memory. culture. art.
Berlin Conference and Workshop
Memory, Culture and Art: Remembrance and Dealing with the past after 1989
Berlin on July 2nd - 3rd, 2008
Location: Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin
Organizer: Network Migration in Europe

The conference – an overview
Dealing with memories on war, flight and forced migration was the topic of the interdisciplinary conference held in Berlin July 2nd - 3rd, 2008. Scientists, artists, and experts from the culture sector from seven different countries of Central-Eastern and South-Eastern Europe gathered to reflect upon their different individual and collective memories and memory cultures. The focus was on the dialogue and exchange between scientists and artists over current interpretations and possibilities of dealing with the past. Questions were discussed concerning the challenges and limits that culture and art face in dealing with the experiences of war and expulsion in Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo. Despite the diverse historical contexts, parallels can be drawn between the individual countries concerning their experiences of war, flight, and expulsion.

The public debate on memory cultures and policies in reunified Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic question the hitherto existing national myths and offer new challenges for the relationships between these three countries.
While the power shift in Central and Eastern Europe took place peacefully, former Yugoslavia experienced an upheaval characterized by violence, wars, and forced migration which resulted in the formation of new nation-states. In the post-war societies of former Yugoslavia, in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosova, public discourse dealing with recent history has been - above all else - a battle of memories, influenced by national and ideological perspectives.

Both conference days examined national and transnational memory cultures and the role of art and culture in dealing with memory through a creative-critical dialogue and the active exchange between art, culture, and science on the public and private handling of expulsion, flight, and war. The discussion concentrated on some of the following questions: How do societies in Central-Eastern Europe and South-Eastern Europe deal with their past? What should artistic examinations of collective and individual memory look like? Are there shared ways in Europe to remember the differing yet in their essence similar experiences of war, flight, expulsion and ethnic conflict?

The conference in detail
The conference started with an introduction by the project team of Network Migration in Europe ANDREA SCHMELZ, TANJA LENUWEIT and ANNE VON OSWALD presenting the concept of the project and the subject of collective and individual memories. In addition they gave a short overview on the current discourses of remembrance of war, flight and forced migration in the participating countries.

Following this introduction, ROZITA DIMOVA (Free University, Berlin) started the panel with a lecture on Srebrenica as a case-study for the complexity of dealing with collective memory in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the ethnic war in 1992-95. She analyzed how Bosnia and Herzegovina has been emerging from and dealing with the memories of the Srebrenica massacre and how the Muslims and the Serbs both use this terrible event as a “commemorative arena” by interpreting and presenting it in different ways concerning its meanings and objectives. Due to the explicit involvement of the international community in the massacre, Srebrenica has also become a platform for the ritual declaration of failure and guilt by members of the international community. Another “commemorative arena”, yet a positive one, is art. In this context the Sarajevo Film Festival served as an example for artists expressing loss and suffering as well as hope and joy.
Rozita Dimova also summarized the results of a research project on the memory of Srebrenica she conducted among refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina in Berlin. She pointed out that the German system with its Duldungspolitik (toleration policy) and the constant threat of Abschiebung (deportation) as well as the European asylum policy increase the trauma of people who have already suffered from war.

