10.01.2012 - UNESCO Venice Office

Report on the results of the meeting on History, Memory and Dialogue in South East Europe: Exploring the Identity of Nations

© 2011 Officine Grandi Riparazione - Flagship exhibit “Making Italians. 150 years of Italian history”

The report presenting the results of the discussions held during the Turin meeting organized by the UNESCO Venice Office and the Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento Italiano, in cooperation with the Compagnia di San Paolo in October 2011 has just been released. The conference comprised museum directors and experts from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey.

Participated also senior representatives from other international organizations (Council of Europe), European museums (German Historical Museum in Berlin, Germany), professional organizations (ICOM/International Committee for Exhibitions and Exchange) and academic networks of research (Eunamus/European National Museums research project).

This meeting was a follow-up to the previous encounters organized by the UNESCO Venice Office in Thessaloniki (“National History Museums in Southeast Europe: learning history, building shared memories”, Thessaloniki, October 2010), and Berlin (“Best practices in museum management: dealing with difficult heritage, educating on history”, Berlin, January 2011). More specifically, it was organized to discuss a concrete proposal emanating from the previous encounters, concerning a pilot regional project for a regional travelling exhibit, tentatively entitled “Imagining the Balkans. Identities, Nations and Memories in South-East Europe”. 

This proposed travelling exhibit, as underlined by the representative of the UNESCO Venice Office, should be considered as a flagship project of the “Culture: a Bridge to development” initiative launched in the SEE region by the Director-General of UNESCO.

A general concept document, prepared by Ana Stolic (Director of the National History Museum of Belgrade) and Philippos Mazarakis (Curator at the National Historical Museum in Athens and President of the International Association of Museums of History), together with the UNESCO Venice Office, was presented to initiate and facilitate the discussions, for further comments, inputs, suggestions and concrete proposals.

The project aims at designing a common historical exhibition by all the partners involved. Such an exhibition involves a broad basis of international partners, on a subject that has traditionally been considered as divisive. As such, it may prove to have long-lasting positive effects for cooperation possibilities of cultural institutions in the countries involved.

National perceptions on the subject matters of national history / nationalism / nation building and identity present several very pronounced differences, but underlying “commonalities”, i.e. common elements of cultural/social/political identities, representations and practices, was unanimously felt to be equally important, especially if it is considered that the vision of the “other”, as the “hereditary enemy”, prevails still today in some strata of the societies in question. The museums of the region expressed their wish to participate in the project and to approach the subject in an inclusive, cooperative way, with the consensus that values, practices, representations and identities are not static, but phenomena that have emerged in particular historical contexts and are subject, over time, to evolutions, discontinuities, episodes of construction, de-construction, negotiation and re-construction.

It was remarked that common projects on “difficult” subjects can have a very positive outcome, both in the immediate resulting product, and in the lasting networking potential of the institutions involved. This becomes even more relevant in the current unstable international political and financial situation.

Participants agreed therefore to build a project that will tackle the themes of national constructions, of European (or non European for that matter) identities, of cultural commonalities, with a view of understanding history in a neutral, professional and balanced way. They confirmed their willingness to work together and underlined their wish to enhance the capabilities of their respective institutions to cooperate with each other on a long lasting basis. 

The most crucial questions that will have to be answered in order for the project to evolve will have to do with:
- the choice of a message;
- the definition of the ultimate goals and objectives (including target groups)
- the practical organizing scheme (what type of exhibit?) and timetable.

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