Memory and South East Europe: Global currents of activism and contestation

This article was published on
Scattered photographs

On 24 September 2020, South-East Europe Working Group convenors, Lydia Cole and Katarina Kušić, chaired the virtual roundtable: ‘Memory and South East Europe: activism and global currents of contestation’. The speakers were: Ana Milošević (KU Leuven), Jelena Đureinović (University of Vienna/ Humanitarian Law Center (Belgrade)), and Jasmin Mujanović (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and co-host of Sarajevo Calling).

The following questions guided the participants interventions and the following discussion:

  • In what ways have silence, denial and its contestation been manifest?
  • How and why have particular actors shaped and influenced memory politics?
  • In what ways are memories contested? And by whom?
  • What global and/or transnational connections can we draw between memory politics and activism in the region?

Memory has always been a contentious topic in South East Europe, and recent events fit in a much longer process of memory contestation. In May, there was outrage and protest in response to a Mass held in Sarajevo for the Bleiberg commemoration, while in June human rights organisations expressed concern about a Croatian Court ruling which stated that singer Marko Perković Thompson did not violate public order by chanting a controversial nationalist World War II slogan at a concert. Furthermore, memory and its contestation have global currents. While regional commentators have remarked on the continuities in discourse between regional nationalisms and the European Far-Right, there are also countless examples of transnational solidarity with counter-hegemonic movements. The roundtable discussed contemporary memory politics, its contestation, and memory activism within the region, as well as examine its global interconnections.

Reflecting on recent political events which are imbued with memory politics, Ana Milošević reflected on the disappearance and death of David Dragičević in Banja Luka and the subsequent protests at Krajina Square in Banja Luka. These protests included a spontaneous memorial, and Ana explored the possibilities for democratic memory which emerge through the memorial. Ana’s comments were based on a wider discussion in a working paper ‘A game of memories: spontaneous memorials and their contestation in Brussels, Malta and Banja Luka’ (co-authored with Davide Denti and Alfredo Sasso), which explores contestations between official and unofficial memory actors in these locales.  

Connecting to this discussion, Jelena reflected on her ethnographic work conducted with memory activists in Serbia. Jelena’s recently published book contextualises both revival and revisionism in Serbia, and focuses particularly on the simultaneous appropriation of the partisan history by Serbian nationalists and the accompanying (and continuous) delegitimisation of socialist Yugoslavia.  Jelena highlighted that memory politics is also transnational in scope – not just limited to the postwar and post-socialist. Particularly reflected on a context of populism and the ethnicization of history – connected to aspects of EU accession and diplomacy.

Turning to think through the global currents of memory and nationalism: Jasmin also discussed aspects of (global) historical revisionism, arguing that Bosnia-Herzegovina has been a “salient node” of revisionism particularly, with regard to the denial of the Bosnian genocide. Reflecting on the global, regional, and local discourses surrounding revisionism, Jasmin noted an intertwining of narratives between the Western ‘Imperialist left’ and local far-right nationalisms.

This rich discussion was followed by a lively Q&A session where audience members drew out the strands of (trans)national memory politics and subjugated histories that link these interventions.

If you have an idea for a future virtual event, we are keen to hear from you. Please get in touch via email:

If you’d like to find out more about our panellist’s recent work, see:

Jasmin Mujanovic. 2018. Hunger and Fury: The Crisis of Democracy in the Balkans. Hurst.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash