Afterlives of Violence. Abstracts

PANEL 1: Between the memory of place and the place of memory

Perpetration and Victimhood in Central Moscow: A Landscape of Great Terror Memory
Margaret Comer, University of Cambridge

What has happened to sites connected to the Great Terror in Moscow, and what can study of the site biographies and memorial trajectories of those places reveal about changing attitudes towards Soviet repression, Joseph Stalin, and broader conceptions of human rights? Across the Soviet Union, over 1.5 million people were arrested during the Great Terror of the mid-to- late 1930s; about half of these were eventually shot, and the other half were sentenced to long terms in gulag camps or other forced labor regimes. Moscow, as the Soviet capital and power center of the Soviet Union, was heavily affected by the arrests, since many targeted groups were concentrated there. It was also, however, a concentrated center of perpetration, since the designers of the purges and ‘apparatus of terror’ in all of its forms were also based in Moscow. Today, the buildings formerly occupied by the NKVD – the Stalinist secret police – still stand in central Moscow and are controlled by that agency’s eventual successor, the FSB. Directly outside, a small plaza holds a memorial to victims of repression, and, within a five-minute walk in any direction, one can find – among other sites – a garage where thousands of Muscovites were shot, the FSB’s current headquarters, and Lubyanka, an infamous former prison, as well as the Kremlin itself. There are few permanent memorials or markers to this period and its victims in the area, but various groups use digital technology, public ceremonies on certain dates, and small, privately funded initiatives to form an alternate memorial landscape. This paper will accordingly review and analyze these official and alternate memoryscapes in order to better understand the balance of power in contemporary Russian conceptions of the ‘dark heritage’ of the Great Terror era.

Between the nation and the landscape: Narratives of post-conflict Peru in Lima’s geography of memory
Daniel Willis, UCL Institute of the Americas

Since the publication of the Final Report of the Comisión de la Verdad y la Reconciliación (CVR) in 2003, discourse about Peru’s internal armed conflict (1980-2000) have been divided between a military-salvationary narrative (in which state agents saved the nation from destruction by insurgents) and a human rights-based narrative (which is critical of all violence perpetrated during the conflict, but has particularly highlighted the extreme violence perpetrated by state agents). The inauguration of Peru’s newest memory museum, the Lugar de la Memoria, la Tolerancia y la Inclusión Social (LUM), in December 2015, can therefore be viewed as highly symbolic moment in which the human rights memory narrative became, to some degree institutionalised, and LUM ought to be recognised as an important space designed to aid processes of national reconciliation, inside of which criticism of the role of the Peruvian state and armed forces (as well as that of insurgent groups) is possible.

However, as this paper will highlight, the museum must also be situated within the wide range of commemorative projects and interventions into the urban landscape of Lima which make reference to and elucidate ideas about Peru’s historical past, and therefore also its future, as a nation. That is to say that LUM must be understood within a broader context of a geography of memory in Lima, what Emilia Palonen has referred to as the “commemorative city-text”. Thus, this paper develops a spatial analysis of LUM and how this reflects, and influences, ongoing memory narratives in Peru today. Furthermore, the paper will highlight how Lima’s urban space acts as an important battleground for many competing historical narratives, not only of the internal conflict but also reflecting images of a Europeanised, patriarchal, militaristic Peruvian nation dating from the 19th century.

“But the forts still stand…” The Fall of the Belgian Fort Cities in the Cultural Memory of the First World War
Myrthel Van Etterbeeck, KU Leuven
Karla Vanraepenbusch, KU Leuven and CegeSoma

On the 4th of August 2014, a national ceremony commemorated the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War in Belgium. It was held at Liège, the first city invaded in 1914 by the German troops. The French President François Hollande, the German President Joachim Gauck and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, attended the ceremony together with the Belgian King and Queen and the Prime Minister. This kind of commemorative event made the Belgians rediscover a First World War that did not only include trench warfare, but also the invasion of Belgium and the four year-long German occupation.

We propose to study the cultural history of the memory of the invasion, in particular that of the Belgian fortified cities that were attacked and conquered by

the German army in 1914. We will examine local and national articulations of the history of the memory of the fort cities of Antwerp and Liège. The concept of cultural memory, as developed by Jan and Aleida Assmann, will be our theoretical guiding principle. This means that we will analyse the FWW memory that is maintained through cultural formation. First, we will explore how the resistance and conquest of the forts were represented in Belgian war literature. Then, we will examine the urban memories of these events through the war memorials and street names within the fort cities.

Since we combine literary, material and historical sources, we make use of an overarching methodological framework to map the afterlives of war violence over time. Discourse Theory allows us to study how meaning is created but also continually contested in the public sphere, be it in literature or cities.

