Organized by Dr Jessie Barton-Hronesova within an ESRC post-doctoral fellowship and Dr Johana Wyss.
Memory politics worldwide is often shaped by the dynamics of relations and tensions between hegemonic narratives, counter-memories and silent communities at the global, national and local levels. Transnational advocacy movements, international agents and organisations influence the application of terminologies and frameworks in which global hegemonic narratives operate. State actors influence and shape hegemonic narratives, silence others or deny their existence in order to legitimise their incumbency and state/nation-building efforts. Local actors – from civil society groups to individuals – often counter top-down efforts of hegemonic narratives by the creation of their own narratives, memories or by silence. In post-conflict and conflict societies the relations between different groups and actors advocating hegemonic narratives becomes all the more acute and tense as the social and political fabric is eroded and in flux by the conflict-generated transformative changes.
How do we understand hegemonic narratives in post-war societies? What do we know about them? How can we conceptualise hegemonic narratives in research inquiry? What constitutes such narratives in societies emerging from conflicts or in the midst of conflict? What is their role in relation to other mnemonic practices such as silencing, forgetting, neglecting, amnesia, or denial? And if they are, in what way do they differ? This symposium seeks to discuss these and other questions using a large number of case studies that can speak to some aspects of memory politics and hegemonic narratives.
The key aims of this day-long symposium are to:
Discuss the dynamics of hegemonic narratives at local, national and global level with a special reference to post-conflict situations;
Examine the various roles of actors, agents and institutions in shaping, organising, influencing, challenging and transforming memories and key narratives in (post-)conflict societies;
Facilitate an interdisciplinarity discussion in memory and a cross-disciplinary debates about the roles of memory in post-war societies;
Theorise and conceptualise different types, approaches to studies of memory, silence, forgetting and remembering;
Discuss the various roles of victims, perpetrators and new conflict-engendered communities.
in British Summer Time
Jessie Barton-Hronesova (University of Oxford), Johana Wyss (IE, Czech Academy of Sciences & Max Planck) and Diego Sánchez-Ancochea (Head of the Oxford Department of International Development): Introduction and Practical details.
KEYNOTE I: CURATED STORIES: THE USES AND MISUSES OF STORYTELLING
Sujatha Fernandes (University of Sydney), chaired by Johana Wyss (IE, Czech Academy of Sciences & Max Planck).
PANEL I: WHAT IS THE ROLE OF INTERNATIONAL ACTORS IN SHAPING THE HIERARCHY OF MEMORIES?
Jasna Dragovic-Soso (Goldsmiths), Memory and Justice in the Aftermath of War and Mass Crime: Contemporary Serbia and the West German ‘model';
Lord Alderdice (University of Oxford),
Casting some light on the long, dark shadow of the past;
Rachel Ibreck (Goldsmiths), ‘We should have learned from Rwanda’: the regional political opportunities and constraints
of a hegemonic narrative of genocide memory and justice in Eastern Africa;
chaired by Jessie Barton-Hronesova (University of Oxford).
Short coffee break: please stay online and use the Q&A function to pose further questions.
PANEL II. WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HEGEMONIC MEMORIES, SILENCE AND NATIONALISM?
Barbara Törnquist-Plewa (Lundt University)
Changing narratives about the past of Wroclaw. Struggles over mnemonic hegemony in a city;
Katerina Kralova (Charles University),
The Holocaust Memorial Museum of Thessaloniki: A Place of Whose Memory?;
Craig Larkin (King’s College),
Postmemory in (Post)conflict Societies: reflections from Lebanon;
chaired by Johana Wyss (IE, Czech Academy of Sciences & Max Planck).
To rejoin the conference, please use the afternoon Zoom link.
PANEL III. HOW DO LOCAL MEMORIES AND GRASSROOTS MNEMONIC ACTORS CHALLENGE NATIONAL GRAND NARRATIVES?
Andreza de Souza Santos (University of Oxford),
Inconvenient Narratives: Slavery recounted in Brazil’s former gold mines;
Graham Dawson (University of Brighton),
Grassroots oral history and the politics of ‘hegemonic memory’ on West Belfast interfaces after the Northern Ireland war;
Jocelyn Alexander (University of Oxford),
Gukurahundi and the question of recognition in Zimbabwe;
chaired by Kathrin Bachleitner (University of Oxford).
KEYNOTE II: THE HEGEMONIC NARRATIVES OF HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE IN POST-COMMUNIST EASTERN EUROPE
Jelena Subotic (Georgia State U); chaired by Jessie Barton-Hronesova (University of Oxford).
