Documenta Conference: “Unveiling Personal Memories on War and Other Forms of Political Violence Since 1941”

Organised by Documenta — Centre for Dealing with the Past

26 September 2013, Zagreb, Croatia


As a guest/participant, I attended the conference to mark the end of the first phase of the project that collects personal testimonies of political violence from 1941 to the present day into a video database (450 testimonies collected).

Apart from the Dutch Ambassadress, welcoming remarks were also given by personal representatives of the Croatian president and minister of culture, who were unable to attend.  I mention this because it is indicative of the institutional support given to this programme despite the perceived unfavourable climate in Croatia for matters of dealing with the past. I mean to say that things are changing, little by little, the public space is becoming more receptive to voices with a critical attitude towards the past and the culture of memory fostered in Croatia, and especially towards the so-called “dignity of the homeland war”, that is, the injustices committed by Croatian forces.

The keynote speeches were followed by four panels on the following topics: the relationship between social and individual memory, the need for personal testimony and possible ways of using recorded oral histories for educational, research, museum and artistic purposes.

Much was said about the importance of personal testimonies, but I would like to point out the following:

Nothing can take the place of human testimony in constructing social memories.

History is not a closed book, there is no one single narrative.

Memories fade, memorials, for the most part, remain.

Personal memories are important as a corrective to social history developed somewhere between scholarly work and the ideological context.

The value of the video database of oral histories is in the emotional experience available to the viewer of these personal testimonies.


Nenad Vukosavljević