Conflict and Natural Disasters
Mitrovica Roma Mahalla
Work is currently underway to renovate the Roma Mahalla/Roma Fabricka (Roma neighbourhood) in (southern) Mitrovice/Mitrovica in Kosova/Kosovo, which was a target for urbicide in the conflict; it began on the 25th of April 2006 (see

It will eventually enable some of the neighbourhood's former residents, driven out by the war in Kosovo, to return and to rebuild their neighbourhood community and, ideally/unrealistically, with the other communities to rebuild their local community (that of the town).

The renovation of the neighbourhood, though, involves - or has involved* - the removal of the standing remains, the erasure of the material historical memory of those terrible, but critical historical actions.

How do we deal with this?

We could (have) demand(ed) the site's preservation, but that would have required us to refuse the refugees their right to return and to live in their neighbourhood, their community once more.

We could (have) demand(ed) that some of the ruins were conserved in their void state, as a memorial and testimony and as a powerful site for human rights history education, but that would have required us to insist that the community we were trying to help recover be forced to live with and in a landscape of fear, suffering and traumatic memory, if it wishes to live there at all.

If we wished to find an alternative, whereby the site was rendered invisible from the outside (with a covered exterior), it would diminish the power of place to the point that it would be worthless, or, worse, to the point that it could denigrate or demean the memory (memories) and interfer with the remembering of, communication of and education about the experience(s).

We could support the renewal of the neighbourhood and with it the renewal of the community, but that would require us to support the elimination of the material historical memory that is foundational to the community's present circumstances and experiences and may, with other negative heritage sites, be critical to future community relations.

Would a museum, then, be a viable option? It is unlikely that it would become an economic, tourist resource (parrticularly given Kosovo's international reputation for insecurity and the international ignoring of and discrimination against the "subject" Roma community). It could, however, become a site for community memory and community education and so, for community reconciliation, but I suspect that effective support for this project would not be forthcoming.

(I do not mean, by that, the archaeological, architectural and other professions/communities, but, given individual and institutional failures at all levels from the local to the international have forced some Roma to remain in lead-contaminated refugee camps, where they are slowly suffering and dying, rather I do not expect to see effective support from the people and organisations that are practically necessary for action in these places.)

*I'm not certain of the progress of the project, but I was led to believe that, even before construction could begin, a concerted effort had been made to bulldoze all of the ruins.
Sam Hardy
Mitrovica Roma Mahalla
Sam, I am confused, "Roma Mahalla" roughly means "roman neighbourhood" which in Balkan usage would mean an urban district for Roman Catholic Croats and not Slav Orthodox Serbs.
Frank John Snelling
Mitrovica Roma Mahalla
Sam, it's nice to see you back on the forum, and with a very worthwhile but difficult project.

Frank! "Roma" is a people known otherwise as "Tzigane" and "gypsy". Here's the Wikipedia article.
Ozgur Basak Alkan
Mitrovica Roma Mahalla
Ozgur, Okay, "Roma" as in the 'Romany People' as they are also known in Britain. In English we also use the verb 'to roam'.
Frank John Snelling
Mitrovica Roma Mahalla
Hi Frank,

Yes, they are the 'Romany'. But the verb to Roam (according to the OED) comes from the word 'home'.

Going back to Sam's dilemma, I don't think I have a straight answer for you, Sam. If the refugees are interested in coming back, I think the best thing to do for them would be to create a living condition that does not harbour the scars of the past, allowing them to go on with their lives. I wonder how I would feel if I got out of my house every morning to see a burnt shell of a house left there 'for memory'. The ruins should be documented, in my opinion, but not left there.

People will retain the memory and pass it onto their children, with songs and stories. I think rather than build a museum, to built a community center/library that collects resources (photographs, verbal accounts, recordings of music, artwork, etc.) for educational purposes may be a better idea. The community center can create/curate specific exhibitions in-house or online, and will be open to researchers. It can have a library of general works for the use of the school children. What do you think?

To give a 'bad' example of how memory can be 'retrieved.' As you know, Ottoman cities had large Jewish quarters until several events in the twentieth century (1940s wealth tax, 1960s 'race' riots, establishment of Israel, etc.) that caused people to leave. Bursa had one such neighborhood; its major street was closed down to traffic in 1992 and became a tavern - fish restaurant street; it was renamed 'Arap Sukru' street after a local restaurant owner who married a Yemenite. And now, when I was last there, I saw that the street had a huge banner saying "Historic Jewish Street" or something of the kind. Now, that's a celebration of their memory!
Ozgur Basak Alkan
Mitrovica Roma Mahalla
Yes, I'm sorry I've been away for so long (though I have tried to keep up with reading here, at least). I couldn't quite come up with a precise angle, then this came along.

Don't worry, I didn't expect "straight answer[s]"; I just thought I'd note the primary options that I'd considered and see what people thought.

I agree that they need and deserve "a living condition that does not harbour the scars of the past".

I like the idea of a library that functions as a memory house. It would allow people to create an archive, but not compel people to recall traumatic memories.

Still, I have a nagging feeling that some material should be preserved. Maybe they could (have) rescue(d) personal objects, etc., from the ruins (with permission from their owner, where their owner is or becomes known).

Those objects could be used in community (but, probably, primarily, school) education and would also serve as "proof"...

I don't know. Hey ho - it's not like they're going to do any of these things any way (apart from the wholesale demolition part). :o) (or, perhaps, :o( ...)
Sam Hardy


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