The weaponization of cultural heritage is the politicized destruction of material culture as an ideologically motivated performance in conflicts. During my Masters dissertation, I focused on the connective themes between the siege of Dubrovnik and the ISIS occupation of Palmyra. The 20 year difference between Dubrovnik and Palmyra expresses development in the recurrent phenomenon and interconnecting patterns of socio-political influences.
Cultural heritage is targeted because of two underlying characteristics, 1) it possesses a symbolic resonance in the community, and 2) it has international recognition, meaning it’s protected under a multilateral convention or its globally acclaimed. These types of destruction will receive attention from the international media outlets and ultimately stir an international response. This demonstrates the symbolic power of material culture, and reveals the fragility of collective identity and memory.
Weaponization disturbs the targeted group’s collective morale, distorts symbolism, and threatens cultural diversity. During the post-conflict period, the targeted group will need to determine how to manage heritage and collective memory/identity.
Recently, I was fortunate to visit the city that I studied and fell in love with during the 4 month period I planned and wrote my master’s dissertation. Dubrovnik, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has Renaissance, Baroque, and Gothic architecture dating back to the 1400s. During my time there, I stayed at an apartment located in the heart of Old Town with a terrace that offered a stunning panoramic view.
Although the siege lasted 7 months, the majority of the shelling in Old Town happened during a truce discussion amongst Croatia and the JNA on December 6 1991. The majority of buildings suffered cosmetic damage because of the city’s protective walls. As demonstrated with the historical buildings like, the Rector’s Palace, Sponza Palace, the Cathedral, and St. Blaise Church. However the shelling of Dubrovnik is an iconic moment of conflict during the Yugoslav War because it’s a UNESCO site and is internationally aestheticized as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’.
International journalists falsely stated the complete cultural erasure of the city in November. Since mainstream media propagated the damage of Dubrovnik to be far greater, the event is often misremembered. During the post-conflict many did not challenge the United Nation Security Council’s claim about the exaggerated destruction in Old Town.
In a future post, I’ll detail my time spent exploring Dubrovnik.