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Post-Conflict Mind Check


Liliana Zambrano
Jenny Lamphere



The ghost of Tito is alive

Hi, we haven’t updated our blog in a very long time. We are nearing the end of our project, and we have been very busy. We are all very excited to present our work during the final presentation on 20 january. All the groups have developed some really interesting concepts. Hopefully sometime in the future, when you hop in your electric car to visit Serbia, or a museum, you will see some of these concepts applied in real life.


During our final presentation we will not present the exhibition we discussed in our last post. In the end, our partner Creative Court was not really interested in that. We were a bit disappointed by that, but it was quite understandable. They are, after all an arts organization. They have their own network of artists who are more experienced in creating an exhibition than us. We can be more valuable if we do something else.

So we did something else. In the form of an interactive website, we created a digital component to our physical game. We conceived the website as a digital representation of (the ghost of) Tito. We have created a slightly fictionalized ‘Tito’ who gives his own perspective on the history and culture of Yugoslavia and its successor states. Throughout the site you are invited to consider that this is a very personal view and that you can challenge everything he says. At certain point in the website Tito asks you questions directly, enabling you to address him directly.


We got the idea for this website in the final stage of our project. This meant we did not have much time to create it. So in the past weeks we have furiously coded and written the site’s content. We are now very close to finishing it, but we are not quite there yet. So we won’t link to it now, maybe in our next, final post. For now we can just reveal a tip of the iceberg. Here is how Tito talks about himself, in the ‘About Me’ section.

Well, please allow me to introduce myself. As the most powerful person in Yugoslavia, I was a man of wealth and taste. I cannot say I did not enjoy it. But being a ghost sure isn’t bad either. I have so much fun gossiping with fellow ghosts Nikola Tesla, Mesa Selimovic and Paul McCartney. My spiritual state has also given me lots of time for contemplating. As an old, dead, man I must admit I find this modern world of yours very strange. I have the feeling it has changed more since I became a ghost, than during all of my lifetime. I understand that people all over the world are using all kinds of weird devices to read what I am writing here, and it spooks me, man. It really spooks me, but it’s something I find truly extraordinary.

I cannot deny that the world is now in a far better place than when I left. I have only recently accepted this. I was truly heartbroken after the fall of Yugoslavia. The subsequent events caused me even more heartache. I was not pleasant to be around with. I lashed out to my friends, blamed everyone I could for what was happening. I even started haunting little kids while they were sleeping. At that point I knew things had to change. I sought out my good friend Sigmund, who really helped me find some peace of mind. I am still not sure how I feel about the current situation, but I realize it has many advantages for many people. I also have come to accept that I may have contributed to everything that happened in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Maybe I should have distributed power more evenly. Maybe I should have given more room to nationalistic sentiments. Maybe I should have opened up the markets more.

You see, dear readers, I am still very confused. This is why I ask for your help. I know I have no reason to expect it. I know I wasn’t very interested in your opinions when I ruled Yugoslavia. I took too many important decisions without taking your views into serious consideration. I do not want to that anymore. I realized it makes me lonely in ways I’ve never considered before. Even worse, I realized this approach is very much in opposition to my ideals of Unity and Brotherhood. I know now, that if we want to live together, we will have to respect each other’s views even when we strongly disagree with them. We may disagree with them, but we must understand where they are coming from. Oh, wait, I am so sorry. I really didn’t want to make this about my ideas, but here I am, lecturing again. I guess some tricks you just can’t unlearn.

Anyway, I digress. I was asking for your help. I want to reflect on, and understand, Yugoslavia’s past and present. I want to know what I may have done wrong. I need to understand the perspective of the modern citizen. This is why I created my game, and filled it with references to Yugoslavian culture and history. It has allowed me to organize my thoughts and work through some of my feelings. As you will see I have written my own perspective on many of the issues this region has faced in the past decades. I tried to be as honest as possible. I am offering you a view into my soul. Please do not spare me. I want you to challenge my ideas, to disagree with me, to tell me where I am wrong. Offer your own perspective and do not take my ideas for granted. I cannot emphasize enough that I am a confused old man, and that all of you know way more than I ever will.

