Historical Injustice and Democratic Transition in Eastern Asia and Northern Europe: Ghosts at the Table of Democracy

Historical Injustice and Democratic Transition in Eastern Asia and Northern Europe: Ghosts at the Table of Democracy

Historical Injustice and Democratic Transition in Eastern Asia and Northern Europe: Ghosts at the Table of Democracy

Historical Injustice and Democratic Transition in Eastern Asia and Northern Europe: Ghosts at the Table of Democracy

Synopsis

The memory of past atrocity lingers like a ghost at the table of democracy. Injustices carried out in the past - from massacres and murder to repression and detention - embitter societies and distort their structures so that the process of establishing and running a democracy carries an extra burden. This volume examines societies at various stages of dealing with the memory of the past, from China, Mongolia, Indonesia and the Baltic States, where bitter memories of death and persecution still intrude, to Finland, where the civil war of 1918 has finally been accepted as a distant national tragedy.

Excerpt

Robert Cribb and Kenneth Christie

The twentieth century which has just come to an end was marked by the emergence of a grand narrative in global politics which has come to be called ‘dealing with the past’. the expression itself, ‘dealing with the past’, is unsatisfactorily vague: ‘the past’ is difficult to define and ‘dealing’ with it leaves open a huge range of possibilities, from amnesia to revenge-seeking. Nonetheless, the term has come to refer in particular to a process that puts to rest the social and international antagonisms created by historical wrongs. the process implies that somehow a line is drawn between the past and the present, so that debts of honour, blood and money need not be carried over from one generation to another in a way that distorts relations between social, national or ethnic groups. the aim is that former enemies - and their heirs - should be able to collaborate in building a civil order at every level of the global community, whatever injustices may have been committed in the past.

Before the twentieth century, sustaining the memory of historical injustice often seemed to be prudent rather than problematic. States and peoples which remembered the identity of their traditional enemies were better placed to keep those enemies at a distance. a deep-seated national memory of invasion and occupation by China undoubtedly helped the Vietnamese prepare to resist the continual threat from the north. Stalin’s preparations to resist Nazi Germany were clearly endorsed by historical memories of the Napoleonic and Wilhelmine invasions. Within state borders, too, the memory of past injustices could reinforce acquiescence in the existing power relations. Only in the twentieth century did the idea begin to develop that war and repression might eventually be eliminated from the repertoire of state power, with the consequence, or perhaps the prerequisite, that the attitudes of fear, hatred and resentment which feed warfare could also be eliminated.

Dealing with the past, we argue, has a strongly instrumentalist element - the past is to be mastered so that it will not blight the future - but it also contains a powerful moral tendency. To ‘deal with’ the past is something very different from simply recognizing the historical reality of victory and defeat, conquest and annihilation, supremacy and subordination. It involves an attempt to rectify past injustice, some

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