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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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1 Post-Conflict Society in the Grip of a Difficult Past


1.1 The Power of Shared Stories History is the story people make of change in time. When producing the story, people reflect their memories in the mirror of the present and the future. The uni- versal quest for history is based on historical consciousness, an anthropological trait in human beings. All human beings rewind and forward the course of their lives.1 History is produced on three levels, namely on the vernacular level of social memory, the public level of history culture and the academic level of historical research. History is thus not a spin-off from academic history but rather a broad forum for reflecting memory. Neither individual nor social memory is a sealed store of experiences. Memory is an active dynamic process where recollections are exchanged and elaborated through social interaction. When the members of a community discuss and reflect upon the past, they attach meaning and signifi- cance to it, thus processing memories. The construction of meaning is reified in public memory, that is, commemoration rituals, monuments and other cultural products. Among the three levels of history production, social memory is the widest arena for processing stories of the past, while public memory is the arena for reifying and mediating the stories. In the positivist tradition of historiography, memory and history are antitheses. Memory has no scientifically provable truth value, whereas history as a science is subjected to objective truth criteria. The criteria are met if a professional histo- rian establishes his evidence according to conventional research methods. Story-...

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