Memory: Concepts and Grounds

Most of the literature emphasizes the correlation between location (topography, in the broadest sense), human activities (in a social, relational or communitarian way) and related meanings (cultural, moral or ideological ones) towards a more meaningful “sense” of space. The model space by Edward Relph (1976), outlined in his fundamental Place and Placelessness, provides crucial keys of understanding to address the notion of space (physically and figuratively) from the point of view of the relations you can engage and the (social and moral) meanings you can derive from that.

A human need of any nature, in fact, exists in the extent to which it is associated to a place, which is a physical or a conceptual space, and connected to a texture of a social relations, which is a kind of common ground for actions and interactions. If we choose to ignore this need and allow the forces of displacement to continue undisturbed, then the future can not be more than an environment where places (presence of places, sense of places, memory of places) will not have any importance and relations will be downgraded up to make human meanings and feelings disappearing.

If we choose to respond to that need and transcend the displacement, then this can generate a potential for the development of a positive environment (geo-human) where places “are for” people, representing and hosting a variety of human experiences and cultures, relationships and sociality. Which among the possibilities, or even if there are further ones more, can not be determined with certainty, but one thing, at least, is clear: if the world we live has a confused, mixed and displaced geography, empty in places and experiences, or, instead of this, a human geography, full of significant places and meaningful links, the responsibility will be exclusively ours.

The lesson we can learn from this is especially a lesson for security issue, for civilian defence and democracy topics: a place we can consider significant from the point of view of the human experiences and the human relations you can establish in, is also a secure and safe place, where the matrix of safety and control is no longer solely related to police stand and military check. This is a great social achievement, if you think the topic in terms of civilian defence, human security and, finally, peace work.

The European Parliament Recommendation B4-0791, issued in 1999, advices the European Commission and the European Council to set up a Civil Peace Corp and a Preliminary Feasibility Study for such a Civil Peace Corp inside the European Foreign and Security Policy. The document recommends to activate a minimal flexible structure, in order to record, prepare and mobilize either NGO-based resources and institutional resources granted by Member States and to concur to their mutual coordination.

The CPC is conceived as a professional organization of European peace-oriented civil society, mostly inspired by non-violent vision, in charge of intervening after an expressed instance coming from local context-based civil actors, in the pre-conflict situation (prevision and prevention), in the on-going conflict situation (interposition and protection) and in the post-conflict case (unarmed and non-violent civilian peace-keeping and peace-building), with tasks such as: violence prevention, violence’s consequences overcoming, facilitation, mediation and social re-composition.

The European Parliament also suggests a “standard composition” for a CPC made by:

a. a little group made by qualified people with different qualifications and full-time employed with tasks for management and continuity (a secretary to manage, assume, prepare, intervene, evaluate, link and collect studies and reports),
b. a large group made by specialized people to send to missions one after another (like experts, volunteers and professionals, adequately prepared) for specific tasks, projects and missions, as “professional operators” (and non-violent objectors).

The suggested issues for an operational path addressed to CPC operators should be like:

1. non-violent conflict management (either in everyday life and different social contexts),
2. changes in the war and in the way to act the war in the history,
3. conflict analysis and conflict pre-assumptions and warnings analysis (war prevention),
4. history, contexts and circumstances about human rights and gross violations,
5. psycho-social aspects of discrimination, stereotypes and prejudices,
6. socio-anthropological aspects of “Majority and minority” relations,
7. ways, methods and tools to change the “Majority and minority” relations,
8. descriptions of experiences and activities of international civil peace corps,
9. “conflict sensitive” economic cooperation and humanitarian relief in conflict areas,
10. project work for conflict management and peace-making approaches and actions.


Memory and Everyday Life

Talking about sensitive places in Mitrovica, you can say the everyday life situation in places like “Three Towers” is perceived by the inhabitants better than the one in Kodra Minatorëve, while even more different is the one in Bosniak Mahala or in the recently restructured Roma Mahala, because in “Three Towers” they are closest to the Main Bridge, and this gives them a stronger perception of safeness.