Of course I hope this will be useful for you too. History is confusing and strange. It can often be very frustrating. You don’t need to work through these frustrations alone. We are all in this together. We can all learn from each other’s perspectives as long as we are respectful. I am aware that some of these references may be offensive to some of you. Feel free to say so. I will try to remove or rephrase them. Now, I’ve bored you for long enough. Besides, Nikola wants to show me one of his new inventions. I have to go. Have fun. We’ll speak soon.

Reflection is personal

With each passing week our project seems to become timelier. It’s quite a strange situation. You always want to work on societally relevant topics, but the relevance of our project is unfortunately exacerbated by the horrific events of the last couple of weeks. The refugee crisis is destabilizing the Balkan region to a worrying degree. Angela Merkel warned a couple of weeks ago that she fears for renewed conflicts in the region if Germany closes its borders. That seems for now to be a bit of an overreaction, born out of a sense of urgency. Nevertheless it is a fact that tensions among former Yugoslav states are rising, especially because some of these nations are now EU-members, while others are not. For a while the borders between Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia were closed, something that wasn’t even the case during the wars in the 1990’s. And in of the more ironic developments of the last month, Macedonia decided to build a fence along its border with Greece.


Still, we should not forget that it are the refugees who are most affected by this crisis, not the nations taking them in. We saw two weeks ago in Paris what kind of violence they are fleeing from. The attacks don’t need to be discussed much further. They were awful and tragic. Hopefully the survivors and the families of the victims will be able to someday move on. The aftermath of the attacks is more interesting to address, especially in the context of our project.

The impact of the Paris attacks was easily noticeable. Facebook users overlaid the French flag over their profile pictures. The national media rearranged their schedule to focus on the events in Paris. Soon, this attitude of collective mourning was heavily criticized. One day before Paris, ISIS had killed 46 in Beirut. Why did no one incorporate the Lebanese flag in their Facebook profile picture? Why wasn’t the television news rearranged for Beirut? Do we only care about international terrorism when westerners are victims?


These questions are to some extent fair. We have criticized the western Orientalist attitudes before on this blog. For centuries the Arab world has been presented as inferior to the west. That has certainly shaped ordinary people’s preconceptions of it. These preconceptions cannot be reversed by writing a couple of critical tweets or news articles after a terrorist attack, and then forgetting about the nation until the next time something awful happens. To change these attitudes you need reporting, outside the context of terrorism, which focuses on ordinary life in Lebanon, and on the nation’s culture and history. In other words, as one commenter wonderfully summarized ‘before caring about dead Arabs, we must first care about living Arabs”. In the meantime many will genuinely be more affected by French victims than by Lebanese victims. Forcing them to feel otherwise is fruitless, and possibly even counterproductive.

The way people reflect can be guided a bit, but it cannot be controlled or measured. That’s probably the biggest problem we are faced with in our project. We cannot really know how well the tools we create work, no matter how many questionnaires our participants fill in. Furthermore our tool does not necessarily need to have an immediate effect on our users. They may not reflect right after using our tool, but when going to sleep, or the next time when they talk to someone from another nation.

What we can do is create more diverse tools that trigger reflection in different ways. To that end we organized a test session with some of our friends at MediaLab. We gathered six people and first asked them to answer a simple question: “What makes you reflect?” They produced many sticky notes with very interesting, varying answers. The classics, like showering, and looking out of a train window, were also invoked. Other interesting answers included road trips, smells, movies, buildings, the breaking of routine, and other people’s stories. After this, we asked them to think of interesting reflective activities/installations that could be used in an exhibition. Again their ideas were very interesting and helpful. Our colleagues like quiet spaces with reflective sounds and images. They also like recreating specific memories, through games, drawings or discussion. Simulating reality, talking with people about their experiences, and having to answer questions were other interesting suggestions.


We combined our peer’s ideas with some of our own to create a prototype for an exhibition. The exhibition is called for now Six Spaces, the idea being that there is one space for each of the six former Yugoslav republics. For now, the exhibition is intended as a one-time event that will most like find its audience at a university, community center, or educational center in the region. Hopefully it can take place in each of the six nations. These ideas are currently very much in their first stages of conception though. For them to have any chance of becoming reality, we have to first find some organizations in the region that would be willing to host/co-organize it. And once we have found them they have to of course approve of our ideas. We may take some steps in that direction on Monday, when we will have a Skype interview with an employee of the Youtb Intitiative for Human Rights (YIHR).


