Essays English 2010 - Memory and its Role in Conflict Hierarchy and canonization of memory

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Hierarchy and canonization of memory

Hierarchy and canonization of memory

Course: Memory and its role in conflict and conflict transformation
Lecturer: Orli Fridman

Hierarchy and Canonization of Memory: Adaptation of Historiography to Socio-political Identity Construction

Course participant: Jasmina Gavrankapetanović-Redžić, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

In his text 'Thinking about silence' (i),  Jay Winter underlines that the dichotomy  between memory and forgetting, that served as theoretical basis in Social Memory Studies for the past 15 years, has reached a level of saturation. The introduction of the category of ‘socially constructed silence’ permits deeper and further analysis and development of Memory Studies. Beside the fact that this concept has no spiritual (theological) dimension, (ii)  it also helps in the attempt to distance us from the Holocaust Studies framework and everything that has appeared in relevant studies since 1980. (iii)

In the following text, I will try to focus on the mechanisms through which certain events are 'canonized' and represent attempts to exemplify the present identity of a given group. Groups form their collective memory by proceeding to a degree of selection within their own historiography and appending more attention to certain events, while other events are suppressed or simply relegated to the background. As an example of this situation we can observe current treatments conferred to ‘partisan memorials’ in opposite to monuments erected after 1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina. (iv)  In this case, the ideological delineations between (socialist) past and (non-socialist) present are quite clear. The question however becomes interesting when one group focuses on a certain event, no matter how important it might be for the given group, and accords to this particular event a ‘place of honor’ in its members’ collective memory.

 

In comparison to this, other events are relegated to a second (lower) plan although these two or more events are sometimes linked either chronologically, methodologically and ideologically or at least followed similar patterns. I would like to make mention of Srebrenica genocide and the difference of treatment accorded to this tragedy and other, similarly tragic events that are very much related to it in time and place. Just as the Srebrenica issue and the reaction to the horrors that took place in July 1995 in Serbia are observed without any real attempt to enter the heart of the problem that led to the systematic killing of 9,000 people, (v)  in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Srebrenica genocide is overwhelmingly simplified in view to produce a reduced representation of the actual causes of the massacre and long-term consequences that Srebrenica will have on Bosnian society in the future. While there is a real danger that the area of Srebrenica-Potočari becomes an eclectic site of memory, which loses its original purpose (keeping memory of the genocide) and is transformed into an attraction (site of morbid tourism) thus becoming a place of strategic importance for the current policy makers. (vi)  At the same time, other events are ‘degraded’ to secondary (lower) level due to their deeply traumatic connotations. (vii)
In order to compare different treatments on different memory inherited from the war against Bosnia and Herzegovina in the period 1992-1995, we will take a look at three examples. The first example is the status of victims of massive rape committed on approximately 40,000 women and 2000 men, mostly Bosniacs, by members of the RS Army and paramilitary chetnik groups. (viii)  The second case is the set up of concentration camps that occurred in May, June and July 1992 on the territory under the control of the RS Army. (ix)  The third counterexample is one of many cases of war crimes against civilians that made three hundred and one civilian victims on the territory of the Municipality of Nevesinje, in May 1992. (x)

 

Socio-mnemonic structures of the past
Human memory has the unique ability to transform incoherent related events into a coherent narrative as a whole, and thus accord them historical significance (Zerubavel: 2003). Accordingly, the phenomenon of memory can be studied from the perspective of Narratology by using her inherent constitutive elements: the material for the revised story (plot), time frames and lines of events, actors, storytellers, focalization, plot and place. (xi)  If we follow Zerubavel and assume that the narrative structure is based on patterns of social storytelling and memories, then the omission of certain events, their (un) conscious minimization in importance (or the opposite), might be justified by fitting (or not) in the overall picture that the narrative seeks to build.  Appropriation of memories of one group (in this case, the survivors of Srebrenica) by its other members (Bosniacs, who do not necessarily share the same experience), might lead to the creation of their overall social, collective identity (Zerubavel: 2003).
The choice of narrative or historical material on which the story is based is done selectively. To enable the highest degree of identification with the protagonists of the story, narrative structure must be purified of all elements which could possibly interfere and parasite the self-identification. Those elements that cause shame (sexual harassment of female and male members of the group) or elements that were ‘many and frequent’ (following a predetermined pattern) might be either minimized or eventually completely excluded from the narrative. If we agree with Aleida Assmann that national monuments represent "a symbolic medium in which the history and politics of groups and individuals merge together into a whole. (...) These monuments are sanctuaries where one individual can take part in the cult of the nation. Sermons held at such places are in service of political education and have the ceremonial character of folk pedagogy. Their goal is to transform one amorphous mass into a solid formation of clear contours - a nation” (xii)  then Srebrenica, by its essence, is turning into one of the symbols that are currently politically most desirable for the construction of collective identity of Bosniacs. However, in modern Bosnian societies there are counterexamples that can be defined as undesirable memories. We will consider them below.

