Ponedjeljak 16.7.2018.

Monumental Atrocity of Capitalism

Yugoslav Antifascist and Holocaust Memorials Used in a Fashion Campaign

Social media was recently inundated with links to Australian company Valley Eyewear’s new fashion campaign. The company, which specializes in the design and sale of couture eyewear, has decided to invest considerable time and money in travelling all the way from Australia to parts of Former Yugoslavia to shoot an ‘exclusive’ promotional fashion campaign at the locations of several monuments and memorial sites dedicated to anti-fascist battles and to victims of fascism during WWII.

The largest in quantity, most prominent, and also most shocking images in their branding campaign were the ones in which the company exploited none other than the Jasenovac Memorial Site, situated on the site of a former Ustasha concentration camp in Croatia. According to its official victims list, from August of 1941 to April 1945 over 83,000 people were brutally tortured and exterminated in Jasenovac. The victims were mostly Serbs, Jews, and Roma, who were killed because of their race and ethnicity, while a smaller number of Croats and other nationalities were taken to the camp as political and ideological opponents of the fascist Ustasha regime.

 

According to their own social media accounts - recenty modified to some extent - the authors of the morbid advertising campaign decided to use the “atmosphere” and motifs of Jasenovac Memorial Site, the fulcrum of which is the ‘Stone Flower’, a masterpiece by architect Bogdan Bogdanović from 1966, as a prop to create a ‘dramatic’ impression or ‘look’ in their eyewear ads. The promotional video that served as a form of splash page on their website was made using a drone, and the models were shot in Valley Eyewear’s new collection, wearing long black coats, as they strutted and posed around the memorial site, which is a legally protected national memorial. The video was supplemented with dramatic music and ends with the appearance of the company’s logo; the typography of which reminds one of Nordic runes – crypto-symbolism of contemporary neo-Nazi subculture. Until it was taken down last night, the video did not credit the site where the ad was shot, nor did it contain any information pertaining to its historical context.

Apart from this specific video of Jasenovac, the advertising campaign also contains numerous photographs and other videos shot around other memorials in Yugoslavia. Many of them were shot inside the memorials, in their central commemorative spaces – spaces designated as places of special meaning of contemplation and reverence for the victims.  

Some of the photographs shared on Valley Eyewear’s social media over recent days were accompanied by comments which – in the context of advertisements for sunglasses – sound ironic and morbid. Instagram comments by the company state that the campaign was shot “in memory of the hundreds of thousands of people that perished at this site as a dark part of world war twos prisoner camps history (sic)”.

Elsewhere, they state that there were several thousand victims. Evidently then, the owner of the company who is apparently interested in “raising awareness” about these sites of suffering could not be bothered to do their research, or does not find official information about the numbers of victims of genocide and the Holocaust to be of any particular importance.

Last night, the website’s landing page was changed, and part of the content related to the images of Jasenovac has been removed from Valley Eyewear’s web pages and social media. A number of complaints and questions from individuals, but also from Jewish and other minority advocacy groups have most certainly contributed to this. However, not all of the images of Jasenovac have been removed. A number of photos which do not contain Bogdanović’s iconic flower sculpture still remain, as do other promotional materials from at least one other site of renown in Croatia and several sites from elsewhere in Yugoslavia.

Most notably, the Monument to the Revolution situated in Podgarić (Moslavina, Croatia) designed by Dušan Džamonja in 1967, is still prominently displayed. Valley Eyewear models in black coats and sunglasses jump from the monument and pose in front of the ossuary which contains the remains of more then nine hundred anti-fascist Partisan fighters who died there fighting Axis forces. In the case of the Podgarić monument, the meaning and significance of the site has not been mentioned at all, not even in the comments on social media.  

 

 

A post shared by Josh Dowdle (@josh.dowd) on

One of the series of photographs found on Valley Eyewear’s Instagram account is very obviously an archival photograph, with a watermark from the photo archive of the Museum of Yugoslavia in Belgrade. This photograph, which Valley Eyewear has reproduced without copyright and permission from the Museum, is of the Yugoslav leadership with President Josip Broz Tito and his wife as they attended the official dedication of the monument. The photo on Instagram is accompanied by a vague statement “History repeating itself… Welcome to “BLACKZERO”

Among the campaign images one can also find photographs with the motifs of the Battle of Sutjeska Memorial House and the Monument to the Battle of Sutjeska in Bosnia&Herzegovina, the protected memorial site commemorating the bloodiest Yugoslav battle fought against the Axis Powers on the side of the Allies in May-June 1943. This site also features an ossuary with the remains of 3301 Partisan fighters who heroically died in the battle.   

 

A post shared by valleyeyewear (@valleyeyewear) on

Perhaps the most troublesome and problematic part of this story was marketing and design director Michael Crawley’s email response to a number of questions and complaints received from numerous individuals. One of his responses, which we received from a reader from Canada, is as follows:

From this initial response it is clear that the owner of the company did not want to pull the campaign or publicly apologize. Considering the amount of money invested in the campaign, his reaction is not surprising. As we witness daily exploitation of the living by the merciless logic of capitalism, why would we be surprised by its exploitation of the dead? 

Recent incidents involving the taking of selfies at Holocaust memorial sites have created fierce public outrage, and a number of prominent (Yugoslav and international) authors have been warning of the problems of the orientalization and banalization of Yugoslav monuments. The case of Valley Eyewear represents the most outrageous example of such disrespect because it did so in order to profit from the victims of fascism. 

However, this whole story also raises the question of accountability on the part of the institutions responsible for these sites in Croatia. How was it possible that nobody at the Jasenovac Memorial Site was aware of or attempted to stop the filming of such disrespectful content at a site of legally protected national cultural heritage. Should we perhaps expect more such commercially-driven enterprises to be undertaken on the site of a concentration camp in the future? 

In the light of such a blatantly ignorant and exploitative treatment of memorial locations for commercial purposes, we call for an international boycott of all Valley Eyewear products until they remove all promotional material filmed at locations which commemorate the anti-fascist struggle where individuals have been killed or buried during their struggle against fascism. 

We also demand an official statement from Jasenovac Memorial Site, as well as officials from the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia, and we invite all organizations that work toward the protection of the dignity of victims of genocide and the Holocaust in Croatia and in the region of the Former Yugoslavia to react against this usurpation of memory. 

Finally, we ask of the national and international public to spread this information and publicly condemn such acts, and at the same time to help prevent any similar future attempts at desecration of the victims of Ustasha regime, and all other forms of fascist and political violence and genocide. 

The photograph on the left, taken from the Valley Eyewear FB page two days ago, shows a photo session at Jasenovac Memorial Site. On the right image, the photographer and the models are photoshopped over an historical photo showing the excavation of humans remains within the same concentration camp, dated 1946. The insipiration for this image was taken from the "Yolocaust" project, done by the Israeli-German writer Shahak Shapira, who said that he had been motivated in part by concern over a trend in Eurpean and US politics which he saw as a threat to the lessons of the Holocaust. We cannot agree more concerning our own motivation.