In one of the spaces of the exhibition visitors can play the Ghost of Tito. Furthermore there will be a space with a video installation, one with an audio installation, and a space called the The Diversity of Thought Room. The space with the audio installation is a mostly darkened room, with five different ‘stations’ where an audio outlet is connected to a so-called Littlebit. The Littlebit is a device very similar to the Touchboard discussed in the previous post. The Littlebit can be programmed in such a way that when it’s lit up, with a smartphone for example, it will play sounds. In our audio room each Littlebit is connected to sounds of war, witness accounts, or news reports.


We have created a prototype of a video that can play on a loop in the video installation room. It is based on the fact that after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and during the wars, Yugoslavia’s successor states created nationalistic narratives in which they presented themselves as different from each other, and from Yugoslavia as a whole. Propaganda played a vital role in the creation of these narratives. Our video intends to blur Bosniak, Croatian and Serbian propaganda to such As such in the video, propaganda images are used to expose the similarities between the nations, rather than their differences. In doing so, the propaganda images are repurposed and re-contextualized, and because of that the propaganda perhaps loses some of its power. an extent that it becomes hard to discern what nation the footage is connected to.

The Diversity of Thought Room consists of four activities and an introduction where (the importance of) diversity and respect for different cultures is discussed. The introduction comes after the first activity though, which is a word association game. Through an interactive installation the vistitors will be asked to describe with just on word, another term, object or place. Later on in the room you will be able to see a word cloud of all the different answers.


After the introduction, comes the second activity where visitors will be asked to answer closed questions. On a screen you will be able to see how the answers have been distributed. The third activity is another interactive installation. Three vsitors have to choose among five images, the image they feel describes best the word that appears on screen. The last activity is an app allowing visitors to share their opinions and ideas. A screen will show a live-feed of their comments.




Cinekid Workshop: Responsive Memories


The Cinekid Festival is a yearly festival in Amsterdam that officially focuses on children’s cinema. Yet its real scope is much broader. They host all kinds of events and workshops intending to boost the media literacy of both children and adults.  On 22 October 2015, we attended Cinekid’s Responsive Memories workshop. In the workshop, part of Cinekid’s Medialab Academy (not related to ‘our’ MediaLab),  we used the Touchboard technology to link personal memories to physical space. The Touchboard is, to quote Cinekid, ‘a piece of hardware that can change the world around you by turning almost any material or surface into a sensor”. Attaching a conductive material to any of the Touchboard’s 12 electrodes can create a touch sensor. Furthermore the Touchboard is equipped with an MP3-player, enabling it to play 12 different songs or sounds. Lastly it can work as MIDI synthesizer and send MIDI messages to other devices. These possibilities allow Touchboard users to create interactive and responsive interfaces.


Once you understand how the Touchboard works, it is quite easy to create an interactive experience with it. The Touchboard must first be connected to a device with a USB-port. In order to play sounds, the Touchboard must also be connected to an audio player. Furthermore the audio files have to be downloaded on a memory card, and the memory card inserted in the Touchboard. The next step is to attach the drawings and photographs to any kind of conductive material, such as aluminum foil, clay, or even the human body. At Cinekid’s workshop many also made use of special electric paint. Once the images have become a conductor they can be connected to the sound. This can be done with jump wires. One end of the wire should be attached to the conductor; the other end should be inserted in one of the Touchboard’s electrodes. If you have done everything correctly, you should now be able to hear a sound anytime you touch the conductor. Unfortunately you cannot control which audio file is in which of the 12 electrodes. This means that you might have to rearrange the jump wire a couple of times before you find the desired combination of sound and image.


Before coming to the workshop, the participants were all asked to think of a memory, and the sounds and images that trigger it. In the workshop we would use these sounds and images to create a physical representation of our memory. The diversity of the participants allowed for many divergent memories. While some participants did not look very far back into their lives, others really embraced a childhood remembrance. Various images, both photographic and drawn, of a lake, family life in Colombia, the Duomo in Florence, and the Hamburg train station were combined with many different sounds such as a Beatles song, a Philip Glass composition, church bells, and rustling water. Eventually everybody managed to create a physical representation of their memory. The most evocative was a construction that represented a summer day at the brook. This construction showed that it is not necessary to just stick to 2D-imagery. With clay and other materials it is also possible to create 3D-figures.


