Memory as a path for Reconciliation

In the Balkans, especially in Kosovo, one of the most intriguing issues is about memory. As you know, memory, in its acquaintance with the past, is the only tool available for the power to set up a “narrative of the present” and pave the way for an “image of the future”. Since the present is just happening in the same time you say and the future is not belonging to everyday life, the past – and, as a consequence, the memory of the past – is the basic additive to establish a narrative, to form a collective memory and to set up a prevalent ideology to define the profile of a community and justify a kind of power.

On the other hand, the social memory, in the way it dialogues with the cultural memories of a people and distinguishes itself from the different, particular and specific personal memories of a group, is a very important path to establish the collective memory and a decisive discourse to forge a national memory, which is at the beginning of the “common sense” of a nation. In this way, you can also afford two different approaches to the issue of memory: as a cultural environment binding people together, establishing a community, and as a political instrument for national ideology, legitimizing a power-scheme.

This is true in any case; specifically true in the case of the Balkans, particularly in Kosovo, where the cultural ground and a common memory of Albanian people is based on the “Kanun” (the Code issued by the despot Lekë Dukagjini in the 15th century and coming from a tradition of norms for social life), especially for the transfer of its learning from generation to generation; while a significant depository of memories for Serbian people is relying onto the heritage of “Dušan Code” (the Code by Tsar Dušan from the 14th century, which is a base of Serbian statehood and depicted as the first Serbian Constitution).

Since the last years, two major families in a Kosovo city, entered a very hard dead-end row, through aggressions and revenge, after a member from one of those families have killed the other family’s son. Then, as a revenge, the family of the dead one decided to kill women from the side of the competing family and, after this new murder, the chain of blood revenge was expanding, even if killing of children and women isn’t allowed by the “rule of honor” which is placed at the base of the ancestral, customary and patriarchist Kanun.

Kanun, for patriarchal reasons, does not allow such murder, because blood is considered only for men’s issues; but, for those women, the families expanded the chain of revenge and feuds. Besides, you have to consider that family in that case committed murder not in a specific place, but in open place, in such a way also wounding innocent people: this is what happened there, with a new recent killing, which involved people in feud and some more people, which went injured, not belonging to those families, and getting hurt.

This way is forbidden by Kanun, because, according with the tradition, you’ve to go through the street, go straight – face to face – with your competitor and clearly say the reasons why you’re going to take the blood from him: you’ve to say the reasons why you’re getting involved into the feud. The way of the last killing is far from Kanun and it’s also showing how much Kanun is being just nowadays “used” not for positive but for negative, to justify a crime and not to establish a – even bloody – kind of matter of justice.

Mitrovica is one of the real out-posts, a “symbolical” centre, of Kosovo conflict, because it was one of the most important workers’ and industrial towns in Yugoslavia, and it’s divided by the bridge over the Ibar river in two sectors with two ethnicities, a Serb majority North (Kosovska Mitrovica) and an Albanian majority South (Mitrovicë). A part from this, certain neighborhoods are sensitive for their social composition and conflict consequences, like Bosniak Mahala, Kodra Minatorëve (Miners’ Hill) and Three Towers, in the North.

They are places of “conflict inside the conflict”, since the proximity reasons of the conflict are mixing with the “prevalent” ones and the violence affection of the war consequences of 1999 is kept alive by the micro-sphere of violence and the survival of an everyday memory of the past. Doing a project survey in the “Three Towers”, people said the situation is usually calm and, in the same time, tense, especially because of the difficult economic situation, the lack in jobs and opportunities, the troubles in moving from place to place, even inside Kosovo, and the little communication across communities, especially with Serbs.

According with the institutional arrangement of the area, belonging to the Northern Sector, it is not having any Kosovo institution, it is ruled by Serb Municipality, alongside with Serbian institutions, which are supported and financed by Serbia and will enter the Community of Serb Municipalities. It’s a complex situation, also because Albanian people there felt scared after provocations or threats by extremists, and we can say they share a similar situation, up to certain extent, to Serbs and Roma people in other places or villages in Kosovo, which are exposed to injuries and threats by radical fringes and extremists.

Nowadays, a part from some specific circumstance, there are no conflict evidences or injuries related to the post-conflict situation. Otherwise, it’s quite evident the survival of a “chain of violence”, generally latent, passing through different levels, structural, cultural and, sometimes, direct violence. It is a challenge to face through social and cultural tools, matter of education and civic engagement. The cultural deposits of collective – possibly shared – memories can constitute a ground for the detection of common traits or shared assets, capable of feeding, with the definition of identity, a main path for communication.

It’s time to single out links, looking for practical common traces in shared living communities. Coming from the past, exploring the “collective memories” of peoples, with the idea of a new base for common life, is a major path for positive peace and coexistence.

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