Jessie Barton-Hronesova (University of Oxford) and Johana Wyss (IE, Czech Academy of Sciences & Max Planck): summary and next steps
Curated Stories: the Uses and Misuses of Storytelling
In the contemporary era we have seen a proliferation of storytelling activities, from the phenomenon of TED talks and Humans of New York to a plethora of story-coaching agencies and consultants. My talk examines this culture of storytelling that presents carefully curated narratives with pre-determined storylines as a tool of philanthropy, statecraft, and advocacy. Suturing together a Foucaultian account of neoliberal reason with Marxian and Gramscian accounts of class formation, I develop a concept of the political economy of storytelling. I discuss how in the turn to free market orders, stories have been reconfigured to promote entrepreneurial self-making and are restructured as easily digestible soundbites mobilized toward utilitarian ends. In this talk, I examine an online women’s creative writing project sponsored by the US State Department in Afghanistan as an example of how stories can be drawn into soft power strategies of imperial statecraft in the context of war and military intervention.
THE HEGEMONIC NARRATIVES OF HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE IN POST-COMMUNIST EASTERN EUROPE
In her keynote address, Jelena Subotic will ask why Holocaust memory continues to be so deeply troubled—ignored, appropriated, and obfuscated—throughout Eastern Europe, the geographic center of the genocide. As part of accession to the European Union, East European states were required to adopt, participate in, and contribute to the established Western narrative of the Holocaust. This requirement created anxiety and resentment in post-communist states: Holocaust memory replaced communist terror as the dominant narrative in Eastern Europe, focusing instead on predominantly Jewish suffering in World War II. Influencing the European Union's own memory politics and legislation in the process, post-communist states have attempted to reconcile these two memories by pursuing new strategies of Holocaust remembrance. The memory, symbols, and imagery of the Holocaust have been appropriated to represent crimes of communism. As Jelena Subotic demonstrates, Holocaust memory in Eastern Europe has never been about the Holocaust or about the desire to remember the past, whether during communism or in its aftermath. Rather, it has been about managing national identities in a precarious and uncertain world.
Memory and Justice in the Aftermath of War and Mass Crime: Contemporary Serbia and the West German ‘model'
The Federal Republic of Germany’s record of dealing with the Nazi period is often held up as the ‘gold standard’ of commemorative practice for societies emerging out of war and mass crimes. In contemporary Serbia, both domestic political and intellectual actors and representatives of the international community have evoked the West German experience as relevant to Serbia’s situation in the aftermath of the wars of the Yugoslav succession and as a ‘model’ to be followed. This paper examines the first two decades (1945-1965) of Germany’s post-war development in comparison with Serbia’s evolution since the end of the Yugoslav wars and the fall of the Milošević regime in 2000, interrogating to what extent parallels between the two cases can be drawn and whether Germany’s evolution does indeed hold valuable ‘lessons’ for our understanding of contemporary approaches to the recent past in Serbia.
By highlighting three spheres of activity—law, politics and society—the argument developed here is that the West German experience in the first post-war decades does present some remarkable parallels with the Serbian, but that these lie more in a limited and carefully circumscribed legal, political and societal reckoning with the war and the mass atrocity crimes committed than in any genuine and extensive ‘coming to terms with the past’. At the same time, it will be shown that, coming out of this initial post-war period, the Federal Republic made some important gestures towards addressing the Jewish genocide in particular—which laid the groundwork for the more important processes of ‘coming to terms with the past’ that began in earnest in the late 1960s. Serbia, on the other hand, appears at the current conjuncture to be further than ever from engaging in any meaningful memory work regarding the wars of the 1990s and its own role in the commission of mass atrocity crimes. By analysing this absence compared to West Germany’s trajectory, we will point towards factors that have impacted this divergence towards the end of each country’s initial post-war period.
Casting some light on the long, dark shadow of the past.
One of the most challenging issues in the Northern Ireland Peace Process remains what have become known as ‘legacy issues’, for example, how to deal with unresolved murders and other crimes, the role of the state and of terrorist groups during ‘the Troubles’, helping victims (whether individuals, families or communities) deal with their memories of dreadful experiences, the transgenerational transmission of trauma, and community memorialization. Living through a decade of centenaries of the original hostilities that led to the partitioning of Ireland in 1921 has added to the complexity of the process in both negative and positive ways. Lord Alderdice will bring his experience of these challenges in Northern Ireland and in other parts of the world where he has addressed similar issues, for example in Peru where he and former British Foreign Office Minister, John Battle MP, produced a report in 2004 on the work of Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up there in 2001 and where, in cooperation with the Peru Support Group, he plans to produce a further review of the work of the TRC – twenty years on from the publication of the original report in 2003.
