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Working with the cultural heritage of conflict

20 pages, pdf
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Working with the cultural heritage of conflict

Publisher: Stefanie Kappler & Johanna Mannergren Selimovic

Volume: 20 pages, pdf


Violent conflicts often leave a legacy of destroyed, ruptured or segregated political landscapes. Accordingly, engaging the cultural heritage that emerges from periods of violence is a key factor for the construction of durable and inclusive peace. Many of the great challenges faced by conflict-affected societies are reflected in the politics around cultural heritage as it can be instrumentalised for war and peace alike, making it imperative for local, national and international stakeholders to engage with cultural heritage as a component of peacebuilding processes. This discussion paper provides a deeper understanding of the role of cultural heritage in conflict-affected societies and, specifically, the Western Balkans. The paper examines how narratives and practices around cultural heritage can be developed to foster social cohesion and dialogue, and seeks to demonstrate how divisive uses of cultural heritage can be transformed in a way that is conducive to peace.

Using examples from Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) and Kosovo, the paper maps and identifies key cultural heritage sites and spaces that reflect a variety of cultural heritage narratives and practices in relation to peace processes. Tangible heritage including museums, memorials, plaques and religious buildings are discussed alongside intangible heritage including art installations and monuments. In particular, the role of local actors as anchors in cultural heritage processes is discussed, and attention is given to the gendered and intersectional power dynamics (re)produced through cultural heritage. Further, cultural heritage pedagogies are discussed as instruments to rectify divisive propaganda and build bridges between multiple narratives, including the recognition of multi-layered histories and memories. Digitisation processes, it is argued, can be part of such pedagogies, mitigating or ameliorating processes of exclusion. Further, the role of cultural heritage as an income-generating factor is considered, not only in terms of its political significance but also in terms of its role in addressing economic marginalisation. Further, the paper identifies and warns against potential gaps between external notions of reconciliation and local requests for justice. Finally, the paper demonstrates that by reading the material landscape of post-conflict societies through both the presence and absence of tangible cultural heritage, it is possible to gain a deeper understanding of local power dynamics.