Politics of Social Memory and National Identity: Regional and European Context

Project cycle of Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development – Foundational Research

Project Number: 179049

Project duration: 2011–2017.

Project Leader: Prof. dr Aleksandar Fatić, Principal Research Fellow

The project involves multidisciplinary research into memorizing the past –the choice of events that become objects of public attention, evaluative meanings they reflect, the public interest in selecting precisely these events rather than some others and, finally, ongoing and competing politics of social memory decisive for constructing present-day national identity. In addition to multiple ideological, cultural and political legacies, we would also tackle ways of transmitting knowledge, values and images over time in material and cultural production, focusing not just on the standard – written and temporal – mode of memory transmission but also on spatial, digital, visual and acoustic signifiers of memorizing the cultural past, on how it is stored and activated. Through mutual influences of the various politics of memory and identity we will examine the values on which shared identity is built, and identify the strategies, forms and symbols most appropriate for representing national identity in regional and European contexts. Given that the politics of social memory shapes the symbolic and discursive logic of national identity, and that if successfully constructed it contributes to its affirmation, the main subject of this project is theoretical and historical reinterpretation of political and social ideas, knowledge and images relevant for contemporary collective memory, and their contextual and functional reassessment in light of current and future needs of the community.


Key Results Expected

The project is expected to result in: identification of major factors of Serbia’s collective memory; demonstration of a continuous feedback between historical events and their subsequent political and cultural shaping, followed by a reflexive grasp of these relations in a broader theoretical and historical context. Assuming that national memory work – understood as continuous effort towards mastering collective memory through searching for a version of the past viable for the present and for the projected future – is an open-ended process, we will try to identify the basic determinants of collective memories over time, different interpretations of major national events and figures, and attempts made to harmonize them and put them into the service of current and future needs of the community.

Since our academic interest in collective memories converges with the already strong public interest in these issues following the collapse of the Yugoslav state, we shall not only try to answer the questions of what and how Serbia remembers from its past; our aim will also be to analyze these insights within a regional context, and in particular the context of other post-communist countries emerging from the end of the Cold War. The results of these inquiries will be presented at several regional conferences and published in collected volumes.

Given the strong link between collective memory and collective identity, and that the politics of national identity is shaped in the interaction of a number of politics and policies (of history; of language and culture; of religion; concerning ethnic minorities, or gender roles, etc.), a multidisciplinary approach is uniquely tailored for addressing these issues: all these aspects taken together express and articulate politically the historical consciousness and the sum of memories of a society. Quantitatively speaking, we expect 9 books, 3 collective volumes, over 50 articles in international and national journals, and two doctoral dissertations to result from this research.

Significance of the Project

Theoretically, the topicality of this project is readily visible, given the intense academic interest in collective memory after the collapse of totalitarian regimes. In the last decade, this area of research has grown immensely in political and social theory and the humanities, especially in relation to studies of post-communism. Since the politics of collective memories and identities are extremely important in international policymaking, comparative studies between countries established on the ruins of a previous common state may enhance the prospects for regional policies of cooperation and association, which is particularly important in the conditions of the not altogether stabilized political circumstances in the European South-East.

Furthermore, in the era of digital communication and new informational technologies, theoretical consideration of memory turns out to be a philosophical, sociological, political scientific and anthropological question of the first order. In the knowledge society, and where control over information is hard to maintain, strategies of managing and presenting information, and of transferring it into the sphere of meaning become priority issues. Therefore urgent research tasks require exploring how memories are created and transmitted via new technologies, and how these technologies may impact the understanding and constructing of the various politics of memory and identity. One more reason that makes the flow of information, important for collective memory and interpretation of the past, within new technologies such a topical question is that nowadays, for the first time in history, anybody can come to create the public culture of memory, replacing the previous monopoly of the official, institutionalized and intentionally designed politics of memory, including commemorations, media coverage, textbooks etc.

By addressing the politics of memory and identity our research is indirectly geared also towards examining the values on which shared identity is built, and especially towards looking for strategies, ways and symbols through which national identity may best be represented. An even more important function of the politics of memory is to generate trust among members of a collectivity. In the everyday agency of national semantics and its transformation into rituals, a successful politics of memory generates trust among members of the nation, which in turn is conducive to creating stable political institutions. Hence an examination of the multiple politics of memory is important for establishing stable democratic institutions, whose importance and social urgency goes without saying.

Finally, studies into the various politics of memory in Serbia, in the region and in the European tradition are not just academic concerns, but rather have a significant political function and application in political decision-making as well. A more successful construction of the politics of memory, and a comparative view of these politics in the region, especially by comparing Serbia with Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, could help defuse mutual ethno-historical stereotypes and spur a critical reconsideration of conceptions of national identity, contributing at once to overcoming the past and to democratic consolidation.

We hope the results of our research could help Serbia and its neighbors define efficient policies of international cooperation within broader integration processes, and encourage mutual respect and protection of ethnic minorities.

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