Keri DeJong and Barbara Love once wrote about the “historical amnesia” experienced by adults that challenges their memory of what it was like to be a young person. More anecdotal than scientifically proven, this missing information is thought to negatively impact adults’ empathy towards their younger counterparts. Some scholars and activists have suggested that adults as a collective need to overcome this memory loss in order to develop an equitable and less oppressive relationship with young people, but this requires changing a century-old tradition of forgetfulness. Habits die hard and forgetting, frankly, is easier.
Mother Bosnia is no exception to this phenomenon. She is caught between the tension of remembering a younger version of herself – sometimes a painful contemplation – and moving towards the future. Both the new and the old will serve her children well in that remembering the past will make her more empathetic towards them, while focusing on her future will serve as an inspiration; a beacon of hope. I’ve heard it said that remembering and moving on are both necessary energies, and yet communities, like brains, crave efficiency and organization. The complexity of her cities’ histories threatens that simplicity and cultural amnesia, frankly, is easier.
I’ve spent two days now wandering the cobble streets of Sarajevo, paying attention to the building facades; those that are brand new, those with patched bullet holes, and the ones that sit with their brick exposed as a testament to the siege. A short stroll down Obala Kulina bana shows how the building fronts forget. Remember. Forget. Remember. Forget. I’ve wondered if it’s money that prevents some shopkeepers from repairing the storefronts or a conscious decision to stand against the amnesia. Whether the forgetting is deliberate or unintentional, both types risk feeding one another. I wonder if I’m alone in thinking that the demolition and repairs that erase the stories from Bosnia’s mind will leave an emptiness – a civic amnesia – that each individual will fill with their preferred stories over time; the stories that deny. Remember. Deny. Remember. Deny.
It was said today at the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina that the war crimes they try are not only about justice, but about preserving the record and the memory of the genocide. Could it be that archived documents are a more salient reminder of the siege than the broken balconies and cracked eaves passed on the morning commute? Should memories be stored as an exhibit in a museum so that the adults can move on or are the “Sarajevo Rose” exhibits on the the streets of Sarajevo the best display cases? I would never presume to know what’s best for Mother Bosnia and her children, but I wonder if intergenerational empathy benefits most when the memories are not isolated to token memorials, but stay integrated in the foundations of the buildings and the foundations of the culture. Whatever the approach, my wish for Bosnia is to find a means to maintain collective memory lest historical amnesia sets in. Nothing fractures a society more than fractured memories. – Krista Bajgier