Gal Kirn, “The Partisan Counter Archive: Retracing the Ruptures of Art and Memory in the Yugoslav People’s Liberation Struggle”

Mere decades after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the promise of European democracy seems to be out of joint. What has become of the once-shared memory of victory over fascism? Historical revisionism and nationalist propaganda in the post-Yugoslav context have tried to eradicate the legacy of partisan and socialist struggles, while Yugonostalgia commodifies the partisan/socialist past. It is against these dominant ‘archives’ that this book launches the partisan counter-archive, highlighting the symbolic power of artistic works that echo and envision partisan legacy and rupture. It comprises a body of works that emerged either during the people’s liberation struggle or in later socialist periods, tracing a counter-archival surplus and revolutionary remainder that invents alternative protocols of remembrance and commemoration. The book covers rich (counter-)archival material – from partisan poems, graphic works and photography, to monuments and films – and ends by describing the recent revisionist un-doing of the partisan past. It contributes to the Yugoslav politico-aesthetical “history of the oppressed” as an alternative journey to the partisan past that retrieves revolutionary resources from the past for the present.

Author Information

Gal Kirn, Technical University Dresden, Germany.


“The material of this archive of anti-fascist struggle in what would become Yugoslavia bursts with vitality. Through photographs, poems, drawings, dance, and song, we live the terrors and joys of these young women and men who risked their lives for freedom. This is brilliant work, a rescue of local history passed over by official memory, that sustains an unrelenting focus on questions of right or wrong in political struggle, and it is the archival evidence that provides the answers. Kirn’s account is urgent reading, given the racialized nationalism of our time.” – Susan Buck-Morss, CUNY Graduate Center

 ”The Partisan Counter-Archive is a politically outstanding art history. But it is also an insightful political history based on joining the dots between oppressive and emancipatory cultural narratives. The outcome of exemplary research, the book describes and explains the excision of Yugoslavia’s antifascist struggles from public memory all the way to the legitimisation of fascism in the region today. As such, this intellectual effort is highly relevant to understanding the global advance of totalitarian capitalism in the 21st century, the techniques of anti-communism and their ties to nationalism, but also the role of history-writing in countering our predicament. And a warning: this is an affective read, as the injustice perpetrated against the antifascist dead is made palpable. If you feel political anger, it is justified; and it can be used to change our history-to-be.” – Angela Dimitrikaki, The University of Edinburgh

“Gal Kim’s The Partisan Counter-Archive is an impressive and much-needed corrective to the collective amnesia which surrounds the importance of Southeast European partisan struggles against fascism during World War II. Assembling a wide array of Partisan art, poetry, and personal narrative, the book explores the continued politics of anti-memory in a contemporary moment when fascism seems once again ascendant. Focusing on the artistic output of three distinct periods of Yugoslav and post-Yugoslav history, The Partisan Counter-Archive reminds us of those who sacrificed their lives fighting to uphold the elusive, but ever relevant, ideal that another world is possible.” – Kristen R. Ghodsee, author of “The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe”

“After three decades of conformist ‘anti-totalitarian’ memory politics that in many Central European and Balkan countries has served to rehabilitate fascism, Gael Kirn’s book is a refreshing and exciting dissonant voice. His archeological exploration of the partisan ‘counter-archive’ – a plurality of intellectual and aesthetic creations running from poems and songs to underground newspapers and films produced by antifascist fighters between 1941 and 1945 – sketches an alternative memory of the former Yugoslavia. After surviving under Tito’s regime, when it intermingled with the official heroic narrative of antifascism and the liberation war, it has been radically undone since 1989 and today has become a sort of hidden or ‘Marrano’ remembrance of the past. This book is a precious piece of emancipatory criticism. – Enzo Traverso, Cornell University

Publisher: De Gruyter

Year: 2020