 

PANEL 2: The time(s) of nostalgia and haunting

The return of the living dead. Haunting memories in Post-dictatorial Spain: the prison of Carabanchel and the case of La Comuna
David Beorlegui, University of the Basque Country

This paper addresses the issue of traumatic memory and the politics of memory in the Spanish post-dictatorial context, focusing on the experience of prison life during Spain´s military dictatorship. The text defends the utility of haunting as a conceptual tool for the analysis of the Francoist period through a particular case study: the geography of absence and injustice represented by the prison of Carabanchel. The paper will examine the spectral dimension acquired by the prison and its relationship to the creation of the Association “La Comuna”, a countermemory group created by former political prisoners who have been very active in their attempt to come to terms with the traumatic past, but also in the configuration of a shared narrative against the official version of the Spanish Transition to Democracy.

 

“To see ourselves again: Nostalgia for a Dictatorship in Pinochet’s Children
Struan Gray, University of Brighton 

The documentary Pinochet’s Children (Rodríguez, 2003) was released during the first “memory boom” in post-dictatorship Chilean culture. Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the military coup, widespread silence and amnesia regarding the Pinochet regime gave way to a plethora of testimonial accounts and physical sites of memory. The film marked a moment in which the dominant frameworks of dictatorship memory could no longer contain the experience of a particular generation of left wing activists and cultural producers. This generation grew up under the military regime, defining both their cultural and political identities, and conditioning their hopes for the future. From a formal perspective, the documentary is a relatively conventional memory text, combining static interviews with archive footage and an explanatory voice over. However, when viewed in the context of the Chilean democratic transition, the text encompasses a highly complex structure of feeling, in which the late dictatorship (the 1980s) emerges as an unlikely object of nostalgia. This paper will focus on the temporalities of nostalgia in Rodriguez’s film, from the longing for a lost utopian future that disappeared with the restoration of liberal democracy, to the performance of self-haunting, in which the protagonists watch their younger selves in archive footage. Drawing on Svetlana Boym’s distinction between reflective and restorative nostalgia (2007), and Avery Gordon’s conceptualisation of haunting (2008), I will argue that nostalgia can play an important role in imagining an affective community of resistance in the present. The performance of this subjectivity does not demand the restitution of an idealised past, but acknowledgment of emotions and political aspirations that were erased from the social imaginary in the name of closure and reconciliation.

Goodbye Ballyhightown  – Oral history and time
Roy Wallace, University of Northampton

In this video presentation, I will explore some key issues involved in oral history and time. In 1997, I self-published a community history project which included oral history recollections from inhabitants and people associated with a non-Irish Nationalist area of North Belfast based on previous academic studies by Sociologist Richard Jenkins. The project was titled ‘Goodbye Ballyhightown’ which offered a personal and community critique of the original academic findings as an ‘insider’ rather than ‘outsider’ perspective.

One of the key questions I want to examine is ‘how do oral histories of the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland at the time of ‘peace process negotiations’ contribute to or challenge the ‘post peace process’ narrative for working class residents of a predominately non-Irish Nationalist community?’

Secondly, how are media artefacts and publications of that particular period received by an academic audience as ‘authentic’ oral voices over a time period of twenty years and what potential do these artefacts offer as contributions to a greater understanding of the real and perceived histories of inhabitants from a non-Irish Nationalist community.

I aim to present an audio-visual interpretation of this exploration as an enhanced interpretation of the traditional academic paper delivery in a new media age. I aim to complement the oral narrative, in the form of a ‘draft’ interactive video, which facilitates audiovisual signposting to related materials as a scholarly oral history archive project.

This presentation draws upon previously self-generated audio, video, photographic and written accounts of individual and collective histories, of a specific geographical area, mainly during a specific historical period (1982-1997) and offers a critical reflection in the present (2017) on the temporal and spatial concepts associated with oral history and time.

I will produce a 20min video presentation that combines all media and academic presentation materials into a ‘video essay’ along with an online archive of the interview recordings and a PDF of the original publication as an exploration of spaces haunted by violent events.

 

PANEL 3: Temporal porosity and commemoration

Affective/Effective: Legacies of Violence and the Transformation of American Schools
Alyssa Anderson, Brown University

In the United States, mass shootings remain a palpable threat to public safety, despite precautions taken to protect vulnerable populations. When Adam Lanza opened fire in Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14th, 2012, he was perpetuating a legacy of school shootings that spans decades. Indeed, the most notorious of such attacks happened 13 years prior, and halfway across the country, at Columbine High School in Colorado.