The workshop not only allowed us to explore a new technology, but it also forced us to work creatively and originally. This is quite an unusual way of interacting with sounds and images, and at first sight it may seem like an oblique approach to achieve something that can be done more easily using a laptop and YouTube. The Touchboard technology forces you to think differently though, and in the process gets you out of your comfort zone. Besides it adds a tactile element that is especially relevant in the context of recreating memories. Lastly with the Touchboard you can recreate an experience in a different space and time from where it occurred. Naturally this is far from an exact replica, but it does allow you to recontextualize the experience in a potentially interesting way.

It is not hard to see how the Touchboard can be relevant for our project. The Yugoslav Wars and the dire economic situation have forced many people from the Balkans to leave their home country. They often have many memories they cannot always discuss. A workshop with the Touchboard could allow them to access some of their (war) memories and discuss them in a safe environment. Reliving their memory in a different context, free from historical and cultural baggage, could help them reflect on how their values and ideas are very much shaped by the place and time they live in. Furthermore we have now developed a reflective game, to which we hope to add some educational component. The Touchboard technology is an interesting option that expands our possibilities.

It is easily imaginable that the Touchboard can be applied in many other projects. For example,  there is currently a lot of discussion about whether children spent too much time online. The Touchboard can be used to make visible that what children do online is quite relevant. On the other hand, it can also allow the children to use a ‘computer’, while at the same time interacting with real people in a physical space.

The Ghost of Tito

Yugoslavia’s rich and complex history allows for many different perspectives. Since our last post we got the chance to explore these perspectives a bit more extensively. We reached out to several people connected to the region, who all had varying opinions about our project, and the problems Yugoslavia’s successor states face. Some even claimed that our project is utterly misguided and unnecessary. They argued that westerners should not decide how Yugoslavians must think about peace and justice, and that Yugoslavians do not need to talk about their culture and history. They need jobs.

These are, to some extent, valid concerns. Many of the stereotypes we discussed in our previous post are indeed very much shaped by the way western media and politicians talk about Yugoslavia. For example, in the 1990’s, George Kennan, a former American ambassador to Yugoslavia, was asked by the American government to write a report on the conflict in Yugoslavia. In his report he argued that the ‘wars were motivated by aggressive nationalism that drew on deeper traits of character, inherited presumably from a very distant past’. It’s not just Yugoslavia that is often described like this in western society.  Similar claims were made about Iraq and Africa to justify respectively the Gulf Wars and colonialism. Creative Court is an organization that is very well aware of this, and in their projects they are often critical of these western attitudes. In our project we try to subvert stereotypes about Yugoslavia and focus too on the many great sides of Yugoslavian culture and history.  By the way, the ‘west’ should not be seen as a singular place in which everyone shares the same (stereotypical) norms and values, in the same way that Yugoslavia should not be seen in such a way.


Above anything else though we absolutely do not want to decide how Yugoslavians should think about their own history. We just want to open up a space that allows for discussion and (critical) reflection.  We have spoken to some who don’t need such a thing at all, and that’s fine. We do not want to force anything on anyone. It’s just wrong to state that nobody has a need for our project. We have come across many who do. Certainly for most people, jobs and economic security are far more important issues, but that does not mean that everything else is irrelevant.

In any case, as written earlier, we came across many different viewpoints regarding the direction of our project.  Yet every single person we spoke agreed that humor is the one binding factor in the former Yugoslavia. Everyone knows and loves the jokes about Mujo & Haso, the lazy Montenegrins, and the nationalistic Macedonians. In fact, In Yugoslavia’s successor states every situation can be turned into a joke. That became especially clear during the wars, when many often used humor to cope with the horrific circumstances.  An example:

Cigarettes are in very short supply and Mujo had put his last one behind his ear

Mujo and Suljo are running over the Drvenija bridge when a sniper opens up on them. Mujo takes a hit which shears off his ear. He stops frantically in the middle of the bridge looking at the ground. Suljo yells, “Get under cover, idiot! You’ve got two ears!”

Mujo: “Fuck the ear, I am looking for the cigarette!”


