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INFORM researcher participated in conference on life in an age of death

2018-12-06

The paper "Phantom rebellion: recruitment of the dead to align with the state in a Montenegrin village" was presented during the panel "Bringing the past to life: narratives, practices and spaces of memory-making", convened by Nevena Škrbić Alempijević (University of Zagreb) and Klāvs Sedlenieks at the Australian Anthropological Society 2018 conference with a theme "Life in an Age of Death". The panel focused on ways in which the past is brought to life through memory-making processes. It explored contemporary and historical memory cultures in their various forms: from the historical knowledge production and narratives of the past to its material, spatial and performative evocations.

Sedlenieks' paper is based on the fieldwork that he did in Njeguši, a small village in Montenegro within the INFORM project. Although the village itself is slowly disappearing as the old people are dying and young ones move out, the phantoms still live and continue to fight. In 1832 Vukolaje Radonjic, a representative of one of the local families and guvernadur (governer) was taken to prison, more than 30 of his relatives were driven from the village and some killed. Houses were burned and levelled. As the official iconography portrayed this event in the light of a just punishment for betrayal and consequently virtually erased Vukolaje from history, several contemporary descendants are trying to revive the memory by investing in restored buildings and churches. However, when they finally decide to hold an official inauguration ceremony of the commemorative centre, they are confronted with the police which is sent in under the pretence of riot prevention. The contemporary Radonjici were carving their moral position in the contemporary Montenegro by means of recruiting the might of a phantom army of Vukolaje Radonjic. For them guvernadur symbolises opposition to the current perceivably corrupt elite and allows to position themselves as defenders of openness, democracy, education and Western values. However, an even more powerful phantom operates on the other side – that of the prince-bishop Petar II Njegoš who once ordered the mentioned arrests and who is undeniably the most famous historic figure in Montenegro. This is then a story of a phantom clash which elucidates competing performances through which various groups of citizens forge their alliances with the (phantom) state of their choice.

Location: Cairns, Australia

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