Instead, in Kodra Minatorëve, they are not in apartments, but in a neighborhood, close to the top of the hill, where you can find the Miner’s Monument, the structure made by the architect Bogdan Bogdanović in early Seventies, entirely surrounded by Serbian houses, so they feel in a closed area and see contacts are difficult. It is also a special “place for memory”, between difficult past echoes and social ties.

Since Kodra Minatorëve is like a “town in a town”, with the ethnic specificity to be an Albanian area in a Serbian city, it’s hardly connected with Albanian majority Central Kosovo, like Serbian enclaves in Central Kosovo are very hardly connected with Mitrovica. The public transportation serves the area by bus three times a day (to go South and come back) and, if the situation is tense, the bus stops circulating.

In the past, the bus went through the Main Bridge, but, after the clashes eruption in 2004 and especially after the barricades erection in 2011, it uses now to pass through external neighborhoods, like Bosniak Mahala on East Side, or villages, like Suvi Do (Suhadollë), on West Side. Hopefully, the situation is going to evolve better, since Bruxelles Agreement (2013) foresees the Main Bridge to be re-opened.

The same difficult situation is about social services. The situation of the Albanians in Northern Mitrovica is hardly comparable with the one of the Serbs in closed villages (so called enclaves) in Central Kosovo, but it’s very problematic since they have no hospitals, as they feel unsafe in getting Mitrovica Hospital in the North, and no schools, since the one they adapted as a kindergarten is a container.

Here, as referred, two teachers serve as volunteers, coming there and getting back from South Mitrovica, every day. They are teachers normally teaching in the South, using their after-noon or free-time to teach, out of their normal salary, voluntarily, various school subjects in the North. The only public Biblioteque, “Vuk Karadzić”, in the North, was previously a flat of the UN Interim Mission, UNMIK.

The situation in Bosniak Mahala is different and you can see what kind of huge variety is among different quarters in the post-conflict Mitrovica. People are not moving like they used to do, normally, in the past, and they are not easily going from place to place as you can imagine in a quiet situation, because one of the conflict consequences is that freedom of movement, inside and outside Kosovo, is limited.

People are suffering for a difficult economic situation, which is given by the social and economic crisis, but also by the consequences of a delayed development, since you have in Kosovo around 30% general unemployment, around 50% youth unemployment and more than 60% women unemployment. Kosovo counts no less than 500 thousands unemployed people, out of a population no more than 1.8 millions inhabitants.

The situation in Northern Kosovo is made even more complicated by the presence of an “official” (from the Kosovo Albanian point of view) Government which is the Kosovo Government, issued after the self-proclaimed independence, even if quite not present in the North, and a “parallel” (from the same Kosovo Albanian point of view) Government, which is the Serbian Government, the Institutional Authority according with UNSC Resolution 1244/1999 and for Serbian community, with its offices and functions, in each Northern District (Mitrovica, Zvečan, Leposavić and Zubin Potok).

In Bosniak Mahala, before March 17th, 2004, riots, quite 80% of the population were Albanians while nowadays, after the Albanian extremists’ attacks against Serbian communities in Central Kosovo and the widespread climate of violence, anger and suspicion following it (but also for the consequences of the economic crisis), many Albanians just left that quarter and sold their properties, going South.

There are businesses by Albanians, like a grocery store, and also a grocery store managed by Serbs, but it’s not visited by Albanians, a part from very quick or urgent matters or needs. In such a case, instead of going South, they immediately go there and generally there are no problems, because people there also use to speak Serbian.

In the very specific situation of Bosniak Mahala, however, the living conditions are bad, even if better for Serbs than for Albanians, since Serbs receive support from the Serbian Government’s owned offices and, when working, their salary or pension, from Serbian authorities and Albanian authorities, like for double identity cards.

Bosniak Mahala, from such a point of view, is like a “Little Bosnia”, because you can find a Bosnian community, Serbs speaking Albanian, Albanians speaking Serbian, and, of course, Bosniaks, who are native Slavs, speaking Serbian in Bosnian dialect and believing Islam. Threats by Albanian extremists continue and they are a major danger.