As our research had already shown the importance of jokes, we decided that we needed to incorporate humor in our project. That is why we can now present the first version of The Ghost of Tito. The Ghost of Tito is a simple game, inspired by Cards Against Humanity and Hints. There are three decks of cards. The grey cards consist of fill-in-the-blank statements, while the blue cards consist of words/sentences to fill the blanks with. At all time the players have five blue cards in their hands. Each turn a grey card is drawn, and the players have to decide which of their blue cards would fit the blank space in the funniest way. Whoever has created the funniest card combination ‘wins’ the black card. After everyone has drawn a grey card, the entire group participates in a bonus round. One person draws a special (yellow) bonus card, without revealing the word on it. He/She has to get the other players to guess the word either by drawing it out, or through verbal hints

The references in The Ghost of Tito are mostly based on Yugoslavian culture and history.  We have designed the game to be reflective and slightly provocative. It has references to some rather nasty people (but also to heroes such as Djordje Balasevic, Nikola Tesla and Mesa Selimovic), as well as references to each ethnicity. We believe that the game will be fun to play, but we also believe it will be reflective. After all, especially if it’s played between many people of different ethnicities, the game will force you to think, in a playful way, about your own preconceptions, and why certain card combinations are (not) funny. In the next weeks we aim to test our game to see whether our assumptions are true, and what adjustments we can make to it.


Reflection through games

timeline Yugoslavia-page-001Last week we met with Creative Court. We showed them the work we’ve done during our first weeks at MediaLab.  Based on the papers we wrote, we created a historical timeline and an infographic. If we want to create a website or an app, these two materials can be used as a great starting point. They contain some basic information about the region, presented in a very accessible way.

Lenguange and religion

Our partners from Creative Court were very happy with the work we’ve done, and were very willing to get us in touch with some of their contacts.  They have a large network of inspiring people who can help us with our project. One of those could be philosopher Nenad Fisher. A couple of weeks ago we attended Rooms of Humanity where he gave a great lecture on the use of propaganda during the Yugoslav Wars.  Even when you know that media are used to fabricate narratives, it can be quite astonishing to see how easily that can be done.

As mentioned in the first post, Rooms of Humanity is an event co-organized by Creative Court.  That event made clear that our partners aren’t just interested in creating thoughtful art. They want their projects to be stirring, and maybe even slightly provocative.  They have to open up a discussion, even if that may sometimes be a bit uncomfortable. They re-emphasized this during the meeting and showed us an example of how that can be achieved through very simple means.

Creative Court has developed a rather simple interactive game.  The participants are asked a series of reflexive questions such as ‘Do you believe in God?’, ‘Does the nation you were born in still exist?’, ‘Do you consider yourself part of a minority?’, ‘Do you believe that a totalitarian, fascist regime can get to power in your country?’ Each time you know the answer to a question you have to take one step in whatever direction you want, although many people try to develop a system. For example for ‘yes’ you take a step forward, and for ‘no’ you take a step backward. Your system can easily be disrupted though, as some questions are open-ended. Furthermore the other participants can get in your way, disabling you to make a step in the preferred direction.


This game is very effective for a couple of reasons. First of all, it of course allows you to reflect on your own values and ideals. Even more interestingly though, it makes you think about your co-participants. While deciding on your own answers, you cannot help but try to decode the movements of the other people, to find out what they are thinking.  At the same time you are aware that the others want to find out the same thing about you, so you become quite conscious of your answers and your movements. All these questions touch on issues of (self-) identity. What if someone thinks that you said you believe in God, when the opposite is true? They might have a completely different image of you!

“The interactivity afforded by games makes them a much more effective medium for empathy than non-interactive books and movies”. This is a very questionable statement by game designer Lucas Pope, but his game Papers, Please makes a good case for it.  Papers, Please takes place in the fictional communist state of Arstotzka, where you have to work as an immigration officer at the border. When playing the game, you have to determine whether to admit, deny or detain immigrants trying to enter Arstotzka.  In doing so the game creates great empathy for both the refugees and the immigration officers, who do not have much agency in deciding who gets to enter Arstotzka.  It is clear that Pope has thought out all the implications of his game, as he explains very well in this interview.

We found the two games we discussed here very thought provoking.  Consequently we decided that we want to develop a (prototype for a) reflective game in the next three weeks. We don’t yet know the details of this game, but it will be a combination of Cards Against Humanity and ‘Would you rather?’ Furthermore in the coming weeks we plan to conduct interviews with our users, to learn more about their wishes, needs and desires. This will result in a booklet, which we will present in a later post.

Q: Why did the Montenegrin become so lazy?

