Thursday, October 27, 2005

Kosovo fieldwork: cultural heritage, politics and propaganda

Kosova/Kosovo fieldwork notes extracts

During my time in Prizren, through conversations with locals, archaeologists, anthropologists and internationals, I began to learn the minutiae of Kosovan cultural practice, including communities' leaders' and members' constructions of cultural heritage and their uses of heritage in politics and propaganda.

At 12.30am on the 18th of July 2005, I noted that, in a restaurant in the old town, one person "said that, in the Balkans, 'honour and pride are everyday affairs'"; although they should not be reified as determining factors in people's choices, these social values can be important considerations in public conduct and so in actions upon cultural heritage.

People choose to doctor, damage and destroy cultural heritage for a raft of reasons, from conceived codes of honour and shame within one's community, to perceived needs for (individual and communal) self-defence, to felt hatred of stereotyped groups of others outside one's own community, to fabricated excuses for indulging in the effervescence of collective violence.

In the restaurant in the old town, the person,
went on to say that one of the (possible) reasons I got the reaction I did from Albanians when I mentioned that I was going to the Orthodox church on the hill [the fourteenth-century Serbian Orthodox Church of Saint Saviour] now under continual German KFOR guard, is that 'Orthodox heritage is seen as being a part of Serbian propaganda'.
This may be, "in a sense, true", as there is some suggestion that:
the Serbs do refuse (the Serbian Orthodox Church refuses) restoration in order to prevent the wound from healing and to bear it publicly as proof of their persecution.
Another person in that restaurant, a UN security officer "argued that the Yugoslav government had started then stopped digging Roman sites" and agreed with my (entirely theoretical) proposition that:

that may be because they didn't want to 'prove' the longevity and continuity (and richness) of the (Roman and so) Illyrian (or Dardanian) and so Albanian community.

He said that that was the case at a site 'one or two kilometres' outside Gracanica, where a later Catholic church had used stone from a Roman fort and temple site, which [he said] would remain unknown to me until I thought to 'ask the local Albanians - don't ask the Serbs - they'll say there's nothing there'.

Discomfortingly, [the UN security officer] warned me, 'watch your back and don't tell anyone what you're doing' as 'it could get you into a lot of trouble'.

This caused me to ask myself, "when will I accept I simply cannot work here!?"

That led me to consider my options.
If I get three months' intensive language training, it would require me to live in Prishtine rather than Prizren and it would take up between September and November or October and December; aside from research fitted in around that, that would afford me two clear months' work before March's 'anarchy', whereupon I could go to intensive language training for then work in Cyprus and/or Ilisu, then have a revisiting of Kosovo and then of Cyprus and/or Ilisu before writing up...
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