Memorial to the Murdered Sinti and Roma of Europe: Hierarchies of victimhood and contests of representation
Sociology University of Toronto/Freie Universität, Berlin Berlin, Germany
Karen Till (2004) writes that through "place-making" - the process of claiming and marking social space - people can return to the past and confront lingering injustice. My research draws on this notion of place by considering the negotiation, debate and planning of a memorial in Berlin to the Sinti and Roma murdered in the Holocaust. In 1993, following drawn-out media debates about the inclusion of Sinti/Roma victims into initial plans for a Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the idea of a joint Holocaust memorial was eventually rejected. Accusations of a "hierarchy of victimhood" erupted from the German Sinti/Roma political leadership. The German government responded by approving construction of a separate memorial in the capital city to the Sinti/Roma victims. Soon after, a new series of debates emerged, this time between Sinti/Roma political leaders regarding the dedication to be inscribed on the memorial plaque. Ongoing conflict has obstructed construction for over a decade. In this paper, I situate the proposed memorial as a site upon which - both literally and metaphorically - the political and social identity of a minority group is shaped and represented in contemporary German society. The contest between Jewish and Sinti/Roma memory narratives, and later between various Sinti/Roma leaders is ultimately about claiming ideological ownership of the history memorials are intended to commemorate; it marks a "performance strategy" (Mandel 2002) used by minority groups seeking to stake a claim in majority society and in their struggle for self-definition.