The Ultimate Role of a Memorial

In the past, a lot has been done to review the impact of memorials in various societies, because they represent victory or defeat, the end of a war or of injustice, or glorification or honouring of the sacrifice of life.

Often it is only the speeches at an annual commemoration at a memorial site that recalls the victim’s sacrifice – whereas it should be the memorial itself that recalls and pays tribute to the sacrifice. Memorials convey diverse messages to society.

The impact may be clear, unclear, or inconsistent due to the lack of understanding of the desired reality it aims to represent.

In the introduction to the book Monuments and Memory, Made and Unmade, writers Robert S. Nelson and Margaret Olin give a definition of the purpose monuments tend to satisfy:
‘… the desire to commemorate, to mark a place, to represent the past to the present and future, to emphasize one narrative of the past at the expense of others, or simply to make the past, past.’ (Nelson & Olin 2003: 2)

Nelson and Olin see memorials as serving the purpose of commemorating, determining, representing, repaying or making the past, a past. The abovementioned approaches represent valuable perspectives towards defining a memorial’s role, as it may relate to all of the victims, both combatant and civilian.

When reflecting upon martyrdom, it is also essential to take into account the reasoning that pushes a person or a number of people to sacrifice themselves.

Said simply: what was the inspiration behind the sacrifice we are commemorating?

Why does a person sacrifice oneself, if not for overcoming a serious social situation, in order to create an opportunity for a new future, stripped from the past?

The sacrifice of oneself is done in order to terminate a certain way of life during a certain period, in order to start a new sequence of events.

If we bear in mind that a fighter fights to bring about change, then we understand the purpose of a memorial and what Nelson and Olin speak of when they call for letting the past be past and for embracing the change, now, in order to be able to live with new circumstances.

This claim is especially valid if we take into account the phenomenon that eventually accompanies the construction of a memorial: its removal.

This happened in Kumrovec, where, on 27 December 1994, Tito’s statue was destroyed; then in Baghdad on 9 April 2003, Saddam Hussein’s statue was brought down; and more recently, in Gori, Georgia, a Stalin statue was removed in 2010, on 28 June.

Although statues are very authoritative and can commemorate a certain person or a group, their removal or destruction aims at diminishing people’s belief in what they represent and the inspiration they were supposed to give to society, in order to make way for new social beliefs – whether benign or destructive.

Even though the memorial dedicated to Rosa Luxemburg2 and fellow revolutionary, Karl Liebknecht, built in 1926 by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, was not based on their physical attributes, it was still toppled by the Nazis in 1933. (Werner 2000: 20)

Instead of choosing to represent the physical attributes of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, Mies created a memorial consisting of many boxes, which symbolised the coffins of the dead.

The boxes were made from used bricks that were reminiscent of the wall in front of which the couple was executed. (Sudjic 2005: 25)

Therefore, knowing that this memorial was impartial in its design, but based on the beliefs of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, its commemorative nature and subject was an obstacle to the Nazi regime that followed and the future they envisaged for Europe and the entire world.

Ultimately, memorials in their double-faceted existence (construction/destruction), instead of serving to bring the past closer to us, also are there to alert or inspire society on the changes associated with building the future of that society.

This way, memorials largely represent a tool of social beliefs, serving the political goals of certain parties for acceptance by the public in a certain period.

References

Libeskind, Daniel, Breaking Ground, (London: Penguin Books, 2005)

Nelson, Robert S. & Margaret Olin, Eds, Monuments and Memory (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2003)

Sudjic, Deyan, The Edifice Complex: How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World, (London: Penguin Press, 2005)

Werner, Blaser, Mies van der Rohe (Berlin: Birkhauser, 1997)

Woods, Lebbeus, War and Architecture, (New York: Princeton, 1993)

Deconstructive Interpretations of Memorials

In terms of the degree of closeness between the family members and the memorials, there is a clear gap between them – a gap not experienced by others, since a memorial alienates family members, turning them into products of mass consumption or branding because family members do not experience the same feeling as they do when visiting their loved ones at the family gravesites.

In different societies, the presence of memorials perhaps represents a vision that incorporates both remembrance and renewal, focusing on the past and the sacrifice that was needed is necessary, which was the case with the competition to rebuild New York’s Ground Zero after the Twin Towers’ destruction from September 11 terrorist attacks.

Despite the participation of renowned world architects such as Zaha Hadid, Richard Meier, Rem Koolhaas, New Yorkers did not like the suggestions for Ground Zero.

This tough blow to the competition organisers and participants happened afterwards; before a hall full of residents and relevant authorities, one of the evaluation committee members raised the following questions, ‘What should be the goal here? … Is it to erase the memory of what has happened? That everything will be the same as it was before? … One needs a more profound indication of memory.’ (Libeskind 2005: 30, 31)

These were the words of the Berlin Jewish Museum architect, Daniel Libeskind, who, as an evaluator, put doubts in the minds of those present that day about the purpose of the Ground Zero’s development concepts. It was August 2002 when the first plans to rebuild Ground Zero were made public, and when Libeskind raised the issue of remembrance. He then added that it was necessary, ‘a dramatic, unexpected, spiritual insight into vulnerability, tragedy, and our loss. And we need something that is hopeful.’ (Libeskind: 31)

Due to popular demand, the competitors were asked to resubmit their proposals; at the same time, the Libeskind Studio was asked to compete with its own proposal for Ground Zero. Since the proposal from Libeskind Studio was genuinely linked with the past and the tragedy of 9/11 it was the preferred submission by the selection committee and New Yorkers.

Thus, it was awarded the right to plan the development of New York’s Memorial Museum Site.

However, though the Libeskind Studio proposal was based on the past, the aim was not to rebuild buildings similar to the Twin Towers.

On the contrary, the proposal uses the footprint of the original Twin Towers to create waterfalls surrounded by trees and a green area that, instead of rekindling the bitter memories of thousands of deaths during that fateful September, represents a source of life.

The trauma that New Yorkers went through resurfaces every 9/11 anniversary. Libeskind’s proposal transforms the area into a spot where the past is always present; however, the Ground Zero area is embraced by signs and sources of life, sending a message that society will not return to the past, but rather will rejoice in the future with this location – instead of reflecting the horror – representing life and peace.

The American architect Lebbeus Woods, during his research and preparation of pro-posals for post-war Sarajevo, suggests moving away from rebuilding and bringing the war-damaged buildings back to their original state.

He states that, ‘Wherever the restoration of war-devastated urban fabric has occurred in the form of replacing what has been damaged or destroyed, it ends as parody, worthy only of the admiration of tourists.’ (Woods 1993: 10)

Woods calls for embracing of past occurrences through his distinct approach, focusing on ways to patch up the material damages in the war-damaged buildings.

Instead of complete reconstruction and restoration of damages, Woods proposes covering them with construction materials different to the ones used to originally construct the building. Woods calls these wounds, scars or cuts. (Woods: 19)

Buildings can withstand war wounds because they don’t have feelings. On the other hand, in a society where war wounds are still fresh, dealing with the past is much harder than dealing with the future.

However, there is a local perception that the, ‘human being is stronger than stone’ and it refers to the ability or inability of these two elements to return to their previous state. When a stone cracks or breaks it can never return to its initial state, whereas a person, on the other hand, has a self-healing power enabling him to repair the wounds of body or soul, created by inhumane actions during war.

But if stone or the building, in the case of Sarajevo, doesn’t have a natural self-healing power and cannot return to its previous state, then why do people continuously try to implement what is not in the building’s nature?

In different parts of the world, post-war societies continuously deny the past that the buildings tell about, restoring them to the state they were before the war.

Covering war-wounded buildings accentuates the remembrance of war, so that in a way, for example, the people of Sarajevo, themselves, do not have to carry the war wounds.

For the first time a new approach towards post-war architecture has been taken, for Woods has offered a new way of dealing with the past where the past is not rewound (reconstructed), but instead marked (partially supplemented).

References

Libeskind, Daniel, Breaking Ground, (London: Penguin Books, 2005)

Nelson, Robert S. & Margaret Olin, Eds, Monuments and Memory (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2003)

Sudjic, Deyan, The Edifice Complex: How the Rich and Powerful Shape the World, (London: Penguin Press, 2005)

Werner, Blaser, Mies van der Rohe (Berlin: Birkhauser, 1997)

Woods, Lebbeus, War and Architecture, (New York: Princeton, 1993)

“THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH” – CHAPTER FOURTY

“Hello boss!” Sekretaresha barged in without knocking, placing a takeaway cup and a brown bag on Isa’s desk. “What’s this nasty smell?”

“It’s silicone!” Isa replied.

“Which one had her boops done?” Sekretaresha asked. “Jenny or Liz?”

“None of them! Over the weekend, we had some workers applying new silicone sealant to our windows.” Isa replied. “Besides, I don’t think that neither Lucy nor Jenny is dumb enough to have one.”

“Are you sure about that?” Sekretaresha asked in an overly confident tone. “Last week, I bumped into Jenny and Liz having a chat in the kitchen, doing their usual meaningless conversation complemented by their meaningless gesticulation. Jenny was ranting on about her diet. Then Jenny asked Liz if she could see that she lost 5kg, and guess what was Liz’s reply?”

After Isa indicated that he had no idea by shrugging his shoulders, Sekretaresha mimicked Liz’s reply, “Oh dear, how am I supposed to see something, if it’s no longer there!” 

Isa laughed hysterically, before replying, “Plastic surgery is a waste of time for insecure people who thrive on pleasing and improving others eyesight instead of their own!”

“Aha! But you keep forgetting something!” Sekretaresha replied enthusiastically. Plastic surgery is the only investment that no one can take away from you, even after you die.”

“Meaning what?” Alexander replied perplexed, lifting up his head.

“Meaning that you could buy your dream car and enjoy it for several months, before you die from a heart attack. You can’t bring along your car to your grave, now can you?”

“No, I guess you can’t.”

“But, if you have your nose, boops or bottocks done, you can take them to your grave and this is why plastic surgery is the best investment you could ever have!” Sekretaresha replied with a cheeky smile on her plump lips, before dashing off to her desk.

By the time the sun reached its lunchtime position, Isa’s boss, Mr Kryprokurori, the Chief Prosecutor knocked and walked inside Isa’s office with a brand new yellow file case tucked under his arm. As he entered the office, Kryprokurori’s face frowned as he swung his right hand in front of his nose, as one does to move an annoying fly buzzing around one’s head, “Would you mind, if open the window?” Kryeprokuri asked, and pointed his index finger towards Isa’s dish.“I have to dash off to an important meeting and I don’t want my clothes smelling whatever that is!”

“It’s chicken curry, sir,” Isa replied before looking up at his boss opening the window, “Would you like some, sir?” 

“Thank Isa! I’m good,” Kryprokuri replied, shaking his  bald head glistening under the sunset. “You just go ahead. I’m sorry, didn’t realise it’s lunchtime.”

Isa  shrugged happily and resumed finishing his lunch, whilst his boss observed him silently. Despite his bald head, Kryeprokurori looked under fifty. Due to his immaculate white teeth whenever he smiled he looked younger than Isa. Kryeprokurori could not keep his eyes from Isa’s plate. 

“It’s fifteen minutes past lunchtime, but I wasn’t able to return earlier. Today’s court proceeding consumed most of my lunchtime and-”

“Yes, I know! Your assistant told me that you were running late. It’s the beach knife attack case, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is!” Isa replied.

“So! Who is it coming along?”

“It looks like the defendant will accept the deal for five years imprisonment , with a possibility of parole after three years!”

“Very good!” Kryeprokurori sighed, his black eyes skittishly darting around Isa’s office while Isa was tidying up his desk.

Isa’s office grew tiny due the packed with additional cabinets and trunks lined up against every single wall. A tidy row of cardboard boxes of files were stacked beneath the window sills. The large desk with a large computer screen and pile of yellow file holders, and two chairs occupied the central area, reducing a significant amount of free space. All in perfect order, everything was neatly arranged and despite it being claustrophobic, Isa’s office was free of clutter.

