The graveyards, "places of mourning work, of questions without answers but incessantly reformulated" (Vovelle, 2000), are important starting points for reflecting on the link between memory, spaces, and the present time. It is in their materiality, in the organization of burials and tombstones, that processes of memory and oblivion take shape (Favole). The Vajont Victims Cemetery is emblematic of this: here rhetoric and politics of memory keep acting over time. In October 1963 an enormous landslide collapsed into the reservoir of the Vajont Dam, a giant infrastructure recently inaugurated in northern Italy. The resulting megatsunami caused the death of 1910 people and the destruction of locals’ living environment. The event was labelled as an “authentic massacre” caused by human greed in a network of colluded powers that could have prevented it. In this context, the cemetery has been a matter of conflict and debate between institutions and survivors for many years now. Built in the days following the Vajont tsunami, the graveyard played a fundamental role in keeping alive not only the survivors’ bond with their dead but also the memory of an entire community swept away together with its living environment. The bodies recovered from the mud were brought here, and many were unrecognizable. Lots of bodies were also missing and their absence still causes great suffering to the families. The rebuilding in 2003 turned this traditional Alpine graveyard into a memorial monument, changing its social function forever: a gathering place where people could “meet” their beloved dead was turned into a civil monument with pedagogical purposes. The aim of this reconstruction is clear: focusing on the global effects of an "ecological disaster" rather than on the subjectivity of the victims (which disappears under white marble blocks) and the survivors’ demands for truth and justice, i.e. an actual condemnation of the human responsibilities that led to this massacre. The removal of photographs, flowers, and epitaphs, which are defined by Michel Vovelle as “chronicle of a life and expression of the family bond”, caused a sense of further loss to the community members, who can’t acknowledge this place as their own. The survivors claim that uniformity is an expression of a politics of memory linked to monumental works, which aim to induce the visitor to sympathize rather than understand. Nevertheless, the cemetery is not the only place to commemorate the dead: other ways of dealing with remembrance and mourning exist, and survivors use them to preserve the memory. My reflections come from an ethnographic research in progress on the Vajont territory. The link between the living and the places of the dead, which plays a crucial role in survivors' narratives and practices, is fundamental to understanding the political value that the memories of the Vajont Dam disaster have in the present days. My fieldwork on memories and practices in the Vajont area is an ongoing project which I started for my master’s thesis, and I’m carrying on for my Ph.D work during the Covid19 pandemic. Lots of new challenges came up in the attempt to combine observation and interaction with my informants. Are “interact” and “being there” concepts that have a new meaning today? How to carry on a work about grief, death, and trauma without losing the opportunity to empathize with our interlocutors?

Calzana, C. (2021). “It was another loss for us”. The Vajont victims cemetery between Mutations and Memory Conflicts. In Abstract Book 8th Ethnography and Qualitative Research Conference (pp.132-133).

“It was another loss for us”. The Vajont victims cemetery between Mutations and Memory Conflicts

Calzana, C
Primo
2021

Abstract

The graveyards, "places of mourning work, of questions without answers but incessantly reformulated" (Vovelle, 2000), are important starting points for reflecting on the link between memory, spaces, and the present time. It is in their materiality, in the organization of burials and tombstones, that processes of memory and oblivion take shape (Favole). The Vajont Victims Cemetery is emblematic of this: here rhetoric and politics of memory keep acting over time. In October 1963 an enormous landslide collapsed into the reservoir of the Vajont Dam, a giant infrastructure recently inaugurated in northern Italy. The resulting megatsunami caused the death of 1910 people and the destruction of locals’ living environment. The event was labelled as an “authentic massacre” caused by human greed in a network of colluded powers that could have prevented it. In this context, the cemetery has been a matter of conflict and debate between institutions and survivors for many years now. Built in the days following the Vajont tsunami, the graveyard played a fundamental role in keeping alive not only the survivors’ bond with their dead but also the memory of an entire community swept away together with its living environment. The bodies recovered from the mud were brought here, and many were unrecognizable. Lots of bodies were also missing and their absence still causes great suffering to the families. The rebuilding in 2003 turned this traditional Alpine graveyard into a memorial monument, changing its social function forever: a gathering place where people could “meet” their beloved dead was turned into a civil monument with pedagogical purposes. The aim of this reconstruction is clear: focusing on the global effects of an "ecological disaster" rather than on the subjectivity of the victims (which disappears under white marble blocks) and the survivors’ demands for truth and justice, i.e. an actual condemnation of the human responsibilities that led to this massacre. The removal of photographs, flowers, and epitaphs, which are defined by Michel Vovelle as “chronicle of a life and expression of the family bond”, caused a sense of further loss to the community members, who can’t acknowledge this place as their own. The survivors claim that uniformity is an expression of a politics of memory linked to monumental works, which aim to induce the visitor to sympathize rather than understand. Nevertheless, the cemetery is not the only place to commemorate the dead: other ways of dealing with remembrance and mourning exist, and survivors use them to preserve the memory. My reflections come from an ethnographic research in progress on the Vajont territory. The link between the living and the places of the dead, which plays a crucial role in survivors' narratives and practices, is fundamental to understanding the political value that the memories of the Vajont Dam disaster have in the present days. My fieldwork on memories and practices in the Vajont area is an ongoing project which I started for my master’s thesis, and I’m carrying on for my Ph.D work during the Covid19 pandemic. Lots of new challenges came up in the attempt to combine observation and interaction with my informants. Are “interact” and “being there” concepts that have a new meaning today? How to carry on a work about grief, death, and trauma without losing the opportunity to empathize with our interlocutors?
No
abstract + slide
Memory Studies; Historical Anthropology; Disaster Studies; Death; Memory and Memorialization; Politics of Memory; Graveyards; Collective Death
English
8th Ethnography and Qualitative Research Conference - Session 25: "Exploring Death in the Twenty-First Century. Field Research Results"
Calzana, C. (2021). “It was another loss for us”. The Vajont victims cemetery between Mutations and Memory Conflicts. In Abstract Book 8th Ethnography and Qualitative Research Conference (pp.132-133).
Calzana, C
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/10281/381448
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