Competing memories and moral claims for recognition: an attempt to build a typology of psycho-political strategies
School for Social Work University of Applied Sciences of Western Switzerland, Geneva Geneva 4, Switzerland
Memory in general, and the memories of crimes against humanity of the 20th century in particular mark until today European identities and have an impact on intra-national and inter-national relationships. The recognition of past sufferings and memories in the public sphere form an important element for the cohesion of European societies.
The Memory of the Shoah/ Holocaust is in a process of globalization - or universalization -, turning from communicative memory to cultural memory, through the creation of museums and memorial sites, the establishment of memorial days Europe-wide and even world-wide (Stockholm Declaration, decisions of the Council of Europe and the UN), and the establishment of an International task force. At the same time, other memorial claims emerge, such as the demand for recognition of victims of soviet domination in post-soviet societies, for victims of dictatorships in post-dictatorial societies, and for victims of slavery and colonization. Also the Israeli-Palestinian conflict contains a dimension of confronting claims for recognition and competition for victim status.
"Crossed" memory-claims have become visible in various social areas, such as the media, schoolrooms, especially when studying the Holocaust, during memorial days or in memorials and museums; they are often presented by directly involved groups or persons, but may also be claimed by third parties. They seem to be based on psychosocial needs and resentment rather than on historical evidence. What are the psycho-political meanings of these constellations which are involved in claiming, comparing, equating, establishing hierarchies of victims and parallels of genocides?
The proposed contribution aims to discuss possibilities and limits of a typology of competing memories related to moral claims. This typology, based on a psycho-political rather than a legal or a historical approach, attempts to situate the different constellations along two dimensions: the way they refer to same or different historical periods and the way they are located in (same or different) territorial contexts. The resulting differentiation will be useful in finding ways to deal with these strategies, and in addressing them in public debate, educational contexts or memorial events, in a perspective of recognition which avoids equating or banalizing crimes against humanity.