As Isa lifted the last remains of his plate with his plastic spoon, Kryprokurori asked, “Finished?”

Isa nodded, still chewing on his last bite placing the aluminium dish inside the shiny metallic bin.

Krye Prokurori, turned from the window of the office thinking, tapping the index finger against his pouting lips. Behind him, above the softly tinted glass that took up the entire external wall of Isa’s office, you could notice a stretch of rusted idle cranes. When Isa finished straightening a pile of papers on his desk, Kryeprokurori walked towards Isa, threw the file folder on his desk, before sitting down opposite him. He lifted his shiny brown shoes and landed them over the edge of Isa’s tiny desk, swinging them sideways. 

“They have assigned you to that case. It’s a very sad and a solid case, which,” Kryeprokurori paused, and shot up his hand and scratched his gray immaculate head. “Never mind! Just read it and I would be grateful if you could prepare a brief report by Friday. You think you could do this for me?”

“Which case is that?”

“The one that was assigned to you this week. The drunken driver killing the nurse on Rruga Street.”

“I’m familiar with the case,” Isa replied excitedly. “I’ve already started on it, so you shall get the report tomorrow morning.” 

“Great, thanks!” Kryprokurori said and left.

With a long, grunting sigh Isa pulled out a blue file from the wooden shelve, with his fist holding a pen ready to make his own annotations, working on it until 11 pm when he printed five pages and slipped them into a white envelope. He hummed to himself as he locked his office. He dropped the envelope on the desk of Kryeprokurori’s assistant, before hopping in the elevator and the the empty streets to reach his home.

“THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH” – CHAPTER THIRTY

Two bulky Presidential Guards walked up to Alexander and stationed themselves behind him, rushing him to him to leave the conference room. Alexander picked up a pile of papers that managed to collect slid from his right hand and first they spilled over the table then onto the floor. He tried to get around the table to fetch them, but the Presidential Guard grabbed him left hand and sighed, “Sir, I’m afraid we shall have to leave right away. There’s much point in losing a life over a bunch of papers.”

Isa looked back at him with a worrying stare that lasted a second before nodding and heading towards the opened door.  

The security guards herded them down towards the end of the long corridor in two groups. Two security guards accompanied the first group, Isa and his two consultants rushing behind him. The second group, consisting of six religious clerks and three security guards, trailed the first group at a respectful length. One of them, a nervy chap with black tattoos over his arms and neck, with a red face that looked like it came out of a hot oven, sneaked between the Imam and the Priest. He grabbed Priest’s left arm, leaned towards him and whispered softly to his ear, “Excuse me Father, I hope  you don’t mind me asking what the fuck just happened-“

“Mind your language, young man!” The Priest snapped, lifting his finger, towards the camera mounted on the ceiling.

“I’m sorry, Father!” The security guard stepped back, composed himself with a deep breath, his fury diminished, whispering slowly, “What was that dickhead up to this time? The producers are going manic!” 

Then the priest turned around, pointing his finger towards Isa’s back, “That lunatic over there is trying to turn us into messiahs!”

“What!” The security asked, shrugging his shoulders.

“He demanded from us to jointly write a new Holy Scripture.” The Imam replied, scratching his beard.

“And if you don’t comply?” The security guard asked nervously, tapping the priest’s shoulder.

“That bloody infidel, will propose an end to religious practices, close religious institutions and subject the entire world to communism again.”

“He must have gone mad again! If Christianity is banned, what the fuck am I supposed to with my arm?” The security guard grounted, stretched his left arm towards the priest, tapping his hairy index finger against his tattoo.

“We’ll resist the idea and try to bring some sense into that crazy mind of his.” The Priest replied and then after Isa disappeared behind the closed laminated doors, ten paces away from them, he raised his voice. “This is intolerable! Just because religion deprived him from getting laid with his sweetheart, divorced his parents, that lunatic no right to turn up and to deprive the entire world from religious services.”

The shortest security guard, walking discreetly behind them burst out laughing loudly his fat ass off. His flabby buttocks danced to the sound of his baritone laughter that echoed in the corridor. The priest, the imam and the security guard standing between turned around looking at him as he extended his palm towards them in an apologetic manner.

