home Editorial Issue #3: Editorial

Issue #3: Editorial

Cover picture: Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum | Manel Clemente

By Jordi Guixé, director of the European Observatory on Memories (EUROM) of the University of Barcelona’s Solidarity Foundation

This issue of Observing Memories represents the consolidation of a high quality multidisciplinary journal which explores the past from a permanent trans-European and international perspective. With each issue published, the Observatory’s reputation has grown and we are delighted to present our latest edition, published just after the exhumation of the dictator Francisco Franco from the mausoleum of the Valley of the Fallen. The removal of Franco’s remains is an important step for democracy both in Spain and in Europe. It means that we can now begin to consider this place of terror from the perspective of heritage and culture – perhaps even as a tourist destination, once tribute has been paid to the memory of the thousands of victims buried there illicitly by the dictatorship.

The use of sites of memory today is one of the main themes discussed in this issue of the journal. Places of memory are analysed from many points of view and presented in various ways: recontextualized, as sources of conflict, or simply reinterpreted in the present. These spaces and the discourses that derive from them, activated by either public or private projects, can help us to assess the extent to which the memory of the past can be transmitted and understood in the present. In this way, analytical approaches are combined with examples of places that “resist and reside” among us today, making use of the policies for the management of the past (if in fact they exist). As the reader will see, the nature of the sites varies widely. We have chosen sites, museums, monuments, mausoleums, ruins, and memorials that evoke episodes of resistance to barbarism and violence over the course of the twentieth century; and also other sites that imply a symbolic resistance in the sense that, in different ways, they refuse to be swept under the carpet or manipulated by the powers that oppress them.

Today, the emergence of new agents, new discourses and new public uses of memory encourages us to ask about its redeployment in Europe and further afield. This redeployment applied to a contemporary event modifies the memory of heroism or mourning, and gains strength as the expression of a “citizen’s right” in a new form. In this situation, the new challenges include the continuous study of history and memorialization at local, national and international levels. New forms of memory emerge in a model that combines the transmission of history, public debate, and social education.

The experiences described in this issue help us to analyse transnational memories and discuss and compare their public uses, the development of museum design, social initiatives, reflection and experiences. Our understanding of places of memory and of recent history is based on two premises: first, the public’s social and cultural engagement and their involvement in memory, and second, the ongoing analysis based on comparative and transnational models. In this issue, several authors provide theoretical and practical essays on how and where to activate these memories. We propose concepts such as cultural tourism and heritage for discussion with regard to these sites, through an assessment of the physical traces of memory of recent conflicts and of their capacity for transmission through different channels.

This transmission is analysed through a set of examples in a permanent debate on the uses that visitors, the general public, and the tourism industry make of historical memory. We explore spaces of memory and monuments of wars, resistance, genocides, and the perpetrators. The geographer Anne Hertzog offers us a theoretical introduction to the treatment of places of memory as tourist spaces, while Piotr Cywinski, the director of the Auschwitz museum, reflects on the Nazi death camp. Marcello Flores and Carlo Giunchi address the problems that have arisen in Predappio, the town where Mussolini is buried, and the plan to create a museum of Fascism. Other places, with their own idiosyncrasies and complexities, are studied in the pages of this issue of Observing Memories: Lenin’s mausoleum (Siobhan Kattago), the memorials of the former Yugoslavia (Aleksander Jakir), the Lipa memorial centre in Croatia (Carlota Sánchez), the 23.5 Hrant Dink memorial in Istanbul (Oriol López) or the remodelled Museum of Free Derry (Adrian Kerr), which is a member of the international EUROM network. Different channels of the transmission of memory are also assessed, in the form of artistic photography (Montse Morcate) or new technologies (Orli Fridman), and current debates also feature such as the management of the memory of slavery in Europe (Celeste Muñoz). In addition, in the section on European memory policy, we are lucky to have the contributions of two specialists of the calibre of Laure Neumayer and Filippo Focardi, and an interview with the specialist Michael Rothberg on the concept of multidirectional memory and recent research.