a. Rape as a weapon of war.
It is estimated that during the war against Bosnia and Herzegovina approximately 40,000 women were victims of sexual abuse. (xiii)  The use of rape as a weapon of war is not a phenomena unique to Bosnia, but for the first time since World War II, rape was used in such systematic manner and massive scale. Consequently, due to the Bosnian experience, rape was defined in International Law as a crime against humanity, second in gravity only to the genocide. (xiv)  Judging by the scale of the 'enterprise', the theoretical implications and practical applications resulted in the ethnic cleansing. But the primary goals of massive rape were: intimidation of the population with a high degree of trauma that would permanently prevent their eventual return to their place of original habitat, destruction of plausible future coexistence, humiliation of the victims, their dehumanization and finally the destruction of the family nucleus. (xv)
Parallel symbolic is often made between the concepts of 'women' and 'country’ or ‘territory’. (xvi)  When we take into consideration the overall framework of the so-called ‘strategy for the survival of identity' which resulted in attempts to create new frontiers (SANU Memorandum: 1986), the idea of taking power over women belonging to another group whose territory is seen as a future extension of its own territory, it becomes clear that the taking over sexual power is one tool in the overall attempt to proceed to appropriation of people and territory.
In the years after the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, the relatively weak state structures and decentralized legal system in Bosnia and Herzegovina was unable to proceed fast and efficient investigation and punishment of war crime offenders. Only in recent years the Court of B&H has taken over from the Hague tribunal cases belonging to this category. Number of judgments relating to matters of sexual abuse during war is relatively small compared to the scale of the crimes, the number of offenders and their systematic organization. Motivated by the slowness of legal and judicial prosecution and inadequate punishment of those held responsible, the survivors decided to organize themselves into several associations (Women Victims of War, Society for Threatened Peoples; Association - Movement of Mothers of Srebrenica and Žepa, Srebrenica Women; Foundation Truth, Justice, Reconciliation), or as individuals dedicated to put the lights on the circumstances of crimes and proving the genocide.
Recognition of the status of civil victims of war for women sexually abused between 1992 and 1995 came very late. On the territory of the Federation of B&H women - victims of mass rape obtained the status of civil victims only in 2006, after the young Bosnian film director Jasmila Žbanić was awarded  the Golden Bear for her film ''Grbavica' at the 56th Film Festival in Berlin.
However, the complete absence of male victims of sexual abuse from the whole story is very symptomatic. The phenomenon of 'silence' can be observed from a sociological point of view (Zerubavel: 2010) as it is clearly the result of a collective and collaborative effort to suppress memories of certain events. Ending the silence in this sense would mean opposition to the whole group, contempt to collectively imposed taboo, non-respect of the unwritten agreement to silence something.
Relationships of silence and speech are reflections of power relations that prevail within a group or between two different groups. So, schematically it could be divided into perpetrators and victims, then different subgroups within a group of victims. It is a reflection of hierarchy inside of the victims’ group (killed / murdered soldiers or defenders, civilians and children; soldiers and civilians that survived; female and male victims of rape that survived; female and male victims that did not survive).
If we compare the time that was necessary for social, legal and institutional recognition of the status of civil victims of war for women victims of rape (11 years) and this only on the territory of the Federation, to the extensive media attention simultaneously provided to Srebrenica (the number of people present at the commemoration of the fall of the town reached close to 60,000 in July 2010), we can conclude that their respective treatment are disproportionate.
Despite the fact that rape is defined as a crime against humanity, women victims of sexual abuse during the war have had in practice difficulties to obtain recognition of their victimhood. In direct relation to this group, male victims of sexual abuse appear to be inexistent. They are completely absent form the media, they do not appear in movies, books or plays, are not entitled to medical assistance, not to mention the embarrassment and guilt they must feel although as victims  they are not responsible for what happened to them. Their exact number is unknown and there is no association or non-governmental organization that gathers them and/or provides some form of assistance to male victims still residing on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Tacit silence agreement is reducing the weight of memories the surviving victims of rape are carrying and indirectly minimizes the active responsibility of a large number of people that took part in these mass crimes.