The priest walked towards him, and asked him, poking his index finger onto his protruding chest “The entire world who listened to that lunatic said today is currently boiling over and you find this funny?”

The security guard struggled to sustain his laughter “I’m so sorry,… , Father,… that’s not,… funny!”

The blond security guard walked up to his colleague grabbing him by his shoulders, pushing them away and closer several times, “Then why in the hell are you laughing for?”

The short security guard lifted his hands up and pushed the his colleagues hands away from his shoulder, and after composing himself, he replied, with a smirk still hanging on his face, “I mean no disrespect, but having never experienced sex with another woman, the priest isn’t necessarily the most qualified person to judge others when they can’t get laid with the woman they love! Besides, his chick was really hot, but a priest would never be able to understand that!”

The blond security guard rubbed the black curly hair of his short colleague,“Thank you for showing others what I’ve got to put with you. Priests are allowed to have sex with their wives, provided they get married before becoming a priest.”

“But, this is one,isn’t one them! He doesn’t have a ring on his wedding finger” The short security replied, pointing his hand towards the Priest,”The the closest that he ever got to a pussy was the day he was born!”

“Mind your language, boy!” The Priest objected, looking at him square in the eye with a frowning face.

“Yes, you damn motherfucker! Mind your language when you speak to a Priest!” The blond security guard stepped between the two, pushing his chest against his colleague’s flat nose.    

The radio clipped to the blonde security guard’s bulletproof vest went ballistic, “This is Alfa. Zulu, where the heck are you?” 

“This is Zulu. Will be down there in twenty seconds!” The blonde security guard replied instantly, and then turned to the priest, “We need to move now, but please Father, please be careful once you’re down there. After the other priest’s reaction, the producers are very angry at the way the meeting has gone today.”

“THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH” – CHAPTER TWENTY

Months away from his graduation, Alexander announced to his parents he intends to propose to Eva. After receiving their blessing, Alexander called Eva and asked her to meet him by the orange tree where their lips first made contact. After receiving her confirmation, Isa called Shoki to inform him that he has a big announcement to make and asked him if they could meet tomorrow. 

When he turned up at the bistro, he lifted his head searching for his friend through shaded tables outside. Bearing a broad smile on his face, Shoki shouted his name. Isa turned around to face him, seated next to the large window bearing the cafe’s green logo. Isa rushed across the terrace paved with tiny concrete blocks and the isle, between the rows of empty seats. It was the furthest table on his right next to the outdoor movable fencing, constructed of peeling charcoal finish wooden grates and slightly obscured by the dense leaves of a lemon tree planted in wooden slatted boxes.

Once he arrived at the table adjacent to his seated friend, Isa gave him a friendly pat on his companion’s left shoulder, pinched some roast peanuts from the tiny transparent bowl next to a green beer bottle and seat on the chair, facing Shoki. “How’s it hanging, Shoki?” 

“Thanks to that stunning girl sitting there,” Shoki replied, lifting his chin towards a crowded table next to the cafe’s entrance. “It’s standing up and eager to get wet!”

“That’s not what I meant!” Isa replied sharply, and after failing to trace a smile on his face that would complement his odd, but funny remark, he asked, “Then why the gloomy look? I’m not late, am I?”

“Yes, Mr Rolex!” Shoki replied and paused to look at his watch. “In fact, you’re thirty-seven seconds early, and perhaps it’s time to send you back to Switzerland to get you serviced.” 

“If someone needs checking for sticking to correct time, then you are the ideal candidate! You’re always running late.”

“You rely on God to take care of your things. I’ve got to take care of things myself.”

Rather than objecting, Isa laughed with a sour expression in his face. 

“Mi Amigos, every time you call me to announce something exciting and bring that ‘I am so happy face‘, I know something awful is about to happen,” Shoki expressed his concern, lit up his cig, and after inhaling two puffs he asked, with ‘pay attention to my words’ kind of tone, “So, what’s the latest fuck-up you are about to do? Give up studying law and study something that will turn you into a delusion expert… perhaps, an Imam?”