For the communities effected however, each shooting is experienced—and grieved—as a unique tragedy. A city-sanctioned memorial to the Columbine shooting was installed at the edge of a nearby park—but only after eight years of conversation and negotiation. Likewise, the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Committee, in existence for over four years, has only just begun to conceive of the memorial’s design. The highly intentioned nature of memorials makes their realization a slow, careful process.

Other spaces, however, are compelled to transform much more quickly. As acts of violence, school shootings profoundly alter both the physical and affective landscapes of the space in which they occur. Moreover, the change in the latter often compels change in the former, as many schools alter or erase the affective/effected spaces. Columbine’s second-floor library—the site of several murders—seemed to “disappear” after its floor was removed, creating a higher ceiling for the cafeteria below. Sandy Hook took more drastic measures, demolishing the whole school, yet building a new one on the same site.
While both Columbine and Sandy Hook have inspired traditional, deliberate memorials, how we might think of the schools themselves as a kind of memorial? How might changes in their physical landscape share an affective resonance with the physical changes brought about through a memorial? This paper analyzes both stone and school together, to explore the ways in which quotidian landscapes become unwitting vessels of memory.

Dis/Placing Memory of the Genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Melina Sadiković, University of Brighton

In my presentation, I am reflecting briefly on the process of framing of contested memories of the Srebrenica genocide. The process started in 1996 with the first public protests of family associations and survivors in 1996 who sought truth about the fate of men and boys who went missing after the genocide in July 1995, and instigated International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia’s ‘fight against impunity’. It also includes the establishment of the Memorial Srebrenica-Potočari Memorial and Cemetery in 2003 by the Office of High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Srebrenica is located in the Entity Republic of Srpska, one of two Entities of BiH created by the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995.

My analysis is focused on the 15th anniversary of the genocide in 2010, precisely on social practices that constitute the commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide held in period from 8 to 13 July. Alongside the central commemoration and burial of victims of the genocide, this includes the ‘Peace March –to freedom via a death route’ organised by survivors of genocide, and the ‘Memorial Journey’ organised by activists of three different associations of the mothers of Srebrenica. My analysis also includes the counter-commemoration the ‘18th anniversary of the murder of Serb civilians and soldiers from the municipalities of Srebrenica and Bratunac’, organised by the government of the Entity Republic of Srpska, which denies that genocide took place in Srebrenica.

 

Archive and Analogy: nineteenth century Chilean nitrate and a neoliberal coup
Louise Purbrick, University of Brighton

In 1974, a year after the General Pinochet, with US military support, ousted the left Unity Party government of Dr Salvador Allende, Harold Blakemore published his defining work, British Nitrates and Chilean Politics, 1886-1896. As he concluded the work, he made an analogy between the defeat and suicide of nineteenth century Present José Balmaceda and that of Salvador Allende and thus also one between the nineteenth century nitrate economy dominated by British capitalism and that of emergent neoliberalism of the United States. These temporal collisions can be understood in Benjaminian fashion as flashes of memory, sparks of contingency, leaps into the past. In Harold Blakemore’s archive, comprising the contents the University Bradford office of liberal academic that established Latin American Studies, historical time is not linear. My paper examines fragments of the Chilean nitrate industry as forms of historical time.
KEYNOTE: The past is evil/evil is past. On retrospective politics, philosophy of history and temporal Manichaeism

Berber Bevernage, Ghent University

One of the most remarkable phenomena in current international politics is the increasing attention paid to “historical injustice.” Opinions on this phenomenon strongly differ. For some it stands for a new and noble type of politics based on raised moral standards and helping the cause of peace and democracy. Others are more critical and claim that retrospective politics comes at the cost of present- or future-oriented politics and tends to be anti-utopian.

The warnings about the perils of a retrospective politics outweighing politics directed at contemporary injustices, or strivings for a more just future, should be taken seriously. Yet the alternative of a politics disregarding all historical injustice is not desirable either. We should refuse to choose between restitution for historical injustices and struggle for justice in the present or the future. Rather, we should look for types of retrospective politics that do not oppose but complement or reinforce the emancipatory and utopian elements in present- and future-directed politics.

I argue that retrospective politics can indeed have negative effects. Most notably it can lead to a “temporal Manichaeism” that not only posits that the past is evil, but also tends to treat evil as anachronistic or as belonging to the past. Yet I claim that ethical Manichaeism and anti-utopianism and are not inherent  features of all retrospective politics but rather result from an underlying philosophy of history that treats the relation between past, present, and future in antinomic terms and prevents us from understanding “transtemporal” injustices and responsibilities.

In order to pinpoint the problem of certain types of retrospective politics and point toward some alternatives, I start out from a criticism formulated by the German philosopher Odo Marquard and originally directed primarily at progressivist philosophies of history.

 

 

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