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The phrase politics of memory refers to the ways events are remembered and recorded. The terminology addresses the role of politics in shaping collective memory and how remembrances can differ markedly from the objective truth of the events as they happened. The influence of politics on memory is seen in the way history is written and passed on.

Memories are influenced by political and cultural forces. Government policies and social rules, as well as popular culture and social norms influence the way events are remembered. In one example, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder instituted a politics of memory for the generation born after war. His policies reflected the belief that there was no reason to continue the guilt of the past and that the time had come for getting past the negative historical experiences. It has also been connected with the construction of identity.[1]



The two sides in the conflict in Cyprus maintain widely divergent and contrasting memories of the events that split the island. The term selective memory is applied by psychologists to people suffering from head injuries who retain some memories, but have amnesia about others. Societal trauma, such as war, seems to have a similar affect. Recollections that are shaped out of a phenomenon common to many countries traumatized by war and repression, may be remembered in radically different ways by people who experienced similar events.

The selectivity may also serve a political purpose, for example to justify the claims of one group over a competing group. Cyprus is a poignant case for this phenomenon. The longstanding conflict on the island reflects deep roots in the "motherlands" of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot peoples.[2]


Hitler's actions and ethnic cleansing programs during World War II were widely condemned, especially in the Western world that Germany is in, the country faced something of an identity crisis in coming to terms with their "misdeeds," or coming beyond a Schadenfreude. Many condemned the past and the need to control the rise of extreme right elements (Germany's electoral laws hinder the progress of the far right as opposed to Austria because of the need to garner at least 5% of the votes to get state support for the next elections and grow further). In this regard, such moments as the first official "Day of Commemoration for Victims of National Socialism", on January 20, 1996, led to the Bundesprasident Roman Herzog remarking in his address to the German Parliament that "Remembrance gives us strength, since it helps to keep us from going astray."[3] The politics of memory (Geschichtspolitik) has occupied a central place in its self-understanding. In similar, but somewhat opposing measure, Schroeder sought to move beyond this in saying the generation that committed such deeds has passed, and a new generation does not have the same fault because they simply weren't there to be responsible. In like measure, an attempt to build an holocaust memorial as a national monument to victims of such past conflicts and beyond was met with protests. The site for the monument was a former World War II prison and a monument during the Nazi era. A statue portraying a mother grieving over a dead son was resurrected with an inscription reading "To the Victims of War and Tyranny". This, however, met criticism, with critics saying the site was inappropriate, and that the statue fails to portray the horror that Germans inflicted on their fellow citizens and on foreigners, while the inscription failed to differentiate between victims and perpetrators, a consequence of the aforementioned identity crisis.[4] This was also met with another exhibition on the Germans forced to migrate following the war. Consequently it led to something of a diplomatic conflict between Germany and its eastern neighbours—especially Poland—since the exhibition organisers called on Poland to pay compensation to former German owners of Polish property, while even opposing Poland's accession to the EU. The historical conflict between Germany and Poland, and the reasons behind the paradigm shift from culprit to victim in the German view of its history conflicted with the enduring and very different memory in Poland of the German occupation.[5]

Another effect of the politics of memory in Germany was to alter the citizenship laws from an jus sanguinis to an ius soli philosophy in recognition of the new dynamics in Germany. Such results of an open immigration policy in stark contrast to Hitler's principles pertaining to "Aryan first."

This also resulted in a reluctance to expand Germany's military from a purely defensive measure to one of peace keeping even, though not to mention the use of the military for aggressive or preemptive measures.[6]

Soviet Bloc: Politics of History

Although this has not received considerably coverage there have been studies to saying that the Soviet Bloc's repressions and the consequent "traumatic repercussions" deserve the same mention as that of post-World War II, which has been insititutionalized.[7]

Efficacy and moral relativity

While the German example's moral relativism has led to a lesser political fascism, others have questioned where the politics of memory is a good thing. Is it that "Those who cannot remember the past, are doomed to repeat it?" In other words, it has been asked if the politics of memory is a good thing. Literature in the past has largely ascertained that it is so. Looking at truth commissions and at efforts by ravaged societies to "come to terms" with the past has caused various writers, human rights activists, lawyers, political theorists, psychoanalysts, journalists, historians, and philosophers to argue that "forgetfulness equals impunity, [while] impunity is both morally outrageous and politically dangerous." It was also argued that forgetfulness is bad, however, it is still different than proving that memory is good. It was said that memory, like everything else, could be clumsily or unintelligently used, or even used for false purposes or in bad faith.[8] W. G. Sebald sees the opposite end of the convention determination in showing that German amnesia surrounding the Allied carpet bombings of 131 German cities and towns turned many German cities into vast necropolises, and resulted in an estimated 600,000 (primarily civilian) deaths, with millions of internal refugees. It was also said, however, that the politics of memory could contribute to the formation of strategies for achieving reconciliation in post-conflict situations. Ic an be used by activists, equity workers, policy analysts and academics to address existing paradigms in order to achieve some semblance of justice and reconciliation in the aftermath of deep internal conflict.

In literature

Milan Kundera's opening story in the Book of Laughter and Forgetting is about a German official posing with other officials for a photograph in winter. The man gives his fur hat to cover his superior's bald head and the photo is taken. Later, when he falls out of favor and is denounced and removed from official records and documents, he is even air-brushed out of photographs. All that remains of him is his fur hat.[9]

Winston Churchill said, "History is written by the victors." The truth and significance of this statement is still debated.[10]

See also



On the Politics of the Memory of Slavery



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