Longing for Lost Normalcy: Social Memory, Transitional Justice, and the ‘House Museum’ to Missing Persons in Kosovo

Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers, Melanie Klinkner
Publication Year
Europe and Central Asia
Thematic Area
Transitional Justice / Right to Know/Truth / Reparation / Reconciliation / Prevention / Memorialization / Family Needs / Criminal Justice

In spring 1999, amidst a wider ethnic cleansing campaign, Serb police forces abducted Ferdonije Qerkezi’s husband and four sons, who were never to be seen alive again. She subsequently transformed her private house into a memorial to the lost normalcy of her entire social world. We trace this memorialization process; her struggle for recognition; her transformation into an iconic mother of the nation and her activism, both for missing persons and against the internationally-driven Serb-Albanian normalization process in Kosovo. From a multi-disciplinary perspective, we critically reflect on the theoretical concept of “normative divergence” in intervention studies. We are guided by social anthropological (including immersive, historical-ethnographic, and semantic) analysis of the core tropes of social memory as both narratively and materially embodied by the House Museum. In systematically juxtaposing these to the normative transitional justice principles of truth, justice, non-recurrence, and reparations, and the overarching international intervention goal of reconciliation, we critically interrogate normative divergence per se. The ethnographic “thick description” of this case study—cognizant of context contingency, victims’ agency and experience, cultural change, and social transformation—points to divergent meanings of these principles as resulting directly from the political and institutional failure to provide key transitional justice goals.