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Coming to Terms with a Dark Past

How Post-Conflict Societies Deal with History

Sirkka Ahonen

Finland, South Africa and Bosnia-Herzegovina are each burdened by memories of a civil war, between either social classes, racial groups or ethnic communities. History wars have followed the conflicts and been fought on the arenas of popular rhetoric, public memory, that is, monuments, museums and commemoration rituals, and history education. This book studies how the parties to these conflicts have attributed guilt to «the others» and victimhood to «us» in each country, and compares their respective memory politics and education strategies. The author draws on the potential on «history from below» activities and multiperspectival history lessons.

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Foreword

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In a post-conflict society, social memory is more a burden than a positive re- source. Memory reminds the parties of the conflict of past injustices and guilt instead of providing socially empowering narratives for the community. During the last few decades, political leaders in different countries have been increasingly active in referring to both the positive and negative legacies of their respective national pasts. Memory laws have been proposed and even passed in order to maintain national history as a positive unifying story. At the same time a culture of public apologies has flourished, in belief that an apology would heal wounds. Heads of State have apologised for historical offences like enslavement, dispossession and genocide. Owing to the democratisation of societies, public recognition of past victim- hood is urged from below, from previously voiceless groups. Australian abori- gines, African Americans, Amazon Indians and descendants of Soviet kulaks demand reparation for past sufferings. Social memory is boosted by the actual- isation of past injustices, and vernacular history has become the forum for ethical discussions on the past. Severe intra-community conflicts, above all civil wars, traumatize all parties. After reciprocal violence a road to mutual trust and peaceful coexistence is hard to find. Post-conflict societies need historical perspective to make sense of their ordeal and be able to rebuild a functional society. Apart from political restructur- ing and social reconstruction, reconciliation of minds is necessary to counter- act the tendency for memories of the conflict to be fostered as myths in public...

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