Humanities Research Centre 2005 : Commemoration, monuments and public memory
The destruction of monuments accompanying the fall of Communism ignited debates about preservation of manifestations of a hated regime. While heritage professionals called for their preservation as ‘historical documents’, many monuments were destroyed or removed. Yampolsky sees anti-Communist iconoclasm as a rejection of the totalitarianism of time embodied in Communist monuments. These ‘intentional monuments’ were intended to ‘negate the march of time and oppose to it the permanence of human action’. They demonstrated the alleged end of history in a classless utopia.
Iconoclastic acts against these monuments involved the crossing of ‘the invisible boundaries of the sacral zone surrounding monuments, switching on the chronometer of history’. In doing so, iconoclasts provide the conditions for reassertion of heritage practices: heritage requires a sense of the flow of time, a difference between past, present and future.
Having restarted the chronometer of history, a society is forced to assess where it stands in relation to its past. Will it continue on a path of ‘wilful forgetting’, or seek to confront the past? The danger of wilful forgetting is the creation of nostalgia. Alternatively, preservation of places of memory helps processing of the past required for movement into the future. ‘One need only consider the way in which Berliners tore down the hated Berlin Wall in the aftermath of 1989’, Fulbrook writes, ‘to understand the desire to rid the landscape of a hated excrescence, a symbol of a rejected political past. But…for those who come after, the effort of historical imagination is all the greater for lack of a topography of experience’.
Heritage preservation can produce a ‘topography of experience’, through which the experience of Communism is examined. Reassertion of a humanistic historical time through heritage practices reveals the arrogant futility of utopian projects seeking to bring history to an end.
Field of Research
210202 Heritage and Cultural Conservation
HERDC Research category
L1 Full written paper - refereed (minor conferences)