Some of these experiences provide positive examples of the application of a heritage policy with a balanced, unified perspective, avoiding any excessive spontaneity and on occasion making up for a certain lack of content. As is well known, the recovery of sites of memory in recent years has rapidly intensified the uses of the past (political, commercial and tourism-oriented) accompanied by more than a decade of commemorative events in the different countries of Europe. Memory becomes collective and plural, sharing knowledge with the discipline of history. Sites of memory are not restricted to monuments, spaces, landscapes or objects; celebrations, emblems, commemorations, and songs are also included – in short, any material or symbolic representation that transmits memory.

Matter and symbol are organized and form a system, an organic unit, building the memory of a group, a collective, a state, or a continent like Europe. So, sites of memory are not just physical places: they can also be immaterial, intangible or abstract. Their function in terms of memorial heritage, and the objective of memorials or memory institutions as guarantors of this heritage, is to make the memory of the past relevant in the present thanks to a collective exercise of reflection and acceptance of memory as a collective legacy, and of the right to memory as one of the pillars of contemporary democratic societies. The first of these reflections encourages us to think about projects all over the world (not only in Europe) for the recovery of monuments and places of memory for purposes of cultural tourism, as places of residence that we share, and as places of resistance holding out against oblivion. Increasingly, sites of memory are being classified as heritage assets. In some cities and countries they are even legally protected as places of local, regional or national interest. Others are catalogued by both UNESCO and the EU as cultural heritage sites, run by management organizations dedicated to the protection of historical heritage under the broader heading of cultural landscape. Heritage and territory emerge as key elements for local development strategies. It is therefore important to analyse the relationships established between history, cultural heritage, tourism and territory through the recovery of memory. The many different ways in which groups with their own professional interests, political views and emotional responses engage with historical memory – conducting historical research, lobbying for legislative changes, organizing commemorations, designing memorials and museums and even signposts – mean that public policy needs to exert some form of regulation.

Material traces of the past are not the only object of a memorial policy rooted in democratic referents. Evidently, wars have created a great many spaces that can be recovered, or even restored and rebuilt, but the heritage of war has many readings and great care must be taken with regard to the way it is transmitted and represented. It is all too easy to focus exclusively on the drama and trauma of the military events and miss important aspects such as the transformational values, for example, of anti-Francoism or anti-Fascism. Many military history museums reveal a certain nostalgic narrative that can be harmful to democratic culture and the educational work that derives from it, especially with regard to the younger generations. How should we respond to the huge proliferation of military museums in China or in Iran (more than 150 on the subject in four years)? How can we design educational projects in a museum on “German tanks” in the middle of democratic Europe? What do we say when we see that more than 300,000 schoolchildren have visited the Warsaw Uprising and Resistance Museum, full of weapons and tales of war, and housing a temporary exhibition about the Polish army in the Middle East? These are difficult questions to answer. We may well have serious doubts about the capacity of these spaces to transmit universal values, and may be concerned about the political and social messages that underlie these museum narratives. All this alerts us to the problems of portrayals of war and underlines the belief that visits to places of memory require some preparation: for example, the study of memory as a process of reflection. Thus memory tourism promotes education: not just to remember and to know what happened, but also to come to terms with it and recover values ignored in more repressive, less amenable times.

These issues participate in a great ritual necessary for social peace in which individual consciences join together with collective ones. Once the policy and its objectives have been established, the next step is the recovery of memory, a task that we have carried out on many occasions at the Observatory: through inventories of sites of memory, texts, signage, management plans for potential sites and itineraries to create new projects. This procedure allows us to choose specific objectives to be pursued as the basis for the transmission of memory, and thus avoid the risk of banalization due to errors of content, or the frivolous attitudes of uninformed visitors. The study of memory is a process in which conclusions drawn from comparisons and theoretical cases can help us to learn from history and the transmission of memory, and apply new formulas in which the general public are keen to engage. This is one of the many aims of the Observatory: to address the subject and all its intricacies, without inhibitions or reservations and free of any political pressure. We hope you enjoy our website and our review Observing Memories. Happy (and critical) reading!

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