[Workshop Reflection] Darija Maric: Personal Memories of War and Detention in Croatia from 1941 toToday

To watch the full video, click here

In Croatia, oral history is being used to build sustainable peace after decades of conflict.  On September 12, at a public workshop co-sponsored by the Columbia Center for Oral History and Columbia’s Center for the Study of Human Rights, Darija Maric, a fellow at Columbia this year, shared the work of Documenta, Centre for Dealing With the Past, a Zaghreb-based NGO that has done over 400 oral history interviews in an attempt to end a culture of silence about the wars in the countries that were formerly Yugoslavia. 



The interviews are the first stage of a project titled “Unveiling Personal Memories on War and Detention.”

Documenta was founded in 2004 in order to both establish the truth about what happened during wars, and to create a shift in the public dialogue about the wars -- from arguing over the facts of what happened, to sharing individual and subjective experiences of what happened.  You can explore Documenta’s work through their website:   http://www.documenta.hr/en/home.html

In 2006, Documenta began using oral history with some audio recordings made in Slavonia.  The recordings offered a surprising revelation:  that people connected the events of the 1990s with the Second World War, explaining how the old violence had been used to justify a fresh cycle of violence.  Documenta saw that by uncovering and sharing the wide variety of war experiences, oral history could help people to develop a nuanced understanding of what leads to war. 

“Individual voices show us collectively what factors lead to the collapse of civil society,” Maric explained.

For “Unveiling Personal Memories on War and Detention,” Documenta used an extensive NGO network and previous field experience to identify interviewees.  “We looked for people who were absent from the dominant or official narrative.  We wanted to hear the experience of minorities and of ordinary civilians, not just veterans; we wanted to give power to people who didn’t cause the events,” Maric said.

Look at some interview clips here:  http://www.osobnasjecanja.hr/en/video-search/

Maric described the interviews as personally and socially empowering.  “After the interview, some people began speaking out publicly after a lifetime of silence,” she said.  The interviews can have a community-building impact, as some communities have been holding events at which interview clips are shown.

“It’s amazing how revealing the suffering of your neighbor, or the suffering of someone from a different ethnic group, can start dialogue, which leads to understanding.  And that understanding creates empathy,” Maric said.

One audience member observed that human rights advocates always seek big changes.  But this oral history project is  leading to small changes, imperceptible at first, as shifts occur within individuals, families and communities as a result of telling and hearing stories.

Four hundred video-taped interviews, from all over Croatia, creates an enormous archive.  Documenta has transcribed each interview, translated it, gone through a scrupulous informed consent process (including erasing portions of interviews at the narrator’s request), and archived it with impressive security.  The first interview clips have just been made available to the public on the Internet, with many more to follow. 

“We thought our work was done,” Maric said, laughing.  “But now we realize that just putting it up on the Web is not enough.  What do you do with such rich material, how do you spread it around?  That’s why I’m here.”  Maric will be spending this year, she said, exploring artistic and innovative ways to use the “Unveiling Personal Memories” interviews to help heal Croatia’s past and build a lasting peace.