About the exhibit

©National Museum of Montenegro, Cetinje - Petar II Petrović Njegoš

Coordinated by the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, Venice (Italy) with the support and participation of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the exhibit was inaugurated at the National Museum of Slovenia on 8 April 2013 on the occasion of the annual meeting of the Council of Ministers of Culture of South-East Europe, dedicated this year to the theme of “arts education”. It is the first time that 12 national history museums come together to confront and compare their collections and their national histories in a joint exhibit. The exhibit will be on display at the National Museum of Slovenia until 25 August 2013 and travel to Serbia and Romania in September/December 2013, and to other countries from South-East Europe in 2014-2015.

© Travelling exhibit "Imagining the Balkans" - Participating museums illustration

This exhibition tells the story of the constitution and evolution of modern nations in South-East Europe. It has been produced with the belief that nations and their history need not be just a matter of division. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the war in the Former Yugoslavia, the return to peace in the region, the European Union integration process, there is now, perhaps more than ever, a historic opportunity to reconcile countries with their past, place national histories in a global context, compare disputed narratives, revive shared memories. An innumerable number of personal stories and collective memories can interact across real or imagined borders.

The political, social and cultural practices and ideas accompanying these processes, are illustrated in this exhibition through visual artifacts that demonstrate the gradual transformation of traditional societies functioning within imperial regimes into modern societies with a focus upon nationality as the foremost marker of identity.

Within the region, neighbours have often been described in terms of dichotomies, and past or ongoing disputes: Islam v. Christianity, Orthodoxy v. Catholicism, Slavs v. non-Slavs, Habsburgs v. Ottomans, Greeks v. Turks, Serbs v. Croats, and later on, the Former Communist Bloc v. the Western Capitalist Bloc, the European Union v. “Extra-Europeans”, etc.

© Travelling exhibit "Imagining the Balkans" - Participating museums illustration

This show is structured around a different principle. In the exhibition you are about to visit, the complexities of historical change in South-East Europe during the “long 19th century”, as defined by the historian Eric Hobsbawm, are explained through the presentation of shared key processes and experiences, common features and historical interactions, including with the rest of Europe, rather than on the lines of exclusive and contrasting parallel national histories and narratives. The distances and barriers imposed by the modern nation states tend to conceal both the common traditions and history, as well as the current similarities that resulted from the comparable ways societies modernized. It is the goal of this exhibition to highlight these commonalities.

Named after Maria Todorova’s book, “Imagining the Balkans”, this exhibition seeks to renew the vision of social, political, economic and cultural changes in South- East Europe. For the first time, history museums from all over the region and beyond have overcome their borders, have worked together and combined their collections in order to show that each unique national destiny is inextricably linked and interrelated with a common regional and a broader, universal destiny.

This exhibition is a collective project of national history museums seeking to foster intercultural dialogue and reflection upon shared identities and memories. The project, coordinated by unesco’s Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe with the support of icom, is placed within the framework of UNESCO’s global initiative, “Culture: a Bridge to Development” and its Intersectoral Platform for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence.

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