Symbols of change – or not

Stockholm 2020-03-30

Recently I was going through my photos from childhood. I came to react strongly on the following photo due to the memory of my interests for history and social science. The photo is from the beginning from the 2000s, maybe 2002. It was taken in Bosnia, in the town of Teslic. I am standing near a World War 2-era monument to a warplane pilot who died fighting for the communist-led Yugoslav Partisan movement. During the communist/ socialist Yugoslavia, 1945-1991 such monuments were established across the country partly because it was a part of the official public history-making and the official ideology of “socialistic patriotism”. Such symbolism would remind people about the Yugoslav idea and the existence of the state, nation and the political system. History writing and interpretation as in schoolbooks and public places in Yugoslavia was politicized and ideologized. As Yugoslavia collapsed as a nation-state during 1991-92 new nationalist regimes as in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia continued with similar policies and behaviours. One ideological system and symbolism replaced the older one. Many of the Yugoslav era monuments came to be destroyed, vandalized or relocated during the 1991-95 wars. The monument to the right with the Orthodox cross came in place after the war in Bosnia to commemorate military and civilian victims among the Bosnian Serb community. Such monuments and commemorative sites are marked by phrases such as “fatherland war” which shows that the war in and against Bosnia during 1992-95 is seen as something positive, necessary and justified. And at the end, it is about one political symbolism replacing the other ones. The mistakes from history are being repeated.

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