CHRISTIAN LOTZ (Leipziger Kreis) examined the politics of memory concerning flight and expulsions of Germans after the Second World War. His lecture focussed on the debates and conflicts in and between the two Germanys. Two organizations, the “Landsmannschaft Schlesien” (West Germany) and the “Gerlach-Gesellschaften” (East Germany) served as a source for his analysis of the discourses and the changes within. While there was a similar interpretation of the expulsion as “injustice”, even as a “crime”, in East and West Germany during the first years after WWII, the situation changed in 1956/57.
Due to the successful economic integration of the refugees as well as to the political thaw in Poland after 1956 and the ongoing Cold War, different interpretations started to emerge. In West Germany where the remembrance of the “crime” of expulsion served as a main argument for territorial claims, a change started in the 1960s: the territorial claims were no longer supported politically partly due to the Eichmann-Trial which revealed the full dimension of Nazi-Terror. As a consequence this event invalidated the interpretation of the expulsion of Germans from eastern territories as a crime.
In East Germany the Gerlach-Gesellschaft tried to establish a new interpretation of history by claiming that the former eastern territory was settled mainly by Polish workers and peasants and that the small minority of Germans living there were mainly landowners, “Junker”. This interpretation turned the expulsion of Germans into an act of social revolution. Christian Lotz ended his lecture with a summary of the on-going debate on expulsion after the re-unification of Germany: the Landsmannschaften started to regain their dominant position; several attempts have been made to re-establish a memory of “Germans as victims”.

MATEJ SPURNY (Antikomplex/Prag) compared the Czech and Sudeten-German memories of flight and expulsion. With each group emphasizing their status as victims, personal memories at first diverge greatly, but at a second glance most people are able to make distinctions. When it comes to collective memory the West German narrative reveals itself to be a conservative victim discourse, while the Czech discourse presents the Sudeten Germans as revanchists and traitors who ignored all the good the Czech did for them. Even after 1989, Matej Spurny concluded, the differing collective memories proved to be very persistent, only now this is slightly changing.

The first day of the conference ended with a contribution by JACQUELINE NIESSER (Institute for Applied History, Frankfurt/Oder) who presented the Institute’s approach to connect history with daily life through different ways of reflecting the difficult German-Polish history of the 20th century. In order to understand the present situation of the German-Polish border region, issues like flight, expulsion, trauma, loss and search are seen as crucial points of their work. By emphasizing the sensitive aspects of history, the institute aims to bridge the gap between academic historical perception and society’s perception of the past.

As can be seen from the above mentioned lectures, the first day of the conference shed light on a mainly historical approach towards individual and collective memories and the politics of remembrance. While Rozita Dimova reflected on the so-called “hot” memories and remembrance practices concerning the ethnic wars of 1991-95, the lectures of Christian Lotz and Matej Spurny concentrated on the so-called “cold” memories of flight and expulsion after the Second World War. Nevertheless these memories still have an impact on current politics.

The panels of the second day of the conference dealt with the representation of memory in art and culture. The day started with reflections on visual representations of memory.

ZORAN TERZIC (Berlin) in his contribution “Making up time” discussed the concept of memory as an invention which influences the political arena. He showed that not facts and circumstances but imagination and communication have to be analyzed in the cultural discourses on the past.

DAMIR ARSENIJEVIC (University of Sarajevo) focused on the field of cultural production in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a crossroads of memory in which decisions concerning which path to take constantly need to be made. He described culture as politics not only as bearing emancipatory potential, but also, through their critical examination of ideological regimes and their reproduction of remembering and forgetting in everyday life, as a resistance to the ‘confiscation of memory’.

DANIEL SUBER (University of Constance) presented a research project on visual representations of war in Serbia that examines graffiti and street art. Graffiti serves as a means of symbolic transmission of abstract ideas as well as a subversive medium of challenging dominant discursive orientations. With different examples of Serbian graffiti findings, he gave an overview of the themes and symbols of political iconography in Serbia. Compared to the political statements of graffiti, the street art found in Serbia proved to be mainly non-political.

The afternoon panels concentrated on the representation of memory on war, flight and expulsion in literature and were opened by the writer TANJA DÜCKERS (Berlin). Before reading her short story “The Lighthouse Keeper” (Baltic coast, Poland) which deals with the sinking of the ship “Wilhelm Gustloff” from the perspective of Polish people living on the Baltic coast, she gave some background information concerning her interest in the Second World War.

A second author, BEQE CUFAJ (Stuttgart), then reflected on the contributions of artists to what he called the “Culture of hate”. He triggered the following discussion by asking if and in which way art and artists did and do a "dirty job” by helping to create hate among the nations of former Yugoslavia.

