Sarajevo, 19th July 2023 – From 6th to 9th July 2023, the ‘Why Remember?: Tracing the Past Conference’ took place in Sarajevo, attracting academics, artists, and stakeholders from around the world. This annual conference, organised by the Peace and Conflict Culture network, a project run by the University of Art London, aims to explore the complex and contested questions that post-conflict societies face, shedding light on the significance of memory and forgetting in shaping their present and future. Centrala is a partner of the network focusing on fostering connections with academics and relevant stakeholders, mobilising arts and social institutions engaged in peace, conflict, and cultural discourse both in the UK and selected regions abroad, particularly those affected by conflicts and their aftermath.

The conference, chaired by Prof. Paul Lowe, aimed to address the complex and contested questions faced by post-conflict societies. What should we remember, what should we forget, and, ultimately, why? What is the role of publicly visible memory and its potential impact on issues such as reconciliation and healing in the wake of conflict, and how, either consciously or unconsciously, do memory processes shape the present and the future? These questions of memory (and forgetting) are intensely political and have far-reaching consequences, making these debates vital to institutions of cultural memory that engage with the past in order to make sense of the present and build a more peaceful future. The conference also explored the role of cultural institutions in dealing with traces of the past, particularly in supporting counter-narratives as part of peacebuilding and conflict prevention.

The ‘Why Remember?’ conference featured a distinguished lineup of keynote speakers who provided valuable insights into the conflict in Bosnia and ongoing reconciliation efforts in the region. Among them were renowned researcher and writer, Piro Rexhepi, and esteemed artist, Aida Sehović. Their contributions shed light on the importance of understanding the past and the process of healing and reconciliation as critical aspects of peacebuilding and conflict prevention.

The event’s program was packed with intensive discussions and thought-provoking activities, including art exhibitions and community events. A notable highlight was the opening of the exhibition “Into Which Narrative Was I Born?” by artist Mirna Jancic Doyle at the History Museum of Bosnia Herzegovina. The exhibition explored the teaching of conflicting historical narratives to primary school children in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Since the 1990s war, Bosnia’s multiple education systems cater for the ideological needs of different citizen groups, teaching  single-view perspectives through subjects such as History. Through the series artist engage with the educational pragmatism of teaching such opposing narratives to children through the separate History textbooks.  Additionally, conference participants had the opportunity to attend a drinks reception at the residence of the British Ambassador, fostering further collaboration and networking among stakeholders in the field.

An essential part of the conference was the participation in the anniversary memorial event to commemorate the Srebrenica Genocide. This solemn event served as a poignant reminder of the devastating consequences of conflict and the significance of memory in the process of healing and reconciliation.

Throughout the conference, participants from academic, art, and cultural backgrounds engaged in thought-provoking discussions, exchanging ideas, and exploring innovative approaches to dealing with traces of the past in the conflicts in former Yugoslavia countries, as well as other conflicts like the Holocaust and the Rwanda Genocide. By focusing on the role of cultural institutions in supporting counter-narratives, the event highlighted how art and memory can play a crucial role in promoting peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

The ‘Why Remember?: Tracing the Past Conference’ in Sarajevo served as a significant milestone in the pursuit of peace and reconciliation. By addressing the complex questions surrounding memory, forgetting, and the impact of both, the event showcased the importance of engaging with the past to create a more harmonious and peaceful future for all societies affected by conflict. As academics, artists, and stakeholders continue to exchange ideas and collaborate on these vital issues, the hope for a more peaceful world remains a tangible and inspiring vision.