable. Different views on shared history can be a reason to create conflicts and we in the Southeast part of Europe know this well. Due to the complex history of the continent – from noble deeds and discoveries, to involuntary migrations and wars, but also due to numerous distortions and political revisions, European memory is flooded with various feelings: pride, contentment, happiness, hope, but also guilt, sorrow, regret, fear and confusion.
I would argue this is of key importance so we do not cease asking questions about the European past, monitor how we remember and feel, and maintain the dialogue about the past alive. The past must not be “musealised”, we must not “draw the line” – as Todor Kuljić, a sociologist and the author of the study Culture of Remembrance argues. The year when the European year of cultural heritage is being celebrated can precisely serve as a reason for this reminder.
Bearing all of this in mind, I believe it is desirable cultural professionals work on discovering, public presentation and maintenance of all, even the conflict narratives of remembrance, and thus encourage exchange and understanding, overcoming collective traumas and symbolic social divisions. The biggest task in this work is finding models of presenting the past which will acknowledge different memories (fears and hope and pride and humiliation) and truly encourage connecting rather than deepening conflicts. Exhibitions, debates and other projects producing and confirming only one, exclusive narrative of the past, most probably will not aid in healing the society and encouraging the freedom of speech. On the other hand, sensitivity to other and different versions of the past, their acknowledgement and integration into the public sphere, hence: empathy, creating a testimonial alliance, inclusive remembrance – can probably do this. Expressions of memories, testimonials, therapy – these are all ambiguous processes assuming the involvement of interested parties, inclined listeners and liberation, establishment of closeness and trust, and at the bottom line: serenity and peace.
As much as cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe is its strength, it can to the same extent be its weakness – and this is what one ought to bear in mind when designing and realising projects of cultural heritage in Europe. They should truly be open, and this openness assumes respecting oneself and respecting others, and it also carries readiness to learn, to re-examine and accept differences. Apart from such an approach to presenting the past, it is equally important – from the perspective of modernity and in the interest of the future – to shed light on social mechanisms used to write the past, encourage critical thinking, media literacy and the research spirit with everyone, and especially young people.
Nina Mihaljinac (Belgrade, 1987) is a Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts Belgrade and the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Management and Cultural Policy, University of arts Belgrade. She also works as a Project Manager in the Creative Europe Desk Serbia. She has a PhD in Theory of Arts and Media, University of Arts Belgrade. Nina has participated in numerous national and international cultural and scientific projects in cultural policy, cultural management and culture of remembrance. She has published numerous papers and two books: Audience development in Serbia (ed. with Dimitrije Tadic), Ministry of Culture and Information of Republic of Serbia (Belgrade, 2015) and Key notions of Gallery Management (Belgrade, 2012).