A:  Because the Bosnian once said to him: “Let me explain…”

In Yugoslavia this kind of jokes were made about all ethnic groups, and each group was made fun of, based on a different (negative) characteristic. In these jokes, Montenegrins were lazy, Bosnians were fools, and Slovenians were cheap. According to the famous Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek these jokes were evidence of a very healthy society. They were told by each nation, and were often very self-deprecating, which enabled the nations to show that they were aware of their imperfections, and that it was perfectly fine to make fun of them. At the same time the stereotypes in these jokes were so overstated that they could not be taken seriously. It was clear that while there may have been some truth in these preconceptions, the nations could not be defined by them.  Lasty, and maybe most importantly, these jokes often showed the various people in Yugoslavia shared a certain kinship/relationship, and that they belonged together. The following joke is a good example of that:

“A Montenegrin, a Serb and a Bosnian come to the railway station. Once they arrive, they realize that the train is leaving. They start running: the Montengrin gives up immediately, the Serb shortly afterwards, only the Bosnian manages to hop on the train and leave. The Montenegrin and the Serb return looking somewhat discontented. A person who observed it all asks them: “How is it that the Bosnian got on, and you didn’t?” – “Oh, that guy?! The fool was only supposed to take us to the station.” 


Unfortunately these jokes and stereotypes were used in a much less innocent way after the break-up of Yugoslavia. The, often minor, differences between the nations were used to justify nationalistic, exclusionary ideals. Our goal during the first weeks at MediaLab was to research how Yugoslavia’s successor states used these stereotypes to differentiate themselves from the other nations, and how these stereotypes have been culturally and historically formed. We had to that, because in order for our project to be successful, we have to understand the historical and cultural context of (post-war) Yugoslavia.

In short, we found out at that differences in language and religion are most heavily emphasized. The Catholic Croats and Slovenes used their religion and their Latin alphabet to show that they are much closer to Western Europe than to the Balkan. For the Serbs, Montenegrins and Macedonian’s the Cyrillic script is a source of pride. As they are among the few nations in the world to use that script, they feel it makes them exceptional. The Bosnian Muslims, on the other hand use their religion to emphasize their connection to the Otoman Empire.

Most importantly, all these nations used these differences to claim that they are better and more civilized than the other nations, who were ‘barbaric’ and belonged to the ‘Balkan’.  This stereotypical idea of the Balkan as ‘uncivilized and barbaric’ is called Balkanism, and is very similar to Said’s more famous concept of Orientalism. For Said, `Orientalism is a western construction that presents the Orient and its people as, among other things, barbaric, exotic and childlike, in order to define the west as the opposite’. Thus It is not very surprising that many (western-) European nation have used Balkanist language to exclude former Yugoslav nations from ‘Europeanness’. That makes it only more ironic that Yugoslavia’s successor states engaged in Balkanist rhetoric themselves, and often for the same reasons.

Divljacka plemena = Wild tribes Balkanski Divljaci = Balkan savages

All of this is very nicely shown in the Bosnian movie No Man’s Land, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2002 (beating Amelie!). No Man’s Land is a cynic comedy-drama set during the Yugoslav Wars. When a Serb and Bosnian accidentally get stuck together in the same trench, the two opposing nations are forced to work together to get them out. Tanovic shows the absurdity of the war by not differentiating visually at all between the Serb and the Bosnian fighter.  Because they also speak the same language we would not have known who belonged to whom if we weren’t told so. The international UN-mission is not of much help either. Consisting mostly of French and Englishmen, they are completely confused when the Serbs and Bosnians do not conform to their stereotypical view of them. At the same time, the journalist from GlobalNews acts very moral and outraged, but GlobalNews is only interested in showing violence, not necessarily in context. The film does not spare the nations most directly involved either though. In the best scene a Bosnian soldier reacts astonished when reading a newspaper in the middle of a trench. When asked what he has read, he answers: ”Man, those damn Rwandans have horribly messed up”, referencing of course to the Civil War beteen Hutu’s and Tutsi’s in the nation.


These research-focused weeks were very valuable to us. We will try to apply what we have learned to our development of our tool. That means that in the coming weeks we will have to focus a bit less on theory, and a bit more on design. We use a design method called SCRUM, that was new to all three of us, but we are slowly understanding its great usefulness. The method forces you to work in a structured way, and even more importantly, it forces you to produce stuff consistently. Each three weeks we are supposed to deliver some prototype. We are currently working on a very basic prototype of a website, made in Illustrator. The website will be a visualization of our research. In the next months we will (hopefully) develop more sophisticated prototypes.