We should have learned from Rwanda’: the regional political opportunities and constraints of a hegemonic narrative of genocide memory and justice in Eastern Africa
The genocide in Rwanda has attained paradigmatic status; its memory has been researched, publicised and mediatised at global and regional levels and selectively institutionalized in policy reforms, criminal prosecutions and commemorations. In the process a narrow framing of the events and their meaning has accumulated discursive power, reinforcing the selective public memory produced at the national level. This has opened up certain political possibilities while foreclosing others, shaping interventions in memorialisation and justice after mass atrocities. This paper explores how the genocide has informed regional policies and practices responding to conflicts in Eastern Africa and considers the implications for the rights and recognition of victims and survivors, focusing on the case of South Sudan. It considers how regional narratives of the genocide have animated, influenced and constrained struggles for ‘transitional justice’ at national and local level and whether they are generative of human rights, cosmopolitan memories and ‘moral-political interdependencies’ (Levy and Sznaider 2002) amid the trauma of recent atrocious violence. This exercise is instructive in the political contradictions of ‘memory unbound’. On one hand, the regional narrative promotes certain notions of victimhood and steers toward time-bound, institutionalised justice mechanisms that are at odds with the ‘real politics’ (de Waal 2015) of South Sudan and the region. But on the other hand, the memory of the genocide has created political spaces and resources for counter-hegemonic struggles, whose possibilities remain unfinished.
Changing narratives about the past of Wrocław. Struggles over mnemonic hegemony in a city
This presentation aims to show the dynamics between hegemonic memories and counter-memories using the case of the local memory of the Polish city of Wroclaw (formerly known as the German city Breslau). After the Second World War the city saw a complete exchange of populations. Due to changed national borders the German population was forced to leave and was replaced by Poles. Subsequently the Polish Communist authorities managed to establish a hegemonic narrative about Wroclaw as an originally Polish city that was for a long time seized by Germans, but had returned to the homeland in 1945. The memory of the German dominance in the city’s history was repressed and the German heritage in Wroclaw made invisible. However, after the fall of Communism in 1989, local authorities introduced radically new politics of memory by emphasizing both the German and the multicultural heritage of the city. These politics, interpreted by its critics as a new mnemonic hegemony that had replaced the Communist one, has in recent years lost some of its impetus. The cosmopolitan narratives of Wroclaw past, promoted by local liberally minded rulers, are well established but subject to increasingly vehement attacks by the far Right aiming to undermine them with the support of the current Polish nationalist government. The presentation analyses these mnemonic processes by pointing out the mnemonic actors, their motives and the importance of driving forces on macro-, meso- and micro-levels.
The Holocaust Memorial Museum of Thessaloniki: A Place of Whose Memory?
My contribution aims to explore the circumstances of establishing the Holocaust Memorial Museum (HMM) & Educational Center of Greece on Human Rights (Thessaloniki, Greece) in preparation. The anticipated location is the former residential district Hirsch, which was built in the late 19th century to house destitute Russian-Jewish refugees and Jewish victims of the fire of 1890 and which turned into a Jewish ghetto to serve as the central transit camp during the Axis occupation of Greece. From there, 45,000 Jews were deported to the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen camps in 1943. Proposed in 2016, the HMM project could represent an important step towards the recognition of the Jewish suffering, especially in Greece where - compared to the rest of Europe - unprecedentedly high levels of antisemitic attitudes were recorded. Based on historical sources, I will elucidate the multilayered, symbolic memory and amnesia of this place. Following the discourse connected to the HMM project, I will elaborate on its commitment and (dis)integrated memory representation. While keeping in mind the controversies over, e.g., the new Holocaust museum in Budapest, the House of Fates planned to be inaugurated in 2019, I will examine how Greece reflects on the HMM project.
