2015 Summer School Participant
Course: Mnemonic Battles and Memory Activism in and after Conflict
Growing up in zone of ongoing conflicts and uprisings, I had always gone through a cycle of endless questions that usually started with a WHY, and were never answered! Why was I brought up here? Why me? Why are my people suffering? Why did I become aware of all this at a relatively young age? Why did this all had to happen in the first place?
Why, several decades later, there is still no ending to all the killing, shooting, destruction, land confiscation, cruelty, injustice, persecution, daily humiliation and bloodshed? Why… why… why…
The older I grew, the more questions I had. Yet, a more complicated dilemma of ‘coincidences’ and a ‘heavenly plan’ has to emerge in the scene. Do things really happen for a reason? If so, what is it? What are the answers to all my ‘whys’?
Holding up to the thought of coincidences, I got to know about the Summer School in Comparative Conflict Studies by sheer coincidence through a random post on one of the pages I randomly followed on Facebook. That post caught my eyes; I found myself applying, then being accepted, and a couple of months later my flight landed in Belgrade. And as the countless questions in my head were increasing, they were faced with an unexpected statement delivered at the opening sesmosion of the Summer School at the Center for Comparative Conflict Studies (CFCCS); “If you are here to look for answers, then this place is not for you. We are here to raise more questions and fewer answers; to analyze and think comparatively and critically”!
Coming from Palestine, a country of contested histories of colonial greed and inconsistent religious interest that resulted in creating a state of ongoing despicable confrontation, left me, and Palestinians in general, constricted of what we thought to be of relevant importance, and not fully aware of what goes on beyond our geographical borders. The situation we found ourselves in led to a reality in which every single aspect of our daily lives is completely politicized. It forced us - the people - to deal with and pay the debt of the consequences of what those in power had decided on.
Beyond those borders; a week spent in a country recovering from a number of brutal wars waged throughout the years… sitting in class among people of at least ten other nationalities with various different upbringings, experiences, and academic interests; listening to their own histories, and understanding the construction of their collective memories; comprehending their narratives and backgrounds while reflecting and comparing those narratives to mine. Beyond those borders, I was receiving silent echoes that kept reminding me: “there is a lot going on in the world! Open your eyes and ears, oh self”.
The course I was enrolled in, focused on how the past is perceived, taught, remembered, preserved, commemorated, forgotten, denied, destroyed or re-remembered within the different communities and social groups living in conflict and post-conflict zones. Throughout the course, I became more aware that there is a vast pool of possibilities and ideas through which the past and its associative memory can be kept alive, while creatively emphasizing the necessity of calling for justice and peace. I realized that conflict is more than physical violence, and peace does not necessarily mean the absence of war.
The course left me with several issues to consider, reconsider and reflect on. To mention a few among many other thoughts; the role of education system in triggering the kids’ minds on what to know, what to remember, how to think and accordingly act/react; or how media can be used as a tool to alternatively promote justice and bring people with opposing opinions to work together and draw the first rays of peace, the way they see it. I became more aware that change can be truly achieved through those small efforts, when they are based on truth and are performed genuinely.
With such thoughts in mind, I was able to conclude that piling up the countless questions throughout the years took a part in building and shaping my own narrative and memories, and I realized that maybe through seeking answers to those questions in my own community, I can utterly contribute to alternatively documenting, building and inventively deconstructing more social and collective memories and personal narratives of the unheard ones; the hidden tales of the vast the majority of the population who were never offered the platform to speak up and share what they went through and how they ended up leading the life they currently have.
An overwhelming intensive week combining group classes, roundtable discussions, public lectures, shared activities, field trips and, of course, students’ interactions and presentations, had ultimately enriched my personal knowledge and awareness, and widened my perceptions and understanding on so many levels.
Whether laying a hand on that post I saw on Facebook was a coincidence or for a planned reason, I know that my participation in the Summer School in Belgrade marked a highlighted experience in my life that I would definitely do again if I had the chance to.
By Salaam Bannoura
Participant of the course: Mnemonic Battles and Memory Activism in and after Conflict
Recepient of the 2015 European Fund for the Balkans EFB Scholarship