Isa laughed hysterically, and after he calmed down, he replied, “You know that would kill my Dad, who insists I should study law like he did. Although I disagree with him, he thinks that I could serve my God much more by working in a court than at a Mosque.”

“It’s good to know that at least one of your parents is sane!”

“Perhaps he might be sane, but he is also extremely miserable!” Isa replied, boasting with confidence.

“Of course he’s miserable! After all, every day he deals with humans, your God’s biggest mistake.”

While Isa kept on swinging his head, indicating his disapproval, a tall waitress propped up. Her tight black velvet dress, plain and yet reflecting the light whenever she moved, ran down to her knees. A thin black necklace sparkled between her breast and the white v-neck blouse. She carried a plain order pad on her left hand and funny looking pen with a pink fluffy bit at the end. Her dyed blond hair hung tight against her skull.

 “Would you like something from the bar?” She asked, handing Isa the menu. “It’s happy hour, so Margarita, Pina Cola-”

“Stop wasting your breath on him!” Shoki intruded, “My friend is committed to waste his life away without tasting a single cocktail so that he could begin a proper life after he dies.”

After the plum lips on the waitress’ face opened wide, as if she just chewed a super spicy Jalapeno pepper, Shoki added, “Since my friend often speaks to his imaginary friend, called God, it might be illegal for you to serve him alcohol, so could you please bring the little boy a glass of milk instead and another Margarita for me!”

“I don’t want milk! I’ll have some water, please.” Isa objected. “Please don’t pay any attention to him. He’s a funny chap, but sometimes an absolute hell to talk to. When he was six, he had cardiac surgery, and it seems that the surgeons forgot to place his heart back on him.”

“Come on, mi amigos! Water is for washing stuff, not for drinking!”  

The waitress unleashed an amused glance at Isa’s defiant smile before she turned back and walked away towards the bar without saying a word.

“So?” Isa asked, still the defiant smile hanging over his face. 

“Don’t look at me like that! How fucked are you? Your life is about living it, and not about living for the day you’re going to die.” Shoki reasoned. “Death is the antonym of life, catch my drift?”

“I didn’t invite you over to explain to you life and afterlife.” Isa reacted abruptly, looking at his watch. “I’ll have to leave in nineteen minutes, and forty-six minutes I have to meet Eva, so let’s go back to my big announcement.”

“Of course! If you don’t meet your General Eva exactly at eight o’clock to properly coordinate the attack, it will lead to the pointless death of many of her soldiers.”

 “What are you on about?” Isa asked.

The waitress returned with a margarita and a bottle of water resting on her black tray. After placing them over the oak table, she attacked Shoki with a cheeky smile and reminded him that the happy hour will end in eighteen minutes.

Immediately after the waitress migrated towards the table next to the cafe’s entrance, Isa torrented his big announcement at Shoki, “I don’t have much time, so we could discuss your issues with Eva another time! In eighteen minutes, I will be asking Eva for her hand.”

 “Why? Is your right hand sick and tired of masturbating you?”

“Unlike you, who enslaves your hands to ejaculate your sperm, because you can’t get laid, I’m not allowed to masturbate.”

“Who told you this? Your imaginary friend?”

“Of course not! The Imam told me this.” Isa replied firmly.

“Yeah, right! Imams are allowed to get married and get laid. Have you ever tried asking a Priest who can’t get married or get laid? I’m pretty sure that masturbation is the closest they can get to God.”

“Can we start talking about my marriage, instead of my mastubation?” Isa asked, before gulping down his water. 

“As you said earlier, I’m no expert in marriages, so could we go back into talking about something I’m very good at – masturbtion!”

Briefly, they Isa began his monologue, informing his friend of his intentions, then placed the payment on the table and left the cafe. He stopped at the supermarket to fetch a baguette, packaged blue cheese, white cheese, red apples, white grapes, strawberries, green olives, chilled champagne and a set of four champagne glasses. After waiting impatiently at the till, he placed the goods inside his plain cotton bag and dashed off outside, heading towards his rendezvous place.