b. Concentration camps: the case of Omarska
Omarska camp was established in the municipality of Prijedor on May 20th 1992 and closed its doors on August 6th of the same year. During that period, 3334th Bosniac and Croatian civilians and 36 women were detained in the camp while it is estimated that over 700 persons were murdered. More that 18 years after the closure of Omarska, the site of the former concentration camp does not have a memorial to the victims and the this year’s commemoration of the camp’s closure was attended by the survivors, their families, and only one government official. (xvii)
The camp of Omarska was recognized as a concentration camp and the systematic killing of members of the Bosniac and Croatian communities of Prijedor as genocide. (xviii)
The commemoration of the camp’s disbandment, that was organized on August 6th 2010, was covered by newspapers and television (daytime and evening news), but symptomatically the degree of attention and focus differed from a month earlier held Srebrenica commemoration. The four buildings that served as camp units are currently owned by the Indian company Arcelor Mittal. Despite promises given in 2005 to the survivors and non-governmental organizations gathered around them, to convert their offices into a memorial Arcelor Mittal’s management did nothing in that direction. Rather, the premises of the former concentration camp are used for daily purposes of the company.
The information given above testifies of the status of Omarska in current collective memory in Bosnian societies. If we take into account that the existence of 360 camps of this type was reported between 1992 and 1996 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, (xix) unfortunately Omarska was neither an isolated phenomenon nor an exception in the degree of cruelty to which prisoners were exposed. But the question is what makes nowadays the camp 'uninteresting' to the general public? Is the problem in the level of torture that the former prisoners have survived? Does the degree of horror make this specific category of narration simply unspeakable, unbearable and as such that the best would be to simply forget it?
As for the parallels between concentration camps and mass rapes, their point in common lays in the systematic way in which they were put in practice. Another similarity is the degree of severity of crimes and the extreme difficulty for their oral transmission.

c. Nevesinje
In May 1992 Nevesinje Municipality suffered a fate similar to other attacked and occupied areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina. By the end of that same year, the result of the bloody campaign of members of the CSB Trebinje, army, police and paramilitary forces of the self - proclaimed Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina has cost the life of three hundred and one persons, of which up to now only 150 remains were found. For crimes against humanity, war crimes against civilians, planned and perpetrated persecution of Bosniac and Croatian civilians only two persons were found guilty in 2009: Krsto Savić and Milko Mučibabić. (xx)  The events of Nevesinje followed a very common pattern in Bosnia at the beginning of 1992: political rallies - barricades - the distribution of weapons to civilians - systematic imprisonment - killing – persecution. In comparison to other areas of BH in the given period Nevesinje was not distinguishing itself.
Essential for this text is a documentary film made by the surviving residents of Nevesinje. The film's title is: "Truth - A documentary film about the suffering of Bosniacs and Croats on the territory of Nevesinje in 1992”. The need felt by the survivors to make this type of documentary goes in the direction of what Orli Fridman has analyzed in her paper on Serbia’s  'Women in Black': the importance of public space as a place where collective memories overlap and where the struggle for the creation of collective memory becomes apparent. (xxi)
Through their work on this documentary, the members of the NGO 'Return to B&H' and survivors testified, citing the names of the victims, the names of the persons who committed crimes, their roles, the dates and sites in question. In addition to the evidence, maps and testimonies, the survivors provided their interpretation of the events and thus tried to contribute to the effort to keep the memory of horrors alive. However, apart from efforts to permanently leave a trace, I believe that that this film represents attempts to overcome the general absence of narrative that prevails when it comes to Nevesinje.
We should note that, when we deal with competitive memories, the testimony is of crucial importance. In the overall context of crime denial and/or acknowledgment, the appearance of this kind of documentary films becomes understandable.
In the years following the end of the war, the public space of Bosnia and Herzegovina has become a place like the ' Belgrade Republic Square’ in Fridman’s text: "a site of contested territory and space in which Serbia’s collective memories of the wars of the 1990s  are being created, and in which the boundaries of what will be left out and what will be included in that memory are being debated". Whether the absence of Nevesinje from the general topography of memory is an (un)conscious exclusion, it is difficult to say. As in the case of previously mentioned Omarska, one possibility is that those crimes do not stand out from others and that it is difficult to confer them a particular (current) political connotation which, consequently would not make them ideologically 'attractive'. The second possibility might lay in the degree of (in) compatibility with the overall narrative framework that a given group seeks to build.