This is a link-place between the two major communities in Kosovo and a very interesting place for inter-ethnic exchanges, that is like a “heritage” from the past, since, up to end Seventies of 20th century, Mitrovica was one of the most diverse and mixed cities, not only in Kosovo, but in the entire Yugoslavia, with Serbs, Albanians, Turks, Bosniaks and Roma (or, better to say, Roma, Ashkalij and Egyptians, R.A.E.). This social diversity, especially between Fifties and Seventies, was one of the benchmarks of Mitrovica.

Memory Today and Current Situation

The current situation, in Mitrovica, like in the whole Kosovo, is moving and changing, sometimes better and sometimes worse, time by time. Up to 2011 and 2012, people generally preferred not to go from South to North, and you can imagine it was the same on the reverse. Later on, in 2014 and 2015, fifteen years after the war, you can go walking, from the South, to the North, and many changes are affecting the Main Bridge (Austerlitz Bridge), in Mitrovica, since 2016.

You can argue, this is just on your own risk: it’s just a personal choice, because you trust, you believe they will not hurt you, since you feel confident in getting there in a friendly way. You can imagine this is a consequence of both facts: it’s because the situation on the ground, for some extent after the April 19th, 2013, Bruxelles Agreement and apart from very tense periods like the electoral campaigns or the provocations’ escalations across the division, is getting somehow better.

While trying to approach a social problem, especially a controversy issue, you have to identify which are the common things or the common issues that the problem and the people in that context – or the context and you in that engagement – have. You have to start from the things you know, in order to solve the problem or to allow the situation go further better and better; and, in the same way, you have to identify the things you don’t know and the topics which are under way.

For example, the language: you can use local language, as a way to communicate and establish a relation with local people, but also as a tool to establish commonality and strenghten trust, build confidence and enhance security. Showing proximity or equivicinity with the culture of the place, respecting the customs and using the languages is also a sign of reciprocity in sociality.

When you go North, you don’t ask to change euro while buying something; just use dinars, the money in use, and these are just one, two, or three steps to make a common understanding and open a common space for agreement on basic issues. If you don’t harm pride and respect local moods, you can establish very basic, while important, links to understand, communicate and share.

After the war, 1999, and after the troubles, 2004, the situation became more and more problematic from the point of view of the inter-ethnic relations. The social environment is marked by lack in confidence, segregation and division. Sometimes, it’s better when you know somebody. Sometimes, you can also see how much cultural boundaries, more than ethnic links, count, true both sides.

This is a matter for another conflict perception, even if you’ve also to consider religious affection is really a major problem of nowadays Kosovo, irrespectively of the different ethnicities. We need to face different challenges and efforts, in order to solve problems in communication, interaction and behaviour among people from different ethnic backgrounds in the entire Kosovo.

As referred by Ida Orzechowska (2014) in New Eastern Europe, «Kosovo Albanian Islam is different both from… Islam in other Balkan States. It was influenced by the Yugoslav ideas and values, evolved under both socialism and cosmopolitism and is deeply mixed with the Albanian culture, very different from the surrounding Slavic cultures in the region. Until the 1980s, religion in Kosovo was a private thing. Under pressure from the Slobodan Milošević regime, it transformed into a nation-building and freedom-fighting issue.

«Finally, after the 1999 war, and especially after the 2008 independence, Kosovo Albanian Islam once again became private and non-political. The evolution makes the Kosovo Islam very difficult to frame and control, just as – in Jeffrey Goldfarb’s words – the dismantling of the Soviet bloc was run by “the politics of small things” initiated in discussions around kitchen tables». The nation-building process of “Newborn State” and recent influences from Islamic countries, led to a crescent role of Islam and a thinning of secularism.

First, you have to face the social needs of all the people living in the region and try to find a positive solution for everyone, taking into account all the different instances and the various points of view, since, when you mix different problems, you can find maybe an answer in between, in order to satisfy all the sides and solve the problems for everybody.

Finally, you have to properly address the real, material and substantial, people’s needs from each side and any ethnicity in Kosovo, to work and grant sustainability in normal life conditions and hope in the future for all the people living the place, combining equity and harmony, freedom and justice, reconciling the traumas and transforming the conflicts.

