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Fragile Memory, Shifting Impunity

Commemoration and Contestation in Post-Dictatorship Argentina and Uruguay


Cara Levey

Fragile Memory, Shifting Impunity is an interdisciplinary study of commemorative sites related to human rights violations committed primarily during dictatorial rule in Argentina (1976–1983) and Uruguay (1973–1985). Taking as a departure point the ‘politics of memory’ – a term that acknowledges memory’s propensity for engagement beyond the cultural sphere – this study shifts the focus away from exclusively aesthetic and architectural readings of marches, memorials and monuments to instead analyse their emergence and transformation in post-dictatorship Argentina and Uruguay. This book incorporates the role of state and societal actors and conflicts underpinning commemorative processes into its analysis, reading the sites within shifting contexts of impunity to explore their relationship to memory, truth seeking and justice in the long aftermath of dictatorship.
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Chapter 1: Memory Matters: Towards a Definition of the Commemorative Site


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Memory Matters: Towards a Definition of the Commemorative Site

The passage of time attenuates the bitterest of memories. —Guillermo O’Donnell and Philippe C. Schmitter1

They say time heals – but no, time does not heal, locura. Time doesn’t heal, it makes you crazy. —Santiago Mellibovsky2

Memory is undoubtedly familiar to us. Somewhat paradoxically, the extensive and often abstract usage of the term and its ubiquitousness in the aftermath of atrocity, tends to mask both its contentiousness and the distinct forms in which it is manifested and (ab)used in the present. There is, it would seem, considerable dissensus over its nature and evolution; on one hand, Guillermo O’Donnell and Philippe C. Schmitter, political scientists writing about the aftermath of authoritarianism across a range of different contexts, suggest a sort of temporal decaying or dilution of memory, whereas Santiago Mellibovsky, whose daughter was forcibly disappeared during the Argentine dictatorship, stresses that memories and feelings associated with painful pasts intensify, not only in spite of the passing of time, but because ← 11 | 12 → of it. It is certainly true that legacies of repression may, in the immediate aftermath, remain ‘fresh in the memory of all’, forcing the issue onto the public agenda and guiding transitional justice processes in nascent or re-emerging democracies.3 However, as attested by the controversies that opened this study, memories do not predictably fade as the years pass, but wax and wane for many decades; for...

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