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Bosnia and the Targeting of History and Memory: Destruction and Recovery

Monday, 25 November 2019, 6:30 – 8pm

Bosnia and the Targeting of History and Memory: Destruction and Recovery

This public lecture by Helen Walasek (University of Exeter) is organised by Trinity Long Room Hub as part of the 'Out of the Ashes' Lecture Series.Dr Walaseks lecture will be followed by a response on the topic by Dr. Balázs Apor, Director of the Centre for European Studies in TCD.

It is nearly twenty-five years since the end of the 1992¬–1995 Bosnian War, a brutal conflict which continues to reverberate in the public imagination. Memories of that war have revived with the highly-publicised attacks on cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq that followed the rise of Islamic State. As in these contemporary conflicts, one of the defining features of the Bosnian War was the systematic and widespread destruction of cultural and religious property as secessionist groups and their allies carried out their violent campaigns of ethnic cleansing in an attempt to enforce an ideology of ethnic separation and create mono-ethnic territories.

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However, during what has been acknowledged as the greatest destruction of cultural heritage in Europe since World War Two, it was not only structures that represented ethno-religious affiliation (particularly those associated with the Ottoman era or Islam) which were attacked, but also those that symbolized a historically diverse Bosnian identity. Institutions which embodied Bosnia-Herzegovina’s centuries-long pluralism were deliberately targeted – the holders of the country’s history and cultural memory: archives, libraries, museums and galleries, like Sarajevo’s National Library and its Oriental Institute, to name but two. This, then, was not only an attempt to eradicate particular ethno-religious groups, but an attempt to deny and destroy the evidence that a collective pluralist Bosnian identity had ever existed.

The Dayton Peace Agreement brought the fighting in Bosnia to an end in December 1995. If the treaty hoped to reverse the effects of ethnic cleansing and go some way to restoring Bosnia-Herzegovina’s pre-war pluralism, it also formalised the division of Bosnia into two entities, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (the so-called Muslim-Croat Federation) and Serb-dominated Republika Srpska. The entities were granted sweeping political powers at the expense of the central state. To many, Dayton was seen as rewarding the ethnic cleansing of the war and encouraging the divisive politics of ethno-nationalism and ethnic separation.

We explore not only the destruction and the attacks on culture during the Bosnian War, but the long-term impact ethnic cleansing, territorial division and the ethnicization of heritage has had on the restoration of cultural property, on museums, galleries, libraries and archives, and its effect on everyone from returning refugees to academics and historians. We ask: is it possible to recover from such destruction, erasure and division?
Creating, destroying and recovering human knowledge and cultural heritage – these are themes with enormous contemporary resonance. They are also processes with a deep history, both in an Irish context and across the globe.

About the Speaker
Helen Walasek is an Honorary Associate Research Fellow at University of Exeter and is the author of Bosnia and the Destruction of Cultural Heritage (Routledge 2015). She was an Associate of the Bosnian Institute, London, and Deputy Director of Bosnia-Herzegovina Heritage Rescue (BHHR) for which she worked 1994–1998. She has made many working visits to Bosnia during and after the 1992-1995 war and was an Expert Consultant for the Council of Europe reporting on museums in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995 and 1996, as well as an advisor to the Swedish NGO Cultural Heritage without Borders (CHwB). BHHR was the only heritage NGO accredited by UNHCR as a humanitarian aid organisation working in Bosnia during the war and was the official representative of the National Museum of Bosnia-Herzegovina (Zemaljski Muzej) outside Bosnia at that time

Registration for this lecture will open in the coming month.

Find out more about the Out of the Ashes series here.
The 'Out of the Ashes' lecture series is generously supported by Sean and Sarah Reynolds.

Accessibility: all levels
Campus LocationArts Building
Room: Davis Theatre
Research Theme: Digital Humanities, Identities in Transformation
Event Type: Lectures and Seminars, Public
Type of Event: One-time event
Audience: Undergrad, Postgrad, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Public
Cost: Free, but registration is required now open
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