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  • Jerome Kocher

47. Honoring the Past


How does an individual or a people acknowledge the past without romanticizing, embellishing or remaining stuck in it. One response is through art and symbolism. Create an imagination that both honors and releases past history.


I found powerful examples of this in Kosovo’s struggle to remember its past tragedy of war and near genocide. Let’s start in Prishtina with a memorial to the contribution and sacrifice of every Albanian woman during the 1998-99 war in Kosovo.


This memorial of a heroine’s face is sculpted in relief with 20,145 medals representing the cruel crime of rape carried out by Serbian forces against that number of women. On the head of each posted medal is the heroine’s face in microcosm for each of those individual women.


Simple. Bold. Powerful. The cruelty of those crimes is countered by both the tenderness and determination of Albanian women.



Across the street is the NEW BORN Memorial representing the newly born Republic in 2008 (the first image). But today in 2023 the sculpture has morphed by rearranging the original letters to now read NO NEW BR (Broken Republic). To Albanians in Kosovo the message is clear.


After 15 years of Independence we do not want our nation to become broken and dysfunctional like what’s happened in Bosnia. It reminds me of Benjamin Franklin’s words when asked what type of country was created with our new constitution. His answer, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” It’s one thing to declare a democratic republic, but without the active and informed involvement of its people, there is no guarantee.

Simple. Bold. Powerful. The courage to change a memorial, even question its validity takes guts.


Then there is the ultimate memorial in Prekaz, a distance from Prishtina. This is hallowed ground. It’s so sacred that the first thing every President of Kosovo does is to visit this memorial as it enshrines the soul of the country. As an American, it reminded me of John F. Kennedy’s grave site with the eternal flame in Arlington National Cemetery combined with the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. So what happened here was both an assassination and a rally cry for the very existence of a people.


Adem Jashari was one of the founders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, a separatist militia that fought for the secession of Kosovo from Serbia in the 1990’s. In 1998 Serbian forces stealthily attacked his home, family, extended family and guests. Fifty-nine were killed, adults and children. With this horrendous assassination of a whole family, Serbia


hoped to intimidate anyone in Kosovo from continuing their fight for Independence. The opposite happened. It became an existential rally cry for more to join the resistance and ultimate freedom for Kosovo.


So how do you honor this tragic event. The Jashari Memorial Complex consists of the remains of their home, riddled with bullets and artillery.

There is also a garden park cemetery for the fifty-nine victims and a museum of artifacts and photos. The crumbling home on higher ground is held together with scaffolding. A stone pathway leads down to the park cemetery, but in the middle of the path is a deep, dark red tiled ribbon, a stylized river of blood, that flows from the home down the steps to water not only the park and graves, but the soul of the nation itself.


The graves are guarded day and night by two soldiers. So add to the previous imagination a resemblance to our own Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. But here everyone knows who is buried there, and more so they know what they did and why they were killed. Just like Pearl Harbor, we know whose remains are still buried deep within the USS Arizona. And like us, the Albanians in Kosovo will never forget.


Simple. Bold. Powerful. A national tragedy, preserved with imagination and symbolism for present and future generations.


All three of these Memorials rise to the level of a collective archetype seared into the soul of a nation. And because of their artistic design and sensitivity they allow every visitor, whether a national or foreigner, to feel the heartbeat of a nation. Kosovo.

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