HDP x WHN: Oorlogstoerisme

Tourists in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo by Roger Cremers from his series "World War Two Today", 2016
Tourists in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo by Roger Cremers from his series "World War Two Today", 2016

Tourists in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo by Roger Cremers from his series “World War Two Today”, 2016

This event is in Dutch.

 

Aankomende maandag 23 april organiseert What is Happening Now? in samenwerking met Huis De Pinto en de Amsterdamse alumnivereniging Holocaust en Genocidestudies een thema-avond over ‘Oorlogstoerisme’.

Tijdens deze avond zullen What Is Happening Now-leden Marieke Zoodsma en Laurien Vastenhout in gesprek gaan met fotograaf Roger Cremers (Roger Cremers photography) en dr. Ido Abram. Tijdens en na het gesprek is er uiteraard ook ruimte voor vragen en discussie.

 

In Cremers’ fotoserie World War II Today staat de naoorlogse herinneringscultuur centraal en de manier waarop deze wel of niet schuurt met het hedendaags toerisme. Abram, emeritus-hoogleraar holocausteducatie, is directeur van de Stichting Leren met als persoonlijke focus het onderwerp ‘Opvoeden na Auschwitz’.

Het aantal toeristen dat beladen plekken als Auschwitz en het Anne Frankhuis bezoeken, is de laatste jaren enorm toegenomen. De manier waarop mensen met deze plekken omgaan, verandert. Objecten worden gestolen en mensen nemen selfies op plekken waar dit ongepast lijkt. In hoeverre is dit ongewenst of zelfs schadelijk? En wie bepaalt wat de juiste manier is om je op dergelijke plekken te gedragen en te herdenken? Hoe zorg je ervoor dat deze plekken geen prooi voor reisorganisaties en massatoerisme worden? Is het beleven van de geschiedenis wel zo gepast op een dergelijke locatie? Vragen zoals deze willen we aan bod laten komen tijdens deze avond.

 

zaal open 19:30 | aanvang programma 20:00
toegang gratis | reserveren via contact@huisdepinto.nl

Klik hier voor het facebookevent.

What the Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide has to do with the Amsterdam municipal elections

Armenian civilians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Ottoman soldiers. Kharpert, Ottoman Empire, April 1915. By anonymous German traveler, via Wikimedia Commons
Armenian civilians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Ottoman soldiers. Kharpert, Ottoman Empire, April 1915. By anonymous German traveler, via Wikimedia Commons

Armenian civilians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Ottoman soldiers. Kharpert, Ottoman Empire, April 1915. By anonymous German traveler, via Wikimedia Commons

By Marieke Zoodsma 


The Dutch municipal elections are coming up this week and so, for the last couple of weeks, the various Dutch national and local political parties have been particularly active. In the run-up to the elections, politicians are always keen on getting as much media attention as possible, and so resolutions on pressing issues are last-minute accepted and political promises are made. Another political tactic is the making (and breaking) of alliances between political parties. The election contest in Rotterdam, for instance, “has been an energetic mix of soap opera, pantomime and farce”. The lead candidate for the PVV was sacked after just one day (after being unmasked as an extreme-right supporter) while other right-wing parties are forming pacts in the second largest city of the Netherlands.


In Amsterdam, left-wing parties are actually breaking their pacts to cooperate in a coalition. The reason? “De kwestie van de
Armeense genocide” or “the matter of the Armenian genocide”, a euphemism used by Dutch politicians who do not want to name the mass murder of approximately 1 million Armenians in 1915 a genocide. The Armenian genocide was the systematic annihilation of the Armenian population by the Ottoman government during and after the First World War. It were these events in particular that moved Raphael Lemkin to legally define premeditated exterminations and coin the term genocide in 1943 (for more information on the definition of genocide, see my previous article on the genocide convention). The Turkish government does not recognize these atrocities as genocide, their argument; the killing happened during a civil war, casualties fell on both side of the conflict, and the number of Armenian deaths is overstated. Calling it the Armenian genocide is punishable under Turkish law.