Postmemory in (Post)conflict Societies: reflections from Lebanon
Almost three decades after the end of the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), there remains little consensus around how the conflict should be remembered or forgotten. Lebanon has been diagnosed by scholars and activists as suffering from social amnesia (lost memory), hypomnesia (poor memory) and hypermnesia (enhanced memory) (Launchbury et al. 2014; Nagle, 2017). My own research posits Postmemory (Hirsch, 1991) – the intergenerational transmission of traumatic memory not personally experienced but socially felt and imaginatively inscribed through everyday narratives and visual images or landscapes – as a significant Lebanese reality impinging on national reconciliation and peacebuilding (Larkin, 2012; 2010). This paper seeks to critically reflect on ‘postmemory’ as an explanatory frame for contemporary Lebanon and other (post)conflict societies. Is this theory relevant and generalisable to other conflict settings or only specific violent ruptures? Does postmemory perpetuate conflict by prompting a ‘transgenerational attachment to victimhood’ (Dutka 2016:83)? This paper will therefore examine how postmemory narratives are reinvigorated during periods of political flux and instability – reactivating old grievances and historicising contemporary tensions.
Inconvenient Narratives: Slavery Recounted in Brazil’s Former Gold Mines
ANDREZA DE SOUZA SANTOS
Silence and euphemisms concerning race and racial prejudices prevail in ethnographies about urban Brazil. The same silence exists in historic depictions of slavery in Brazil, which is mainly represented through a recollection of torture objects and not in biographic reports or monuments. However, following the logic that there are “forms of remembering different from those of verbally discursive admission” (Shaw 2002: 2), this paper looks at the ways in which slavery is remembered in rituals of spiritual narratives in former gold mines. In former gold mines of Ouro Preto, Brazil, descendants of slaves work as tour guides, telling the history of slavery by emphasising the presence of slaves’ spirits, who manifest themselves physically when visitors or guides describe physical pain, and who cause accidents in the mines. Mines also host trance-religion rituals and objects. Memories of slavery enacted in religious rituals and narratives about slaves’ spirits constitute a power shift, where former oppressed groups achieve control after death, which they did not possess when alive. The power of the excluded, however, does not go beyond mining territories. Only few people visit mines, partly to avoid encounters with the spirits and partly because mines, like other tourist attractions, cater mainly to tourists. I finish with a discussion on the limits of off-the-record historical narratives and how official channels for participatory memory making have not yet included all citizens.
Grassroots Oral History and the Politics of ‘Hegemonic Memory’ on West Belfast Interfaces After the Northern Ireland War
This paper focuses on the work of grassroots oral history as a practise of conflict transformation undertaken by the Dúchas Oral History Archive at Falls Community Council, West Belfast. Established in 1999, Dúchas now works in partnership with a number of other community organisations across the interfaces between the loyalist Shankill area and the nationalist areas of Divis, Clonard and Springfield (as well as other communities in the city), to collect oral history interviews on local experiences of the conflict, to develop experiential storytelling as a ‘tool of reconciliation’, and to promote cross-community dialogue and the grassroots agency in addressing 'legacies of the past’ that stem from a shared but deeply contested local history. The paper situates this memorywork in a brief analysis of the 'hegemonic narratives' of the Northern Ireland Unionist State and the British (UK) State during and after the war, and the current configuration of memory politics in Northern Ireland. It considers some of the difficulties involved in cross-community oral history in this context, including the question of how to use these interviews in an integrated 'history of place' informed by memories of conflict from both sides of the interface walls that continue to reproduce the social and geographical division of the area.
My particular interest here lies in tracing how hegemonic narratives legitimating the violence enacted by State forces during the early years of armed conflict – together with the silences produced by them and the counter memories developed in resistance to them – continue to frame local memories of the war, and reproduce forms of denial and silencing into the era of the so-called 'shared future'.
Gukurahundi and the Question of Recognition in Zimbabwe
Gukurahundi is the name widely used for by far the most terrible period of violent repression by the ZANU(PF) government, Zimbabwe’s ruling regime for some four decades. In the years immediately after independence, state agents targeted supporters of the political party ZAPU and inhabitants of the Matabeleland and neighbouring regions more generally. Today, a popular conviction that this history is silenced and dangerous pervades Matabeleland. This claim is expressed amidst an extraordinary recent outpouring about Gukurahundi and its legacies in histories, fiction, documentaries, public testimony, acts of memorialisation, media debates and theatrical protests, the vast majority produced in and around the regional capital of Bulawayo. This recent torrent sits against a backdrop of human rights reporting and academic research. What does it mean to talk of silence in this apparently noisy context? I use the concept of ‘recognition’ to explore this tension, arguing that the feeling of silence is a product not of the failure to tell but of the failure to hear and do on the part of particular audiences and actors. Telling takes place in a context of extreme political and economic marginalisation and against a powerful official ‘memory’. One result is the creation of a locally produced, distorted version of Gukurahundi that serves to widen political divisions.