ANNE KENNEWEG (Leipziger Kreis) examined how writers position themselves in post-socialist Croatian society by taking part in debates and conflicts on memory. She characterized literary life in Croatia since the break-up of Yugoslavia and the wars of the 1990ies as partly extremely politicised. In their works and public statements writers like Dubravka Ugresic contribute to the construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of the past, but also critically comment on the process of remembering itself.

VLADIMIR TUPANJAC (Centre for Cultural Decontamination) revealed in his speech “Art and a Public Affair: Serbia between 1989 and 2001” the artist's dialectical relation towards his dual role as a citizen and as an artist, concerning the introduction of his own reflections on the generally considered crisis of the art scene in Serbia during the Milosevic regime. He examined the artistic practise in the 1990s in relation to the public space and the role of artistic institutions like museums or city galleries as “a kind of buffer zone of protection or autonomy of artistic exhibition practice, helping it ‘get over the shock of being faced with the events”.

TIMON PERABO (Multimedia Institut, Prishtina) presented an interview-based book project on ‘Narrations of Kosovar migrants’. The project pays tribute to the fact that the size of migration from Kosovo compared to its overall population is outstanding; at the end of the nineties almost half of the population had left the country.

The conference ended with a project presentation by MIRIAM SCHOOFS (Neuer Berliner Kunstverein). The artistic project ‘Displaced’, which took place in Berlin in 2005, can be seen as one example of artistic practice concerning memory culture and migration. The works of the participating artists dealt with the conflict between private and public memory, and the way in which memory and identity are constructed and represented as well as with the particular fugitive and fragile character of memory.

The conference was followed by a closed two-day-workshop in the context of which artists and scholars worked in pairs on the subject. The focus was on individual and collective memory and the interpretation of remembrance in Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosova after 1989. The conference and the follow-up workshop marked the starting point of the transnational project MEMORY, CULTURE and ART, which recently developed into a year long cooperation between scholars and artists in the different countries. Selected artistic, cultural and historical works on memory will be elaborated for a forthcoming exhibition and publication in summer 2009.

Conference Overview
Dr. Andrea Schmelz, Tanja Lenuweit, Dr. Anne von Oswald: Introduction
Dr. Rozita Dimova (Free University, Berlin): Memory in Peril: Srebrenica as a „Commemorative arena“
Dr. Christian Lotz (Leipziger Kreis): Flight and Expulsion of the Germans in the Culture of Memory in Germany before and after 1989
Dr. Matej Spurny (Prague): Czechian and Sudeten-German Memories of Flight and Expulsion
Jacqueline Nießer (Institut für angewandte Geschichte, Gesellschaft und Wissenschaft im Dialog e.V., Frankfurt/Oder): Applying history to nurture German-Polish understanding
Dr. Zoran Terzic (Berlin): Making up Time. Art, Memory, and the Presence of Power
Dr. Damir Arsenijevic (University of Sarajevo): Bosnians' Experience with Memory
Dr. Daniel Suber (University Konstanz): Graffiti and Street Culture: Visual Representations of War in Serbia
Tanja Dückers (Berlin): Literature and Memory of Expellee’s Families
Beqë Cufaj (Stuttgart): Culture of Hate
Dr. Anne Kenneweg (Leipziger Kreis/GWZO Leipzig): Writers in Conflict. Literature, Politics and Memory in Croatia and beyond
Vladimir Tupanjac (Centre for Cultural Decontamination, Belgrade): Art and a Public Affair: Serbia between 1989 and 2001
Timon Perabo (Multimedia Institut, Prishtina): Narrations of Kosovar Migrants
Miriam Schoofs (Neuer Berliner Kunstverein): About the artistic project „Displaced“
Daragh Reeves (in cooperation with Zoran Terzic): Critical Comments on the Representation of War in Art