Memory from the Past to the Future

The Yugoslav period, also for Kosovo and Mitrovica especially, was totally different from nowadays, since in the Fifties, for example, also teachers coming from Russia went to teach in Serbian schools and gave lessons on many different subjects and there was a very wide openness to international situation and world cultures; also, in the following times, teachers from other countries also arrived, and you can imagine how the cultural situation and the educational environment were rich and completely different from nowadays.

Now, you don’t have many inter-ethnic and inter-cultural areas in Kosovo and, in a very meaningful place like Mitrovica, you can find Bosniak Mahala, which is a very sensitive place for inter-cultural and socio-economic exchange. You can find Serbian speaking owners or businessmen with Albanian customers and, in the same time, Albanian speaking ones who have Serbian customers, so they have a lot of exchanges on different levels. It’s like a social base, having these activities, for cross-cultural dialogue.

Relying onto traditional cultures or unwritten rules, they are not obeying sociologically, to a “formal” or “outer” authority; they have their own circuit, their own system of relation, quite a specific “state” in the “city”. This is the situation in general; more than one thousand people are there, and we have now Albanian businessmen opening new trade centres, in Bosniak Mahala, with Serbian and Albanian people working there together.

We have also a bakery, well known in the entire Mitrovica, which, in Ramadan time, uses to issue a traditional bread, called “pitahania”, which is asked also by Serbian speaking customers, because it’s very characteristic in that time of the year; and you also have some Serbian friends who use to buy bread or stuff like that. It’s the same for some kinds of traditional coffee-shops where, also for the traditional beverages they serve – mostly the traditional liquor called “rakija” – you can find Serbian friends, close to each other.

In a sociological way, you can face a sort of “human rights based behaviour” in Bosniak Mahala. As you see, the conditions for a rehabilitation, re-composition and reconciliation, in Mitrovica and generally in Kosovo, are mostly based on socio-economic development and cross-cultural exchange. Also this acquaintance with relationship and friendship among ethnicities and communities is based on the ordinary exchanges in everyday life and on a sort of “unwritten rule”: they somehow know where to step and where not.

After 2004 riots, some Albanians sold their homes and Serbian authorities started building new flats in Bosniak Mahala, to give new opportunities for displaced people and to re-structure the ethnic balance of the area. You can also see Albanians building and renovating their houses, with a positive response as well from Serbian authorities, just because the situation there is quite relaxed, different from that in Kodra or Three Towers.

If you have, in Bosniak Mahala, houses after houses, anyone is very close to each other and, in some cases, have a long time acquaintance with the “other”. The situation is different elsewhere, since in Kodra you have just a small group of Albanian houses quite completely surrounded by Serbian houses, while in “Three Towers” the ethnic composition is at “floor-based” level, so you have one flat or one floor with Albanian families and three, four, five more flats or three, four, five more floors with Serbs.

Many organizations and institutions, for the same reason, have their representation office in Bosniak Mahala, as it’s conceived, especially by “internationals”, like a sort of “middle zone” between the North and the South: for example there’s a KPS (Kosovo Police) block-post, managed by the North Police District, whose district commander is a Serb, but where Albanian and Serb police officers work together, for security reasons, after 2004 riots, to preserve a sort or “relaxed specificity” of that multi-cultural neighborhood.

Bosniak Mahala is a base to explore a formula for co-existence. You don’t have any lamp genius to ideate the perfect formula; but anyone found such a way to live together, and this original way is based, essentially, on the “reciprocity of needs”: as one needs the other to buy something or to live closely as “neighbour”, the other needs you as well to manage a business or to save a property. Finding shared solutions to common problems.

Everybody, coming in Kosovo, want to visit Bosniak Mahala, to figure out the way how the inter-communitarian situation can improve, or just to manage an issue or develop a business. It’s a sort of customary free zone: Albanian businessmen open their business according to Kosovo regulation and pay taxes to Albanian office, Serbian businessmen open their business according to Serbian regulation and pay taxes to Serbian Government.

They need to have this kind of benefit from that area, in terms of relax and contact, safeness and good relations, and this is based on social, familiar and economic reasons. Such reasons are based on the very fundamental issues and topics of the everyday life.

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.