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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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4 How They Managed to Deal with the Dark Past in Finland, South Africa and Bosnia-Herzegovina


149 4 How They Managed to Deal with the Dark Past in Finland, South Africa and Bosnia- Herzegovina Different Conflicts – Shared Myths After a disastrous conflict, a history war looms over a community. A unify- ing grand story to reconcile the divisions is a vain dream. Only open dialogue between conflicting memories constitutes a potential for reconciliation. In this study, the foundations and prospects for such a dialogue were compared in three conflict-stricken societies. Finland provided a long perspective of three generations affected by a tragic national conflict, whereas in South Africa and Bosnia-Herzegovina only the first post-conflict generation was coming of age at the time of the study. The healing strategies differed between the countries. While silence and forgetting were re- lied on in Finland, South Africa offered an example of forgiveness as the way to create reconciliation. Bosnia-Herzegovina proved to be a special case of ambiva- lence in regard to reconciliation. The dilemma of Bosnia-Herzegovina was approached here by comparing vari- ous aspects of the three conflicts. The first aspect was the nature of the conflict. The Finnish Civil War was a class conflict, the South African struggle for and against apartheid was a race conflict and the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992– 5 an ethno-religious conflict. Do these differences explain the success or failure of reconciliation? Class struggle was an acute issue after the Russian revolution of 1917. A Red scare brought panic to the whole of Europe, not least to Finland. Social class as a divisive...

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