Francesco Mazzucchelli: "Memory on the stocks. Urban transformations and auto-representation strategies ...

Francesco Mazzucchelli: “Memory on the stocks. Urban transformations and auto-representation strategies in the cities of ex-Yugoslavia. A comparison between Belgrade, Sarajevo, Mostar and Dubrovnik”


In the last years, the management of post-conflict periods has become a significant issue, due to the increasing number of conflicts with a local dimension but a global relevance. Among the various questions concerning post-conflict situations, one of the most important relates to the reconstruction and the restoration of war damages, process that encompasses not only the infrastructures but also the heritage of the country (the cultural and architectural heritage as well as the existent building stock).
Starting from such preliminary remarks, I would like to discuss some questions concerning architectural and urban reconstruction in post-war periods. My thesis is that reconstruction, restoration and demolition plans and works significantly deal with social and cultural processes of construction of collective identities and memories and that urban reconstruction and restoration (as well as the building of monuments and memorials) can be seen as a practice of “collective memory writing”, a way to reinterpret, to manipulate, to influence the memory of past events. For these reasons, I believe that the process of urban planning and reconstruction can be effectively studied under the point of view of both a semiotics of culture (Lotman) and a semiotics of space (Greimas). Combining the two mentioned perspective I will try to illustrate how semiotics can study the relationship between collective memories and the so-called “lieux de memoire” (Pierre Nora) in post-war situations.
In this paper I will show some examples from a “field research” carried out in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia from March to June 2008. Applying a semiotic approach, I will analyse the recent urban transformations occurred in Belgrade, Sarajevo, Mostar and Dubrovnik after the end of the 1990s conflicts. In particular, I will focus on the changing in the morphologies of some urban landmarks but I also will try to point out the way those places are perceived, experienced and interpreted by citizens and communities. This analysis will give the chance to show the different attitude of these cities toward their past and the changes in collective memory.