As the ‘world capital of international justice’, the Dutch parliament decided in February this year to set an example and recognize the Armenian genocide, pledging itself to attend the commemoration once every five years. So, what is the problem in Amsterdam? Earlier, Tunahan Kuzu, national leading candidate for DENK (a progressive left-wing party founded by Turkish Dutch MPs who had left the Labour Party), proclaimed on Turkish television that by recognizing the genocide, the Dutch government “is pulling a stunt and playing the sympathy card in the run-up to the municipal elections”. According to Kuzu, candidate council-members all over the Netherlands will have to give their stance on ‘the matter of the Armenian genocide’ since the candidates “now no longer can hide”. Kuzu adds: “Recognition of something like this is completely unacceptable to us”. Different left-wing parties in Amsterdam, led by the Dutch Green Party (GroenLinks), responded by excluding any possible cooperation with DENK. DENK Amsterdam is outraged, directly targeting GroenLinks: “You name diversity and inclusion as one of your main standpoints, but you exclude New-West’s number 1 party?”.


So here is how the Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide becomes mixed up with Amsterdam municipal elections. As I have written before, denial comes in many shapes and forms. But the state denial of the Armenian genocide by Turkey goes far beyond simply not using a specific word. Investigative journalists and scholars have been known to be threatened by state police, politicians in many countries were told there would be “strong retaliation” if they would recognize it as such, and there has been a costly lobbying campaign in Washington to avoid the US government from using ‘the g-word’. Not to mention the crippling impact the Turkish denial has on Armenia as a country, its economics, and foreign policy – see here for more information on the non-existent diplomatic relations between Armenia and its powerful neighbor Turkey.


The evidence that the events in 1915 must be considered a genocide is overwhelming. Denying is a mere political act that will continue to feed the cycle of suffering for the Armenian population: they are suffering from what happened back then in 1915 and they are now suffering from their useless attempt to attain recognition for it.* That Kuzu found it necessary to respond to the Dutch parliament’s recognition of the Armenian genocide on Turkish television is, obviously, his own choice and opinion. The consequences that he and his party might suffer from his poor choice of words should then, however, not come as a surprise to them. Is it not quite ironic that DENK is questioning the inclusiveness of other parties, while they are excluding all those who think differently about one of the first and largest genocides in the 20th century?


In a little over a month, on the 24th of April, it will be 103 years ago that the Armenian genocide took place. Let us honor the approximately 1 million Armenians who lost their lives, and stop euphemistically calling it “the matter of the Armenian genocide”.

 

* I highly recommend watching the TV-documentary Bloedbroeders (Blood Brothers), broadcasted on Dutch television in 2015 but still extremely topical and available online (however, unfortunately only available in Dutch). It consists of six episodes in which two Dutch journalists of mixed descent (one of Turkish and one of Armenian descent) travel through Turkey to Armenia in search of answers; ‘was the mass murder of 800.000 Armenians a genocide and can Turkey be held responsible?’, as well as; ‘what happened to the ancestors of the two presenters during this period?’. It is one of the best and poignant Dutch TV-series made in years.

A Papal Apology: the cultural context of a public apology

From the Sister Annette Potvin fonds, PR2010.0475/1
From the Sister Annette Potvin fonds, PR2010.0475/1, Provincial Archives of Alberta

Students at Blue Quills Residential School, Alberta, Canada, 1940. From the Sister Annette Potvin fonds, PR2010.0475/1, Provincial Archives of Alberta

 

By Marieke Zoodsma –

 

Not only President Trump took the opportunity of the G7 summit in Italy to meet the highest leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, also met with the pontiff in the Vatican last week where they, according to the Vatican Press Office, talked about themes of integration and reconciliation. That the pope and the Canadian PM discuss such topics during a meeting is not coincidental: the Catholic Church played an important role in the Canadian residential school system that abused indigenous children for over a century. The legacy of this residential school system is one of the major obstacles for reconciliation between Canada and its Indigenous communities. Thus, as part of moving forward in the reconciliation process, Trudeau came to Vatican to ask for one thing: an official apology from the Catholic Church.

