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The Shaping and Reshaping of Remembrance

When May 25, 2016
from 07:30 to 09:00
Where KiZ (Kultur im Zentrum), Südanlage 3a, 35390 Gießen
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Literary evening with Dubravka Ugrešić. 


From May 12 until the end of June 2016 the exhibition “MOnuMENTI: The Changing Face of Remembrance” will be displayed in the exhibition space of the University library. This event was initiated by RA1 and is organized in cooperation with the Forum Civil Peace Service, the University library and the GiZo. The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of events related to former Yugoslavia, one of which is the literary evening with the renowned novelist and essayist Dubravka Ugrešić, moderated by Dr. Diana Hitzke from the Slavic Studies Department.

The photo exhibition “Monumenti” shows how concepts of identity expressed through monuments have developed in the countries of the Western Balkans during the 20th century. The collapse of former Yugoslavia was accompanied by a vigorous ethno-nationalization of previously shared cultural spaces that eventually resulted in the creation of nationally oriented politics of memory dominated by victimization narratives. The dominant patterns of generating cultural memories, i.e. relevant versions of the past became “organized oblivion” and “forced remembering”.  In an Orwellian fashion, street names were changed, the reform of the language and new festivities introduced (as the old ones were abolished), history textbooks and children’s books were rewritten, old museums abandoned and new ones erected…In a climate of general nationalist hysteria. The rapid diffusion of what Ugrešić called a “culture of lies” left hardly any space for dissonant voices and resulted in some well known cases of witch-hunting, scapegoating (projected onto groups and individuals), imputation and persecution of the “undesirables”.

Dubravka Ugrešić was among those who fought against the deletion of common memory and wide-spread social amnesia, earning herself the label of “traitor” and “witch”. Following a long lasting series of public attacks, she left Croatia in 1993 because she “could not adapt to the permanent terror of lies in public, political, cultural, and everyday life” (“Thank you for not Reading” 2003, p. 136). More than twenty years later, the situation in Croatia seems not to have changed: a Minister in the newly elected right-wing Croatian Government has called for the compilation of a “list of national traitors”, the president of the ruling party is invoking prison sentences for those who do not accept the “official”, one-sided truth about the war in the 1990s, initiatives for a “spiritual renewal” are regaining momentum, war veterans are engaged in a Don Quijotian fight against yugo-communists etc.

Other countries in the region and Europe as a whole have been recently displaying attitudes that have little to do with tolerance, anti-fascism and cosmopolitanism. An engaged public intellectual with a literary studies background, Dubravka Ugrešić has critically written against these tendencies in many of her works, which makes her an interesting interlocutor and an attractive guest for our Centre.

Dubravka Ugrešić studied Comparative and Russian literature at the University of Zagreb, after which she successfully pursued parallel careers as a writer and a literary scholar. She worked at the Zagreb University’s Institute for Theory and Literature until war broke out in former Yugoslavia. Her anti-war and anti-nationalist stance brought her persistent media harassment, so she decided to leave Croatia in 1993. She has taught at a number of American and European universities, including Harvard, UCLA, Columbia and the Free University of Berlin. Ugrešić is the winner of several major literary prizes, such as the NIN Award (1988), the Austrian State Prize for European Literature (1998), Jean Améry Essay Prize (2012) and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature (2016). Her most famous works include “Fording the Stream of Consciousness” (1991), “In the Jaws of Life” (1992), “The Culture of Lies” (1998), “The Museum of Unconditional Surrender” (1998), “The Ministry of Pain” (2005) and “Baba Yaga Laid an Egg” (2009). The novel “In the Jaws of Life” was made into a successful film by director Rajko Grlić. Ugrešić has also published articles on Russian avant-garde literature and is the author of three books for children. In 2012 Mija Pavliša and Senad Zemunović started filming a documentary about her, “The Witch in the Jaws of Life”.


The event is organized by Research Area 1 (Cultural Memory Studies) in cooperation with the GiZo (Gießener Zentrum Östliches Europa) and Literarisches Zentrum Gießen e.V. with the support of the Department of Eastern European History and and the Department of Slavic Studies.


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