Conclusion

The canonization of Srebrenica can be examined from the point of view of historical narratives: as the narrative structure that allows the construction of the identity of a given group, in this particular case, the Bosniacs. The selection and setting up of particular events as 'canons’ of memory inevitably induces the silencing of other events. For our topic very interesting definition of commemoration is: "Commemoration is the collective representation of a shared view of a past worth recalling." (xxii)  In the beginning of the war against Bosnia and Herzegovina, the aggressor or the RS army had unlimited military supremacy and in almost all the occupied municipalities large numbers of war crimes including massive rapes and concentration camps occurred, without a significant resistance on the part of the civil population.
This resulted in the fact that at the beginning of the war in these municipalities, the criminal political and military leadership had "all the time in the world" to "investigate", "examine" or torture, humiliate and abuse the imprisoned population. Acts of rape and torture require direct contact, psychological and physical brutality, and open humiliation or destruction of the victim. In Srebrenica most victims were killed by shot from a firearm (though case of rape and torture existed). In comparison to the liquidation techniques that were applied at the beginning of the war, executions by firearm are a form of execution of death sentences that might be compared to honorable death. In Srebrenica the mass executions and shootings of civilians and PoW were organized and performed by shooting squads of the RS military forces, without direct physical contact (which is inherent to torture). Furthermore, historically speaking, the firearm execution as a form of execution occurring in the last two centuries (and since the invention of firearms), is typical of the military and political milieu in war context (i.e., officers, soldiers, deserters, revolutionaries are shot; brigands, robbers, rapists are hanged). Because of its "dignified" way of execution, although defeated the victim retains the honor. In the process of national identity building, in which there is no place for weakness, firearm mass execution fits better in the overall narrative.
The status of war rape victim is not a status meeting the groups’ understanding in the aftermath, and therefore is not considered an appropriate addition in the new identity building process. . The open question of whether the mass rape are considered sufficiently significant to be remembered and commemorated in a certain way is enough to illustrate the fact that there are no accurate data on the number of victims, both male and female but especially male.
Death camps were one in a series of methods carried out against civilians in Bosnia and Herzegovina. By breaking the silence about the phenomena of mass rapes committed in Bosnia from 1992 to1995, the victims could face the pressure from their own group and this for two reasons. The first is related to the ‘return to the past’ inducing the revival of memories brought by the horrors of war, something that the majority of the population would rather to forget. The second reason is related to the symbolism of rape victims. Large scale rape crimes aims at the connotation of weakness and representation of the victims’ dishonor. In the attempt to build national identity, weakness and shame have no place. If we consider that "exclusion is the first and most important feature of canonization", the omission of rape victims, former camp prisoners and small town’s citizens from the overall identity narrative, it takes a special connotation.

Endnotes:

i Ben-Ze'ev Efrat, Ginio Ruth, Winter Jay (Ed.) (2010) Shadows of War: A Social History of Silence in the Twentieth Century, Cambridge University Press. Page 8.
ii Conceived as such by Paul Ricoeur: memory and forgetting are linked to the (final) act of forgiving. Cf. Memory, History, Forgetting
iii Winter, Jay (2010) p.10
iv The ‘partisan memorial’ in Široki Brijeg can serve as a good example of ideological shift we are witnessing. Recovered with graffiti and dirt, it represents a contrast to nearby located clean and maintained monuments to Franjo Tuđman, Gojko Šušak, the monument to fallen soldiers of HVO and to the association ‘Udruženja domobrana i ustaša’.
v Jelena Obradovic-Wochnik (2009) ‘Knowledge, Acknowledgment and Denial in Serbia’s Response to Srebrenica Massacre’, Journal of contemporary European studies Vol.17:1, 61-74
vi For this purpose we can compare the presence of French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Bernard Kouchner in July 2010 with his controversial visit to besieged Sarajevo in June 1992 and the consequences it had on the city and its population.
vii Duijzings,Ger (2007) Commemorating Srebrenice : Histories of Violence and the Politics of Memory in Eastern Bosnia. 142-166.
viii Women were not the sole victims of sexual violence but were the most numerous ones. In addition, it needs to be mentioned that evidence of sexual abuse by foreign soldiers exists (the notorious Major-general Lewis MacKenzie)  http://www.humanitarianreform.org/humanitarianreform/Portals/1/clusterapproachpage/clusterspages/Gender/GenderToolkit/x-SVAgainstWomen-UNFPABriefing.pdf (13.08.2010)
ix These two examples are linked both ideologically and strategically, which we shall discuss further.
x Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Verdict X-KR-07/400.
http://sudbih.gov.ba/files/docs/presude/2009/Savic_Krsto_i_dr_prvostepena.pdf (13.08.2010)
xi Bal, Mieke (2000) Naratologija.
xii Assmann, Aleida (2002) Rad na nacionalnom pamćenju. P. 51.
xiii http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/EUR63/006/2009/en/8af5ed43-5094-48c9-bfab-1277b5132faf/eur630062009eng.pdf (13.08.2010)
xiv See trial: Kunarac, Kovac, Vukovic 2001.
xv Zerubavel, Eviatar (2003) Time maps, p.13: The construction of the historical narrative develops on two levels, the first level is micro-social - family level, and the second is macro-social- society.
xvi An interesting comparison can be made between the symbol of ‘woman’ and the symbol of ‘Palestine’ as in the documentary film of Israeli film maker Eyal Sivan (2009) Jaffa, The Orange’s Clockwork. Israel, length: 86min.
xvii Bosnian weekly newspaper BH Dani, August 13th 2010.
xviii http://www.hrw.org/reports/1997/bosnia/Bosnia-02.htm#P209_40172 (15.08.2010)
http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/41483ab14.html (17.08.2010)
xix UN Committee against Torture: Initial reports of states parties due in 1993. CAC/C/21/Add6.  p.11 – article 38.
xx http://sudbih.gov.ba/files/docs/presude/2009/Savic_Krsto_i_dr_prvostepena.pdf (15.08.2010)
xxi Fridman, Orli (2006) Alternative Voices in Public Urban Spaces: Serbia’s Women in Black. 
xxii Winter, Jay(2010) Thinking about silence, str.20

