Remembering WWII in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovakia

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Transcript of Remembering WWII in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovakia

Project No. 090 47 Darko Karai, Bosnia and Herzegovina Slvka Otenov, Slovakia

Budapest, January 2010

Remembering and Forgetting World War II within Changing Political Contexts from 1945 to the Present Public Usage of WWII Monuments in Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina

The aim of our project was to research on the changes in the perception of past in Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina through the development of official treatment of WWII monuments from 1945 up to present. The focus was on how the politics of these states have been creating the politics of memory within the given space and time scope.

Both countries used to be part of composite multinational Communist states of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, where they played a rather marginal political role. Since the independence of Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the two countries have pursued their own policies towards the memory of WWII. The transition period in Slovakia has been marked by the political change of 1989, while in Bosnia-Herzegovina, it has been influenced by both failure of Communism and the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s. Firstly, we focused on the remembrance of WWII in Slovakia and Bosnia as the parts of composite Communist states. Secondly, we concentrated on the WWII remembrance in both countries as they became independent post-Communist states pursuing their own policies. Parallel research on the two countries, which have had different political development after the fall of Communism, had the aim to offer the view on how different policies influence different practices of commemoration. This approach proved to be very prolific. The cross-border cooperation, which was developed throughout working on this project, has shown how inevitable it is to research on ones own past within international framework. It is comparative and joint projects which can contribute to the better understanding of the others, which is a step towards the better understanding of the European cultures of remembrance.


In connection with our project, we have conducted both archival research and field work. Research period took part between April and October 2009. Research in the National Library in Prague and the National Library in Belgrade, as the centres of former Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, provided us with rich secondary literature. Research in the library of Central European University in Budapest helped us with structuring of the theoretical foundations of the project. The visit to the exhibition Bogdan Bogdanovi, Der verdammte Baumaster/The Doomed Architect in Vienna proved very prolific in connection with further research on the perceptions of particular Bosnian WWII memorials. Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina (former Museum of Revolution) and Media Centre in Sarajevo, as well as the University Library at the University of Preov, and the Scientific Library of the town of Preov provided us with relevant data for our project, based on the newspaper research.

Regarding the field work, the team has visited and documented the current state and contemporary usage of WWII memorial places in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as in Sutjeska, Makljen, Jablanica, Mostar, iroki Brijeg, Sarajevo and Vogoa and memorial sites in Slovakia situated in Koice, Preov, Bansk Bystrica, Dukla, Svidnk, Vaec and Hunkovce. In order to achieve a good basis for comparison, we tried to visit the selected places on the dates that were in past marked by huge public ceremonials commemorating WWII held at these places. The empirical part of our work has provided us with rich visual and archival material, hundreds of pictures and even more archival documents.

During the research, we have made effort to spread the information about our project, as well as the information on Geschichtswerkstatt Europa among various groups and institutions - students and teachers at universities: University of Sarajevo, University of Preov, University of Pavol Jozef afrik in Koice, Central European University in Budapest; history teachers at elementary school robrova, Preov; the association of history teachers (EUROCLIO-HIP BiH in Bosnia and Herzegovina), museum workers (Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, Museum Battle for the Wounded on Neretva river in Jablanica, Army Museum in Svidnk, Museum of Slovak National Uprising in Bansk Bystrica) and local journalists. We have also established contacts with the workers of Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgrberfrsorge e. V. taking care of German WWII army


cemeteries in Slovakia. The idea of the project was welcomed and supported by each of the above mentioned groups.

In our research we have tried to address the following problems: Why are WWII monuments and memorials used by the political authorities to construct group identities? In which ways are the states or political parties using WWII monuments in order to promote their policies? What kind of change occurs within these policies in different political contexts?

Political parties, regardless of which political regime or orientation they represent, use World War II memorial sites as the places for the grouping of people. The Communist Parties of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia ordered the construction of these sites, and organized the mass commemorative gatherings held at these places. The central role of these public ceremonials was to support the ruling regime. This phenomenon, due to the stability of the Communist rule, proved to be constant and repetitive from the end of WWII until the end 1980s. After the changes towards democracy took part in both countries and the multi-party system was introduced, the political usage of WWII memorials became variable and dynamic in the promotion of various ideologies. During the Communist rule, grandiose ceremonies were held at these sites every year, especially on every 5 th or 10th anniversaries of the main battles or war events, organized and supervised centrally by the state. From the 1990s up to today, the happenings held at these sites differ from year to year. Sometimes they are supported by the central government, accompanied by the appearance and public speeches delivered by major political figures of Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, such as Prime Ministers or state presidents. Sometimes the commemorations are organized without their presence and on a local level; and therefore without the mass media coverage of these events. Since their invention, the ceremonies held at these memorial places have never been focused primarily on the commemoration of WWII, but they have been rather used as the places of spreading the populist ideas of particular political parties. However, this policy of the usage of the WWII memorials aided the construction of the memory of WWII. The image of WWII has been changing - from the victorious war of Communism to the exclusive patriotic war of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, of Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, or even more of national war of Slovaks, Bosniaks, Serbs or Croats. This is why there are today two separate commemorations of the Second World War in Tjentite, the former central Yugoslav WWII memorial place, organized by two contesting associations of WWII fighters 3

on two different dates, each supported by different political parties. This is the reason for which the red stars on the graves of the soldiers buried in Dukla, one of the main Czechoslovak WWII memorial sites, have been replaced by the crosses.




Left: Photo of the monument on Makljen, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the front page of the book promoting the memorial sites of Jablanica and Makljen (Gojko Joki, Makljen-Neretva. Prozor-Jablanica, 1979) Right: Photo from the newspaper article reporting the history lesson organized for Bosnian-Herzegovinian scouts at the monument on Makljen, on the 1st anniversary of the opening ceremony of the monument (Osloboenje, p. 2, 13 November 1979)

Monument on Makljen, Bosnia and Herzegovina, destroyed on 12 November 2000, on the anniversary of the WWII Battle for the Wounded and the anniversary of the opening ceremony of the monument, five years after the end of war in Bosnia (photo from July 2009)



Memorial House in Tjentite, Bosnia and Herzegovina, opened in 1975 (photo from July 2009). Once the main pilgrimage place for the commemoration of WWII is today empty, rarely visited and decaying.

Inside the Memorial House in Tjentite, Bosnia and Herzegovina (photo from July 2009)


Fresco Invader in the Memorial House in Tjentite, Bosnia and Herzegovina (upper photo from 1977, down photo from 2009)


4 July the Day of Fighter in Tjentite, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1973, two years after the monument was unveiled. It was estimated that around 80.000 people took part in the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the battle of Sutjeska.

Tjentite, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the 4 July 2009. Since the break-up of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1990s, no celebration has been held on this date at this place anymore. Two separate commemorations are organized by two contesting associations of WWII fighters on two different dates in June every year.


Left: Cover page of the book Partisan monument in Mostar, with the photo of the gate of the WWII memorial graveyard opened in 1965 (ed. Ico Muteveli, Partizanski spomenik u Mostaru, 1980) Right: Photo of the gate of the WWII memorial graveyard from August 2009



Museum of Slovak National Uprising in Bansk Bystrica, Slovakia. (Photo from Encyklopdia Slovenska, V. zv., 1981)

The same museum in August 2009. The central monument sculpture Victims warn was created by Jozef Jankovi in 1969. The sculpture was removed from its original place in 1