The Concept of Testimony in the Commemoration of the Yugoslav Wars

The project TESTIMONY – TRUTH OR POLITICS is led by The Center for Cultural Decontamination, Belgrade in cooperation with the following partner institutions The Ignorant Schoolmaster and his Committees, Belgrade; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Belgrade; Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo; Faculty of Philosophy, Sarajevo; Centre for Cultural and Social Repair, Banja Luka; Boem, Vienna, Austria; Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa  (OBCT Transeuropa), Rovereto, Italy; The Institute for Philosophy and Social Studies, Belgrade and The institute for East and South East European Studies in Regensburg Germany.

The duration of the project is 18 months from August 2016 – April 2018 and is funded by EC – Europe for Citizens – European Remembrance Program, the City of Belgrade and the Regional Cooperation Council.

The project aims to democratize the building of historical narrative in the region and to strengthen the inclusion of the Yugoslav Wars in the practices of European Remembrance.

The project is based on the results of a previous project ‘Naming IT War’ held in 2012-2014 (funded by EIDHR, MATRA, NED), especially focused on over 200 interviews conducted with war participants and anti-war activists. As a follow up activity, the interviews were used to create a series of 12 radio programmes in 2015 (funded by BTD). The experience of these two projects was the basis for the current one. The results are posted at:

Round tables, TV and radio programs - www.youtube.com/user/namingitwar

Interviews- https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL566bt-QVD-9twrpeQsb6ykwIo8TbSgQ4


The project activities are:

1. an on-line social-network archive, based on the interviews mentioned above, in which each user creates his/her profile, can download segments of the interviews and create a narrative which s/he can then share with others. S/he can also add to the pool of testimonies their own testimony or interviews conducted with others.

2. a traveling exhibition in four countries - Serbia, Italy, Austria and Bosnia & Herzegovina – Sarajevo and Banja Luka; The exhibition includes 15 commissioned audio-artworks based on the interviews with war participants and anti-war activists, conducted in the project Naming IT War. The artists were selected by an open call and most are from the post-Yugoslav countries.
It concerns both interviews and the artworks which reflect on these interviews as testimony. In this context, the artists are invited to study both the material side of the testimonies i.e. sound and voice, their content and the political, economic, social and cultural context at different key moments of the testimony i.e. the time of experience, the time of testifying and the time of production of the artworks.

3. Two conferences about Testimony in Belgrade and Sarajevo. The conferences will examine the ways testimony can contribute to democratization and civil participation in building the historical narrative and constituting commemoration rituals.


Project concept:

25 years have passed from the beginning of the Yugoslav Wars. This new war in Europe has shaken the perception that the structures built after WWII will ensure a lasting peace. This project aims to increase the production of knowledge capital, disseminating the realities of facts about the wars – their participants, causes and consequences by gathering testimonies from war participants and anti-war activists. Reflecting on these testimonies through exhibitions and conferences will emphasize the role of testimony as an act of active citizenship in creating the historical narrative through public debate. During the conflicts and afterwards, some testimonies were used by the official establishment of each of the successor countries, in the media, in schoolbooks or historical exhibitions to justify its own national, ethnic or religious position, while others who were not willing to justify these positions were silenced through direct political repression and through systematic erasure of the frame of reference that relates these testimonies to the reality they presume to represent. That precise testimony that points to the functioning of the system is the testimony that Primo Levi defines as anti-fascist and as such political. With Foucault we assume that the function of the intellectual is not to lead the masses but to struggle against the barriers installed by his/her peers which prevent these testimonies from being effectively heard in the public sphere. Since the end of the wars, a new generation has grown up that has no direct experience of war, and has been informed only through these manipulated narratives. This project will show how individual testimonies act as a critical force against officially communicated history and reflect a common experience of these wars and their consequences. Since witnessing is a participative act, testifying is an act of speech with multiple addresses at once, at the least those relating to the situation testified about, the situation of testifying and a self-address which constitutes multiple speakers. The simultaneity of time and space creates an ever-changing assemblage of singular-plural social relations, intimate and political, at work long after the testimony has been given and each time it is heard anew. The diversity of social relations at the base of testimony makes its relation to reality, both that experienced and that in which testimony is heard, complex. This makes it unstable for the purpose of the listener whose demand is for The Truth i.e. a comprehensive meaning which would constitute the person testifying as Subject and both testifying and testified factual situations as Events. The artistic research, exhibition and conferences will examine how reality emerges from the plurality of testimony regardless of the different regulative measures taken by the various listeners — individuals, institutions, theory, disciplines, ideologies and language itself — in order to unify speech.