Post-Conflict Mind Check?

Hi, we are Liliana Zambrano (BA Industrial Design), Jennifer Lamphere (MA History) and Jon Jonoski (MA Media Studies). We have come to MediaLab to work on the Post-Conflict Mind Check project.  The aim of our project is to develop a tool for personal reflection on, and critical thinking about, the Yugoslavian post-war legacy. If that sounds a bit vague, do not despair. We are aware that this is a bit more of a theoretical project, than the usual ones at MediaLab. That does not make it any less interesting though, and on this blog we will do our best to show that in an accessible way.


Let’s start with some background. Since 1946, Yugoslavia was a federal republic consisting of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. On 25 June 1991 Slovenia was the first of these nations to declare itself independent. Soon after, the other nations followed Slovenia’s example, and the Yugoslav Wars started. Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia were most directly involved in these wars, but the conflict affected the whole region in a way that is tangible to this day. The region is now mostly peaceful, but the problems that caused the conflict have not really disappeared. In some ways the situation is currently worse than it was a couple of years ago. While many nations have gone through important reforms, and some have even joined the EU, nationalistic and conservative ideals are re-emerging. Consequently for many people it has become harder to freely discuss their culture and history. Each nation has its own deeply ingrained preconceptions about both itself and the other nations, which often leads to self-censorship and cautiousness.


There are many people who hope to transcend these preconceptions/stereotypes, but cannot do so, because they are so deeply embedded in their society. These people are our main target group. Our project should enable them to freely discuss their past, present and future. We do not yet know how to achieve that, though it seems pretty clear that we should create some sort of interactive, virtual or physical, space, that will allow for personal reflection, critical thinking, and/or free interaction.


Coincidentally, the environment of MediaLab is a good example of such a space. This semester the 18 interns, divided over six different projects, come from all over the world There are only six from the Netherlands. The rest of them come from Italy, Colombia, Greece, USA, Spain, Japan, Germany, England and Brazil. We are all very happy to discuss our cultural differences and similarities in an open-minded way, which leads to a joyously international atmosphere. It must be said though that most of these multicultural conversations eventually circle back to the subject of food. Now we know that Colombians eat omelet five times a week, that in Denver they eat bison, and that all your preconceptions about Italians and pasta are completely true.

We also did some work of course. For example we made a video in which we tried to show/define our target group.  Of course such a video needs to have a suitable soundtrack. After listening to countless of Yugoslavian pop, rock and folk, we eventually decided on an instrumental version of Sting’s Fragile. Was that the best choice? Perhaps not. As the always straightforward Angelo exclaimed our video has the vibe of a 1990’s Spanish telenovela. That’s a fair, and accurate, criticism, we are not greatly experienced filmmakers, and this was the first video we did together. Having said that, we did manage to show in our video what we wanted. We wanted show that your opinion on the war and its aftermath doesn’t matter for our project. All that matters is that you are willing to critically reflect on it, and discuss it. Our video is also a bit abstract, because we didn’t want to show any specific stereotypes/events/nations, which might influence our target group. We want people to be completely free in what they want to think about.

A couple of days after making the video we visited our partner, Creative Court. They helped us define our main research question, which is: How can Creative Court facilitate reflective thinking on current preconceptions inthe former Yugoslavia? Creative Court is a Hague-based organization that develops art projects related to issues of peace and justice. It is a very interesting and inspiring organization, and their enthusiasm for this project is palpable.  During our visit they showed us their project on is on post-genocide Rwanda. Called, Portraits of Reconciliation, the project aims to reflect on the theme of forgiveness. It consists of photographs in which we see a perpetrator and a survivor of genocide being portrayed together. That seems a bit odd at first sight, but not when you consider that these people are often neighbors. For many, forgiveness is not just a moral issue, but also a practical one. They need to live together. This wonderful New York Times article goes into more detail:


This weekend we will visit Rooms of Humanity. Created by De Balie and Creative Court, this is an experimental installation that explores human behavior in war and genocide. We will discuss this further in our next post, in which we will also write something on the Bosnian movie No Man’s Land.