by Vjollca Krasniqi
The Covid-19 pandemic has assumed a central position altering the many aspects of the institutional and everyday life. This novel condition has had an impact on memorialisation too with the institution of lockdown and social distancing measures. The corona virus pandemic has forced us to live in the present. However, these unprecedented times has not made it obsolete, but rather relevant to continue inquiring into how the past envelopes and shapes the present? How the past guides the present? And also, despite uncertainty looming large about the future due to the Covid-19 pandemic, how is the future imagined?
The past may be represented as static and frozen in the present, but it is far from that. It is dynamic and formative of sociality, identity, and collective memory. Yet, as Halbwachs has pointed out ‘even at the moment of reproducing the past our imagination remains under the influence of the present social milieu’ (Halbwachs 1992, p. 49). Hence, the past and the present are mutually constituted. The past maintains a living relation to the present, entangled in the social structures of the present and molded into political discourse, cultural memory, memory policy and commemoration practices.
As an inherent part of the social structure, memorialisation is a representation of how societies remember, define and negotiate meanings of the past, as well as how they forge identity and belonging. Represented in the public sphere, memorialisation is expressed in commemoration events, memorials, symbols, emblems, art projects, memory policy and mnemonic communities. Altogether they constitute myriad narrations of the past offering a rich panoply of sources for understanding how the present relates to the past and how is shaped by the past.
Nations and memory have stood indivisible and intertwined to this present day. Memory is formative of the national identity. Nations account their imagined continuity through a given national temporality. Similarly, to other contexts, in Southeast Europe, the nation has remained the dominant frame of memorialisation and it has served to forge an exclusivist national identity. The memory politics has become a vehicle for national interpretations of the past through an exclusionary lens and hierarchical categorisation of past events and its actors within the imagined ‘We’ community and in opposition to the ‘Other’. Transmission of memories feeds into national imaginings maintaining divisive group remembrances and competing narratives of the past undermining social cohesion.
Power has been an overall system of memorialisation constructing the relationship between memory, places, actors and mnemonic practices. Interpretations and renditions of the past in the present are mere manifestations of power relations. The memory of the past is selective, but there are multiple and contested ways in which the past events are remembered and represented in the public domain. Yet, despite being nestled on continuity and national temporality, memorialisation carries potential for genuine transformative politics and social change. For this to take ground, memorialisation should be viewed as a platform to search for a shared memory of the past.
These unprecedented times of the Covid-19 pandemic show the importance of solidarity, mutual support, understanding and recognition of diverse knowledges, experiences, and voices. Today more than ever before there is a need of memorialisation premised on empathy and solidarity to undo the exclusivist nationalist frames which can lead to social change. Harnessed with this is mind, the memorialisation frameworks can be a meaningful point of departure for social construction of the present that is democratic and inclusive of diverse histories, memories, sentiments, and actors beyond the confines of imagined communities.