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The wanton destruction of culturally important buildings is now a war crime Genocide, crimes against humanity, religious persecution: Slobodan Milosovic isn’t short of charges to face at his trial in The Hague. But one charge in particular is intriguing: “The intentional and wanton destruction of religious and cultural buildings of the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat communities.” This is an important moment, argues Robert Bevan in his powerful new book, The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War. This is the first time that anyone has been properly charged in a court of law for wartime attacks on architecture as well as civilians, and a direct connection noted between the two. During the Nuremberg trials, Goering, Rosenberg and Ribbentrop were the first to face prosecution for cultural crimes under the 1907 version of the Hague Convention. But, writes Bevan, they “got off lightly from this line of questioning . . . the issue was not dwelt on”. After Nuremberg “attacks on architecture, and their links to war crimes and crimes against humanity, were barely noted, let alone prosecuted. That is until the war in the former Yugoslavia, when the connection could hardly be missed.” (....)Nietzsche identified in monuments “the stamp of the will to power”, and books aplenty catalogue architectural creation as a weapon of authority. This is the first, though, to suggest that architectural destruction has the same function. Architecture is targeted because it is collectively symbolic, even if this symbolism is arbitrary (classical columns are favoured equally by fascists, liberal democracies and premier-league footballers). Mostar’s bridge was destroyed precisely because it was a bridge, a symbol of togetherness in a city with the highest numbers of mixed marriages in Bosnia. Just as architecture legitimises claims over space, its removal disenfranchises, defamiliarises. (....)
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