Crowd-Sourcing Jasenovac: Wikipedia as Memory and the Production of the Past

Our discussion about crowdsourcing really got me thinking about the construction of historically memory online and what influence this memory has on historical narratives and national identity. My project proposal below digs into that a little deeper and I look forward to hearing any comments or suggestions you all might have!

In 2018, popular online magazine Balkan Insight reported historical revisionism found in Croatian Wikipedia’s article on Jasenovac Concentration Camp. Jasenovac was the concentration and death camp where at least 83,000 Serbs, Jews, Roma, and anti-fascist political prisoners were executed and/or interned by the Ustaše– a Croatian proto-fascist, ultra-nationalist, Nazi collaborationist organization that ruled the Independent State of Croatia from 1941-1945. These news articles showed that Croatian Wikipedia misrepresented the nature of Jasenovac and the Ustaše and omitted facts crucial to understanding the crimes committed there, sparking outrage among Serbs, Jews, and other representative groups.

As an open-source, community-built space, Wikipedia functions as a public venue where Serbs and Croats engage with their contested past. Examining their representations of Jasenovac and the Ustaše grants insight into public memory of the Second World War and the Holocaust in Serbia and Croatia that exists beyond official memory and suggests its influence on contemporary conceptions of national identity. Using J.M. Winter’s idea of “collective remembrance” and Benedict Anderson’s framework of imagined communities, this paper assess how Wikipedia has become a forum for the cultivation of historical memory in Serbia and Croatia in the post-Yugoslav era.[1] As numerous scholars have found, contested memory surrounding the Ustaše and Jasenovac occupies a distinct space in ongoing animosities among Serbs and Croats. Their studies, however, have generally only examined official spaces of memory like commemorations, museum exhibitions, political rhetoric, international criminal courts and other politically charged sites of memory.[2]

         Wikipedia articles are built on three policies: users cannot contribute original research, they must provide a neutral point of view, and all information must be verifiable (cited secondary sources are preferred.) ‘Neutrality’ on Wikipedia is loosely specified and generally regulated by other users and site administrators, while the quality of information users contribute to Wikipedia is not held to any precise standard. This paper thus uses Croatian and Serbian Wikipedia to examine the narratives of Jasenovac and the Ustaše contributors have crafted. It considers what elements of these narratives are left out and how they are positioned within each framework of national history. It further traces the evolution of these pages to determine how these narratives have developed over time and examines the interactions and points of debate among contributors to further grasp what elements of Jasenovac and Ustaše memory are of greatest concern and why. Placing this study within existing literature ultimately reveals conflicts and continuity within the existing memory framework and its place in current conceptions of Serbian and Croatian identity.

[1] Jay Winter, Remembering War: The Great War Between Memory and History in the Twentieth Century, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 3-5; Benedic Anderson, Imagined Communities Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso Press, 1991).

[2] Lilijana Radonić, “Croatia – Exhibiting Memory and History at the ‘Shores of Europe,’” Culture Unbound 3 (2011): 355-367,; Rob Van Der Laarse, “Beyond Auschwitz? Europe’s Terrorscapes in the Age of Post-Memory,” Memory and Post-War Memorials: Confronting the Violence of the Past, ed. Marc Silberman and Florence Vatan, (New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013), 71-92; Stipe Odak and Andriana Benčić, “Jasenovac- A Past That Does Not Pass: The Presence of Jasenovac in Croatian and Serbian Collective Memory Conflict,” Eastern European Politics, Societies, and Cultures 30 (2016), 805-829; Heike Karge, “Mediated Remembrance: Local Practices of Remembering the Second World War in Tito’s Yugoslavia,” European Review of History 16 (2009): 49-62; Đurašković, Stevo. “National Identity-Building and the ‘Ustaša-Nostalgia’ in Croatia: The Past That Will Not Pass.” Nationalities Papers 44, no. 5 (2016): 772–788.

One Reply to “Crowd-Sourcing Jasenovac: Wikipedia as Memory and the Production of the Past”

  1. This is a really great idea for a project. I haven’t seen much work exploring the construction of the past in different language wikipedias and I think it’s a really rich context to explore, in particular for Serbian and Croatian. I would also suggest thinking about bringing in the English Language versions of the pages as another point of reference.

    One of the things that is really powerful about doing this kind of scholarship on Wikipedia is that all of the version changes are up and avaliable. It would be great to take a series of pages and watch how the developed and changed over time. So you could see when each version of the page appeared in each language and watch them drift and develop over time. It would be interesting to also see the extent to which various contemporary issues relate to or potentially influence activity as it plays out in the development of the pages over time. Along with that, I think the arguments in the talk pages are likely to be of substantive interest.

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