2015 Summer School Participant
Course: Mnemonic Battles and Memory Activism in and after Conflict
Within our class ‘Mnemonic Battles and Memory Activism in and after Conflict’ led by Dr. Orli Fridman, we had focused discussion on social political commemoration events that we partake in and the significance they held. Interestingly, those who shared the same nationality did not necessarily commemorate the same events, the variety may be an expression of the multiple strains nationalism can encompass or perhaps it demonstrates how a nation-state does not always achieve the homogeneity it strives for.
Many answers from classmates were of commemorative events that reflect personal politics which counters hegemonic dialogue, such as universal humanitarian events or honouring minority voices and injustices that are not officially recognised by governments. These examples demonstrate that there is always agency for individuals to think outside of systemic thought and processes and create ‘counter-memories’.
This commemorative exercise in class had me reflect on how being born to migrants who settled in Australia post-world war two, has me disconnected to many nationalist Australian events, my family history does not correspond to those commemorated by the Australian nation-state. In this way I represent many of the minority groups that exist in Australia, it also has me to consider myself an outsider of Australian history and hegemonic culture.
Insider and outsider politics is an interesting discussion on the topic of intra-conflict resolution, since insiders with personal family narratives that match nationalistic sentiments can find it difficult to be objective about events that involve personal loss of lives from war or genocides. The difficulty is how to address these personal emotionally invested standpoints which are often utilised by governments for political outcomes of gaining or holding territory? Questions of how the memory of the Holocaust justifies the ongoing occupation of Palestine are extremely sensitive issues. But can these issues be addressed by asking questions of the treatment of people based on human rights violations and recognising the necessity of avoiding and ending continual suffering attributed by political conflict ongoing today?
And what of past injustices such as genocides that have not been acknowledged? In discussion on Serbia’s lack of acknowledging the genocide in Srebrenica I can make a comparative example of Australia’s own genocide of our Indigenous people. The Indigenous genocide is not part of the national dialogue, it has never been named and is unknown to the majority of white Australians.
When Indigenous genocide is raised in discussions, people often respond defensively as though today’s Australians are expected to take responsibility for deaths that occurred over 100 years ago, but this is not the point. A discussion on the fact that the mass extinction of the Indigenous population occurred during early settlement and colonisation is not to have Australians personally take on guilt, but to simply have an awareness that this genocide is part of Australian history; and importantly acknowledge it as a failed responsibility of our government not to have done so.
Again, I do wonder if I have an advantage of being an outsider in respect to this period of Australian history, my parents were not early settlers and blame cannot be attributed to my family directly. Is it for this reason that I can acknowledge the dark history of Australia? Yet, if I was honest about my initial awareness of Indigenous atrocities in Australia, there was confusion as to whether I should feel guilt about these events; not because I felt responsible, but because I had been unaware of Indigenous hardship and injustices for so long. As an Australian, this ignorance in itself was difficult to accept, and recognising that I, like other Australians, am so badly informed. Questions returned then to the accountability and responsibility of the government who repress and deny this history.
Similarly, when the question of Serbian involvement in Srebrenica is raised, it appears citizens take the issue of blame and guilt personally, rather than acknowledge fault of the government or militaristic extremist groups active in the 1990s. I am making this observation as an outsider, and a one with Croatian heritage, so perhaps this also displays my bias. But what if I made claim of the importance of recognising the genocide of Srebrenica on humanitarian basis? Why is it that questions of humanity effectually break down the standpoint of the defined nation-state?