Rena Rädle and Vladan Jeremić in conversation with Nora Prekazi and Lulzim Hoti and vice versa.
Rena Rädle and Vladan Jeremić: Mitrovica has very specific cultural history as the city where important events for Kosovo happened in the last decades, such as the Trepça Miners’ Strike in 1989. At the same time, it is a city with the largest Serbian population in Kosovo. How does that history impact contemporary landscape and what are recent cultural developments in Mitrovica?
Nora Prekazi and Lulzim Hoti: The cultural developments of the last decade, which include over 10 different annual cultural initiatives and festivals, reflect this dynamic history, with art, music and literature often expressing themes of unity, heritage, environmental themes, and the pursuit of a better future. Recent developments initiated mainly by the independent cultural scene of Mitrovica include attempts to bridge ethnic divisions through cultural initiatives, showing the city's determination to move forward by accepting its past. Unlike the city of Mostar, which Bogdanović considered a murdered city after the old bridge was destroyed in 1993 dividing the town, Mitrovica would be considered by him a mutilated city, because of its two disconnected parts. Thus, all these efforts and cultural expressions are building a bridge between generations and spaces, allowing the city to heal from its wounds and move forward.
RR, VJ: What kind of impact political situation has on arts and culture in the light of recent unrest we witnessed in Mitrovica?
NP, LK: The recent escalation of tensions due to boycotted local elections by the Serbs in the Northern Part of Mitrovica have inevitably cast a shadow over the art and culture scene and our activism. The political situation has undoubtedly influenced the creation of a sense of insecurity, which indirectly affects the shrinking of audiences. This also affects the damage to the image of the city, which was already damaged decades ago. As much as the efforts of the artists improve the perception of the city, a political development of exaggerated proportions ruin the image and puts us back almost at the zero point. However, even in times of turmoil, artists have proven to be willing to raise awareness of social challenges and the need for peace and well-being.
RR, VJ: General perception of socialist Yugoslav heritage in Kosovo, especially in Mitrovica might not be positive, do you see any potential of translating this heritage today for young people and re-thinking its new meaning, such as the project by Mitrovica-born artist Alban Muja to bring back the Yugoslav monument to the main square?
NP, LK: The Yugoslav socialist heritage in Mitrovica offers potential for reimagining its significance for new generations. They are two monumental objects that have been embedded in the collective memory and have been reworked in different forms. We are talking about the Monument to Fallen Miners' from 1980 made by Bogdan Bogdanovic, as well as the public sculpture "Work, Equality and Knowledge" monument, which has managed to survive in various forms of art, even though for a decade it has been physically absent from the public space. It seems that the pressure and persistence of the citizens has made the monument come back, and this time through the well-known artist Alban Muja and his project “Moving Monument Moving Back” for the 4. Autostrada Biennale.
As a local activist representing the 7Arte cultural center, I believe that by acknowledging the past, addressing current challenges and promoting cultural initiatives, we can shape a brighter future for our city. Therefore, initiatives that reinterpret this heritage through modern lenses can always bring a renewed sense of belonging.
NP, LK: While you were doing the research about the architect Bogdan Bogdanovic and his visual language, what was your most special and surprising finding?
RR, VJ: There are two striking findings for us while researching Bogdanovic's life and work. First, it was incredible to find out how he, as a very respected person, professor and former major of Belgrade, suddenly became a persona non grata in Serbia. He and his antinationalist school of thinking were rejected. Because he openly criticized the regime of Slobodan Milošević his life was endangered to the extent that he could have been murdered. Therefore, he became a refugee and had to go to exile to Vienna. Many sites of tragical events in WW2 became again sites of suffering. It suddenly hit us that Bogdanović's powerful and rather optimistic monuments are standing in cities deeply affected by the wars of the 90ies such as Vukovar and Mostar, where the war broke out again.
NP, LK: Could you upack some of the aspects of the symbols and myths that you have incorporated into the flags in your projects The Pain of Symbols at 7Arte, and how they communicate with each other?
RR, VJ: We translated Bogdanović's symbols into a vocabulary of resistance against contemporary nationalism and used it on flags, to set them versus the national flags that are omnipresent in the public space. The essence of "The Pain of Symbols" can be seen in the large slogan "A city with one leg can not walk". This metaphor of us relates to Bogdanović's statement that for him, a divided city is like a divided human being. The beautiful rosette motives are coming from Mostar "Partisan cemetery" memorial, while the beasts in the shape of dragons derive from the memorial in Čačak. According to his writings those beasts carry a hidden dark energy which could be associated with nationalisms. Other elements such as birds, spirals, stylized hands, and pictograms are connected to several of his works from Bosnia and Serbia. The central form was inspired by the monument in Mitrovica because this monument reflects positive energy and the unity of the anti-fascist struggle of the local miners. Miner's struggles have a transhistorical meaning in Mitrovica and are a synonym for resistance during the 80ties and 90ties.
NP, LK: An exhibition focusing on the works of Bogdanović, do you think of organizing it in another city in Serbia and what would be your expectations?
RR, VJ: We feel that Serbian society is still not able to acknowledge properly its emancipatory values from the past. Unfortunately, cultural politics mostly concentrate on medieval kings and nationalist imagination, especially when it comes to sculptures in the public space. Of course, there are critical voices and there is a group of young architects doing research on Bogdanović. We hope that with our work we can also inspire others to investigate his groundbreaking, non-nationalist ideas.