Tuesday 24 July 2012

Modern Historic Ponderings

In a small corner of the renaissance Rector's Palace, the seat of the old Ragusan Republic, there is an exhibition of war photos from 1991-1992. This was the moment when Dubrovnik was under siege.

This has a peculiar resonance and returns me to a time when my political innocence was shattered; when I first asked why do countries go to war? Why are people in Europe fighting? (I still have no answers) We had been to (Northern Croatia) Yugoslavia on an idyllic family holiday in 1989/90 and I wondered what would happen to those friends we'd made.

Only now does it take on the true horror of what happened and has become a 'moment in history'. People queuing for humanitarian aid, children carrying water, sandbagged ruins, burnt out boats and cars, treasures stored away.

Though war images are with us all the time, these are particularly shocking for me simply because 'they and we' are European and I knew these people. I knew their culture, their architecture and art and history because it was so familiar.

What is striking in these images is the hope amongst the despair; children pictures exhibited outside the rectors palace, the boarded up shop windows painted with colourful Christmas messages, images of St Blaise, the city's saint. The utmost care that the people took to protect their heritage, echoing the pride that can be seen in other historic civil displays elsewhere in the palace, is inspiring.

It's modern proof that Europe can still be susceptible to unrest and I can't help feeling uneasy about certain parts of southern Europe. An inevitable sense that they're entering another difficult chapter of a history yet to be written.

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