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Genealogy of Amnesia: Rethinking the Past for a New Future of Conviviality
Hosted by Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Institute for Fine Arts
February 1, 2018 – December 31, 2021

The research proposal to investigate three parallel lineages of amnesia was originally developed by Dr. Aneta Stojnić and Dr. Jelena Jureša and was derived from previous work (see Kovačević-Jureša and Stojnić 2016). Based on this initial reference in the proposal document, the FWF-PEEK research project that started on 1. February 2018, undertook a radical shift on two levels. First, the redefinition of the research formats (interviews, symposium, books and exhibition) in terms of magnitude and scope. Second, the project moved its main focus from amnesia and history to contemporary modes of conviviality. This second part was redesigned by the new research team, led by Prof. Dr. Marina Gržinić.

Genealogy of Amnesia: Rethinking the Past for a New Future of Conviviality focuses on three territories and their specific histories and experiences of collective amnesia in regard to traumatic events of their proper and generally wider European past. These are Belgium, Austria, and the territory of three states that were once a part of Yugoslavia: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia, as well as a fourth central element, the “Republika Srpska” (“Serb Republic”). It is important to stress that in contrast with Austria and Belgium, or even Serbia, “Republika Srpska” is not a state, but an ethnically homogeneous territorial entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina, with aspirations for separation.

Genealogy of Amnesia: Rethinking the Past for a New Future of Conviviality concentrates on amnesia and politics of silence and oblivion that have shaped the constitution of identities and communities in Europe and the globalized world. We address colonialism (Belgium), anti-Semitism (Austria), and turbo-nationalism (“Serb Republic”), all of which are central but not the sole factors for the construction of the past and the present in these territories. Their genocidal histories are interconnected throughout the territories and Europe.

Yet, this research project does not stop at the exposure of silence and oblivion, but aims at countering the genealogy of amnesia that will be revealed through our ongoing research. The three sites of our research share silence, oblivion, and amnesia as a common ground for the construction of hegemonic nation states and ethnically homogeneous territorial entities. The project’s objective is precisely to counter the hegemonically institutionalized mechanisms of forgetting and to practice the re-construction of history and memory:

—The re-construction of a Belgian nation state in the aftermath of its colonial past in Congo. Initially called Congo Free State, the colony remained a personal possession of King Leopold II from 1885 until 1908, following which it was taken over by the Belgian government and renamed the Belgian Congo. Without reflection upon past colonialism, of which the case of the Belgian Congo was of exemplary brutality, the long and important tradition of postcolonial subjectivities cannot be grasped.

—The re-construction of the Austrian Second Republic after the Anschluss (“annexation”) of that country with Nazi Germany on March 12, 1938, and the consecutive establishment of the myth that Austria was Hitler’s “first victim.” Only decades after the foundation of the Second Republic, due to the Waldheim Affair (1986) — during which the military activity of then future Austrian president, Kurt Waldheim, in the Wehrmacht was acknowledged — the taboo against recognition of Austria’s responsibility in the Second World War finally began to be lifted.

—The re-construction of a new national identity in “Republika Srpska” is closely related to the national identity in Serbia and with the negation of war crimes and genocide in Srebrenica (1995) after the dissolution of Yugoslavia (1990‒present). The central national narrative of “Republika Srpska” is based on an induced amnesia of the Srebrenica genocide. “Republika Srpska” represents a paradigmatic example of a territorial and institutional entity built on ethnic cleansing, a process of amnesia.

The project is based on artistic and theoretical research trajectories: artistic practices, such as the exhibition, performances, screenings, and the building of archives, are interrelated with theoretical approaches, such as the symposium, panels, oral testimonies, and writings. The performative and emancipatory re-construction of histories is undertaken by artists and theorists, collectives, and grassroots practitioners. Therefore, we build up an interdisciplinary platform with the purpose of studying the techniques and procedures of silencing and inducing oblivion in order to develop a genealogy of amnesia to then counter it. Countering the genealogy of amnesia in regards to European genocidal histories means to rethink the past for a new future that is rooted in a convivial life together.

Dissemination accounts for four core segments, making research results publicly available in multivalent formats:

The core researchers on the project are Prof Dr Marina Gržinić (Austria/Slovenia), Dr Sophie Uitz (Austria), Mag. Christina Jauernik (Austria), Dr Jovita Pristovšek (Slovenia) and Dr Šefik Tatlić (BiH/Croatia). They work with an affiliated group of researchers from Bosnia and Herzegovina: Dr Adla Isanović and Dr Nejra Čengić, and Dr Tjaša Kancler* (Spain).

The research also benefited from the initial engagement of Dr Jelena Jureša in the year 2019.

Filming and editing expertise was provided in the first half of 2018 by independent filmmaker mag. Muzaffer Hasaltay (Austria), from Mid 2018 until the end of the project in 2021 the filming and editing is provided by mag. Valerija Zabret (Slovenia).