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  • Writer's pictureTomislav S. Šola

The major task of public memory institutions is to provide understanding of the world

Understanding of the world is very much about choosing the vantage point, the provider of usable, filtered knowledge; the latter is dependent upon the source of your information and intentions it contains. The media and political messages are heavily polluted by the private interests and increasingly manipulative. To these discredited sources we can only oppose public institutions and hope they could retain the minimum of freedom and integrity to be able to propose scientifically based, socially responsible and morally unbiased stance. So, accordingly, most of what we do strive to achieve in museums stems from how convinced we are in our societal mission. On the other hand, much of what community may wish to acquire as understanding of their own reality in time and space, in any aspect, will directly depend upon what sources will they use as relevant to this purpose. So there is conviction on one side that we have to build relevance and trust and rightful expectations from a public institution (or declared as serving public interest) on the other. But how can we assure the public attention and relevance? By serving their needs, by using ourselves the enormous wisdom we accumulated and doing it with self-consciousness of a profession that changes the world for the better. There is no other or lesser use we could have. The world is already practically drowned in data, information and knowledge but we are apparently regressing as human kind due to the lack wisdom. We have to attract our communities of users by providing practical ennobling, beneficial impact on their lives. If we cannot do it, we shall be doomed to growing irrelevance as forgotten graveyards of great human experience or just another entertainment industry.

Communism and socialism of the Soviet type failed. Their historical idealism had the power of inspiration but never represented a practical plan. It was only natural that ideals got hijacked by the bureaucrats. The amount of absolute power protected by the grand ideas was irresistible. The bigger the idea the stronger the manipulation. But, so was the idea of capitalism that has been stolen away from believers in human creativity and entrepreneurship by the fraudsters and bullies among tycoons and thug politicians; they deserve to be named as false elites. The monstrous power seized in a few decades, since the 80s, has been usurped under the alibi of unlimited individual freedom within the economy and the superiority of individualism. The goal was hidden, this time by the libertarian ideology and unlimited greed. Its result is that the owners of half of planet's wealth could fit into a single bus.

Now the planet is the closest it has ever been to self-destruction. Social humanism in a welfare state, as Europe successfully proposed, remains the most plausible solution to our problems, but it is pulling away from us. Now, with neoliberalism so firmly installed, overthrowing the power founded upon the unprecedented concentration of money by legitimate means seems impossible. The welfare state guaranteed its citizens free access to air, water, education, health care, culture, science…everything that before the 1980s was taken for granted. In any decent society of equal chances and the rule of merit, public memory institutions are also very accessible, if not entirely free, to all citizens. But the ideal of a noble social contract has been brutally snatched from modern society. It included a constant striving for the humanization of society threatened by latent opposite temptations. Now, this social project has been renounced and discredited in the name of ruined revolutionary experiments. The societal experience concentrated in all knowledge should be public property by definition, especially knowledge from the domain of social sciences and humanities. A legitimate and justified claim for access to the whole of knowledge is a condition for a prosperous world, safe for humans as well (other) animals and for nature. The very essence of public memory institutions is enlightenment. Knowing the world and understanding the nature of its condition is therefore the only departure point for a meaningful stance in matters of public memory. In other words, if you do not understand the world you cannot qualify to curate its interpretation.

(This text, except for the bolded introduction, is one of the notes/sub-chapters (5. Understanding of the world is choosing the vantage point) from “Public memory in a deluded society: Notes of a lecturer”, accessible at, and this site as well (Vault).


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