Bibliography
Assman, Aleida (2002) Rad na nacionalnom pamćenju, Beograd: Biblioteka XX vek.
Bal, Mieke (2000) Naratologija: Teorija priče i pripovedanja. Prevod Ratislava Marković. Beograd: Narodna knjiga, Alfa.
Ben-Ze'ev, Efrat; Ginio, Ruth; Winter, Jay (Ed.) (2010) Shadows of War: A Social History of Silence in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Duijzings, Ger (2007) Chapter 6 - Commemorating Srebrenica: Histories of Violence and the Politics of Memory in Eastern Bosnia. (In) Duijzings, Ger; Bougarel, Xavier; Helms, Elissa (Ed.) (2007) The New Bosnian Mosaic: Identites, Memories and Moral Claims in a Post-War Society. Aldershot, Ashgate Publishing.
Fridman, Orli (2006) Alternative Voices in Public Urban Spaces: Serbia’s Women in Black. ETHNOLOGIA BALKANICA, Vol.10. p.291- 303.
Obradovic-Wochnik, Jelena (2009) ‘Knowledge, Acknowledgment and Denial in Serbia’s Response to Srebrenica Massacre’, Journal of contemporary European studies Vol.17:1, 61-74.
Zerubavel, Eviatar (2003) Time Maps: Collective Memory and the Social Shape of the Past. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Webography
http://www.humanitarianreform.org/humanitarianreform/Portals/1/clusterapproachpage/clusterspages/Gender/GenderToolkit/x-SVAgainstWomen-UNFPABriefing.pdf (13.08.2010)
http://sudbih.gov.ba/files/docs/presude/2009/Savic_Krsto_i_dr_prvostepena.pdf
Sud Bosne i Hercegovine, presuda broj X-KR-07/400  (13.08.2010)
Whose justice? Bosnia and Herzegovina’s women still waiting. Amnesty International September 2009. Index EUR 63/06/2009 http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/EUR63/006/2009/en/8af5ed43-5094-48c9-bfab-1277b5132faf/eur630062009eng.pdf (13.08.2010)
Human Rights Watch Report: http://www.hrw.org/reports/1997/bosnia/Bosnia-02.htm#P209_40172 (15.08.2010)
UN Committee Against Torture (CAT), UN Committee Against Torture: Initial Reports of States Parties Due in 1993, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 29 July 2005, CAT/C/21/Add.6,
http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/43f2fe4f0.html (17.08.2010)
Prosecutor v. Milomir Stakic (Trial Judgment), IT-97-24-T, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), 31 July 2003: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/41483ab14.html (17.08.2010)

Documentary films:
Eyal Sivan (2009) Jaffa, The Orange’s Clockwork. Israel, length: 86min.
Udruženje ‘Povratkom za Bosnu i Hercegovinu’ (2009) Istina: Dokumentarni film o stradanju Bošnjaka i Hrvata na teritoriji Nevesinja 1992.godine, BiH, length: 115min.