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Transposed Meanings:The Town-

By : Dijana Alic

The contemporary discourse on memory, history and identity suggests that places/ sites gain their significance at the point when they no longer form a part of daily life or as Pierre Nora argues, lieux de memoire (sites of memory) emerge at the point of rupture with the past and disappearance of milieux de memoire (real environments of memory) (P. Nora, 1989). This paper examines the relationship between the site of memory of the Sarajevo’s Town Hall (Vijecnica) and the broader cultural and political milieux de memoire within which it emerged, gained and changed its meaning and had an effect on cultural and political life. It is argued that shifting the relationship between milieux de memoire and the Town Hall allowed different power structures to change and alter the memories associated with the Town Hall building. Four stages of the relationship are considered: (1) Originally built as an expression of colonial power of the Austro Hungarians (1878-1914) the building’s architectural appearance aimed to contribute to the Austro-Hungarian creation of a ‘new’ Bosnian identity. The use of the alien Pseudo Moorish style, the building’s disregard for the surrounding site and the broader context of the city contributed to its isolation and strengthened its perception as a superimposed colonial structure. (2) It is through the change of use of the building to a civic institution of the National and University Library that the Socialist Government of Yugoslavia (1945-1992) attempted to deter the memories of the colonial past and establish closer links between the building and the wider city of Sarajevo. Nestled within the physical representation of the colonial time, the new use of the building as a research institution suggested the very modernity of the socialist Bosnian society. Its public use subsequently not only provided for its greater integration with the memory of the city but also placed the building within the Communists’ views of progressive history. (3) Shelled and significantly damaged by the Serbian Nationalist forces in the war of 1992, the meaning of the building shifted again. Considered as an attack on Bosnian unity, the building became the symbol of the country’s ability to accommodate and integrate other cultures and transform the influences into the ‘uniquely’ Bosnian cultural expression, resonating the original Austro-Hungarian desires but casting them within the narrative of ‘multicultural’ Bosnia and Herzegovina. (4) The post 1992 war reconstruction of the Town Hall sponsored by the Austrian Government suggested yet another turn in the meaning of the Town Hall as the Bosnian government gained the Austrian Government support in restoring the damaged building. The Town Hall restoration to its original state (based on the original drawings and financial means provided by Austrians) aimed to confirm continuity and strength of Bosnia as well as to ideologically connect the state with the ‘rest’ of Europe. It is through the discussion of the myriad of architectural and other narratives that surrounded the building since its establishment to current times that it becomes possible to understand ways by which this fantasy structure (R. Salecl, 1994) took place in the creation of national myth, memory and history of Bosnian culture and territory. As an example, it provides not only for the understanding of the significance of architecture and memory in the construction of the ideas of culture and nation but also the changes in attitude of Bosnian people to their cultural identity and national past.

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