A: Participants present pictures/photographies/songs etc. that they relay to the culture of remembrance in their own country (Cold War Era) & tell the story/stories of that picture.
B: Biographical work as a method of dealing with East-West-history: story-telling café
I cannot think at something more relevant than University Square , Bucharest, when talking about culture of remembrance in Romania.
And this song .
University square is that place, or rather space, that encircles, in post-communism history, all the major democratic events beginning with the ’89 revolution and ,hopefully not, finishing with last year’s protests regarding Rosia Montana mining project. Here people had shouted, had sung, had laughed, got beaten, had died. Crosses and plaques mark the place. During the year the image shifts from place of commerce (flower stands, flea market) to advertising holidays (Christmas or Easter decorations and market). And why it shouldn’t be like this?
Is the space of remembrance democratized or not?
When the days were cold and hard to endure, humor warmed up the lives of many.
” The presidential couple (from Romania) was traveling by helicopter towards Bucharest. The wife said :”Look Nick, what beautiful rivers we have…” . ”No, woman! (the president replyed). Those are highways…”. But the pilot, in his mind ”You idiots, those are ques…!”
One woman goes into a store. Surprised that she managed to get inside without waiting at an endless que, she starts looking around. Left. Right. Behind the cashier… Then she asks : ”You don’t have bread?” ” Nooo, here we don’t have eggs. In the shop next door they don’t have bread…”
Still, we should not ignore the reasons why life got to this kind of absurd moments… Briefly, most of the products were going towards export, in order to cover the debts the country accummulated in the previous 30 years (loans and war penalties towards USSR). And while on paper the situation seemed balanced (there’s enough food for export and also for the population – *information that was regularly checked by field visits by the President), the reality was different. A lot different. And those who are to blame for the situation created in the 80s are still pulling the strings in our politics today.
Officialy, the external debt of Romania fully payed in the 80s was of about 21 billion US dollars. Paid with huge sacrifices by the population. But today, the debt has well passed 100 billion Euros… And is increassing, day by day.
Today we used two slightly different, alternative ways of approaching the historical period we are dealing with.
The first way was object-centered, a kind of historical show-and-tell. This way we got very different presentations on remembrance of the cold war era in Romania, Lithuania, Italy, and Germany (and Finland, but unfortunately I did not get to hear these). For me, the approach though objects is very useful as an opener: it makes the person who brought the object reflect their own relation to the topic in question, and encourages the others to do the same. Furthermore, objects, being material and tangible, are able to draw more attention and interest than texts in books, powerpoint-presentations, or documentaries. They might also “embody” different layers of history, larger historical developments as well as personal stories, which is why the right objects can be great starting points for getting people interested in historical contexts.
Which relates to the next part of the day, the story-telling-cafe: A kind of oral history, and an interview-method at the same time, here people are encouraged to tell their personal stories in a safe space. The safety of the context is guaranteed by rules for the audience, which is not allowed to interrupt or ask questions. Obviously, this also means that there can be no questioning while the narrator is talking and presenting her very own version of history: her-story.
The method needs good moderation, to ensure that there will be adequate reflection of the presented stories, and also that the narrating person is confident to open up and present personal experiences, perceptions and ideas. Preparation is needed to make sure the audience is ready to accept everything they hear at first, with questions, replies and discussions being held back. I also think solid background knowledge is useful for the listeners to be able to put the subjective accounts into broader context.
When these things are given, I think it is a very valid method (perhaps even in connection with objects), which can add important, thought perhaps not always comfortable, aspects to historical research and advanced education. Otherwise, it might quickly turn into a debate different generations of a family might have at the kitchen table – and from my experience, these are rarely enlightening or satisfying.
Participants at the seminar are from various European countries, so each has a different perspective on the East-West conflict. Each brought a picture which he/she relates to the conflict, in a personal way and has to talk about it. The list of topics touched upon is big and colourful: Ceausescu’s huge celebrations in the 80s, Radio Free Europe, the Finlandization process, the rebranded Romanian chocolate with rum and so on. It’s all about the past and how the conflict mirrored in various events and details.
But then Sarah, a German participant, introduces a whole new pespective. She presents the Political Beauty project, belonging to a group of artists who pointed out that the even though the Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago, many walls still exist today, which are being ignored: the Spanish-Moroccan fences, Us-Mexico border etc.
The discourse focusing on the celebration of the past is problematic because it leaves aside the dimension of the present. And because it tricks us into believing that history=past.
Today was really full of interesting opinions and different kinds of views.Mostly we were talking about rememberence of the cold war era in our country.In the morning we were divided in small groups to present our “homework” like pictures,songs and etc.It was very useful and cognitive.Firstly,because we were only 4-6 people in group and everyone was able to speak not being confused of a time,so no one was in a hurry or interrupted.
The second part of day were focused on story-telling cafe,what was a new thing to me.It was strangely sometimes during conversion that everyone was silent,but on the other hand it was good because every member in group had time to think about topic,which were discussed.
The second full day of the training was story telling day. In AM we showed ant told stories about them which were taken during the cold war era. Afterwards we used a method of biographical work called story telling cafe. It was a bit confusing as we were not able to ask or interrupted. It sometimes showed like we really wanted to argue but protected ourselves from it. Together we made an implication that this method is useful in unofficial education.