Cemeteries and Solidarity: Launching the CeMi Project 2019-2021

Entrance European Solidarity Centre Gdansk Poland
Photo 1: Entrance to the European Solidarity Centre, Gdansk (Photo by Avril Maddrell)

The CeMi project has had two launches. The first was July 1st to 3rd, when the research team came together for our initial team meeting, splendidly hosted by the University of Groningen’s Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies. This meeting provided the CeMi team of researchers to come together literally on day one of the project and to start the two year programme of work with a strong sense of shared purpose and direction. This was underscored by project-orientation field trips to cemeteries in Groningen and Zwolle, which grounded our research plan and allowed us to discuss research plans and challenges in the context of being ‘in the field’. We were also privileged to meet with local Planners and representatives of the Chinese community in Zwolle, who had worked together to create a dedicated burial area designed to meet the principles of Feng Shui. It was also fascinating to see the way that Cemetery planners in Zwolle were looking ahead to future needs. In addition to integrating biodiversity gains to their design, they had acquired sufficient land for future expansion, and this land, bordering the current cemetery access road and currently surplus to requirements, is rented out and under crops – a field of potatoes when we visited. The Zwolle cemetery thereby exemplifies several aspects of good practice: environmental protection and enrichment; liaison with minority and majority communities for inclusive provision; and forward planning for future demand through securing land which is actively used and income-generating in the interim.

The second ‘launch’ for CeMi was when two of us (Mariske Westendorp and myself) represented the project team at the HERA conference in Gdansk in September, when the funding body brought together teams from those projects just finishing the ‘Uses of the past’ programme of research and those of us starting the 20 funded projects on ‘Public Spaces and Cultural Integration’. It was fascinating to learn more about both sets of projects – I was inspired by the graphics for the new ‘Nite’ project, and it was a pleasure to participate in a panel which brought together our project and its conceptual framework in dialogue with completed projects such as ‘Deep Dead’.

Memorial Fallen Shipyard Workers 1970 European Solidarity Centre Gdansk Poland
Photo 2: Memorial to the fallen shipyard workers of 1970 (Photo by Avril Maddrell)

Holding the conference in Gdansk’s European Solidarity Centre (ESC) also created a particular atmosphere. Built in the former shipyard which was the focus of vivid memories of the Gdansk shipyard workers’ strike in 1980, I have vivid memories of the momentous events from TV coverage at the time. There was a real emotional resonance for many of us who walked under the original shipyard gateway which had been at the centre of strike activities and media coverage (see Photo 1). The ESC itself, built to resemble a great metal hull under construction, serves as a museum, and more generally serves as a symbolic site for social and political memory (see Photo 2: the memorial to the fallen shipyard workers).  It also embodies and practices a mission to take the idea of solidarity forward in contemporary European and global contexts, issues and debates. This theme was threaded through various presentations and reflections throughout the conference, making the CeMi project very much ‘at home’. Our purpose is to bring service provides, planners, majority and minority communities together to create better understanding of varied cemetery and crematoria needs in Europe; to enhance these public spaces as places of social and cultural inclusion; and to collect examples of good practice to share. Both launches have already contributed to those aims.

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