 

The Canadian residential schools were part of the Indian Act, set up by the Canadian government in the 1880s, and mandated education for indigenous children. This education would take place in boarding schools, away from the children’s homes, and would subject them to forced conversion and abuse. The system was based on the assumption that indigenous spirituality and communities were inferior and unequal, captured in the infamous phrase “to kill the Indian in the child” – a policy that has been argued to constitute cultural genocide. The last residential school closed in 1996.

 

These schools were often set up in partnership with the Church. In the 1930s, some 80 residential schools were operating across the country, of which 44 were run by Roman Catholics, 21 by the Church of England (now the Anglican Church of Canada), 13 by the United Church of Canada, and 2 by Presbyterians. The crucial role of the Church in this schooling system has been thoroughly examined by the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where one of the most important outcomes was that a formal papal apology is necessary for genuine reconciliation to move forward (TRC Report – Call to Action paragraph 58). Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially apologized in name of the Canadian government in 2008. From the 1990s onwards, the Anglican, Presbyterian and United churches have issued, through a moderate who spoke for the whole Church, a formal apology. One article on the matter of the papal apology read: “Formal apologies have also been made by the Anglican, Presbyterian and United churches, which also ran some of the schools. The previous pontiff, Pope Benedict, met with survivor of the system Phil Fontaine in 2009, but did not formally apologize. Instead, he shared his ‘sorrow’ and ‘sympathy’.”

 

This is where the interesting twist lies: what does it exactly mean to formally, officially and publicly apologize? Are there certain rules that it should abide by, and are these universally accepted? Many scholars argue that a ‘correct’ apology should consist of several factors: an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, the acceptance of responsibility, an expression of remorse, the promise of non-repetition, and the apology needs to be sincere. However, this assumes a check-list approach to political apologies – an approach that can be seen to decontextualize the phenomenon. An apology is a social performance that is aimed to restore a temporarily broken relationship – in the case of political apologies that between the perpetrator state and the victims –, a relationship that is broken through the violation of a shared moral code. This shared moral code (the norms and values of a culture), the social relationship (intergroup contact) that is violated, and the social performance (an apology) are all culturally and situationally grounded concepts. In other words: whether or not an apology can be – or is – successful, depends on the cultural context. Is it even possible for a head of state to sincerely apologize, and what form does this take within different communities? What is the framing of the apology; who is the spokesperson (actor), what is the setting (stage), what are the exact words used (content)?

 

It is intriguing that one of the most powerful and famous apologies that has been offered in our so-called age of apology does not contain any words: the genuflection of the German Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1970. The Kniefall of the German chancellor at the memorial for the Jewish Uprising in Warsaw was the first symbolic public representation of German guilt and opened the way for new forms of collective remembrance. It was a gestural social performance that expressed a feeling of remorse, repentance, and acknowledged Germany’s past as a perpetrator. Our guest writer Renate Vink argued in her article: “… what the Warschauer Kniefall teaches is that we cannot simply dismiss the value and potential of such gestures or apologies by merely looking at our current (political) circumstances”. To understand the salient impact of the Kniefall, the cultural meaning attributed to this non-verbal performance needs to be taken into account. Such a gesture might not work in a different situation, with different actors, and in a different culture.

 

The report of the TRC reads: “An official apology constitutes a public admission that acceptable societal norms and values have been violated and that, as a result, civic trust has been broken.” An acknowledgment of past suffering by the highest leader of the Catholic church can be an important driving force for reconciliation on a social and cultural level – once offered to meet the criteria of the Indigenous culture. It is therefore that Trudeau specifically asked the pope to come to Canada to offer his apology in name of the church. Indigenous people document their histories through oral-based tradition, including the official recording of apologies made in order to rectify suffering. If the Vatican is honest and willing to transform its relationship with Canada’s indigenous people and to come to terms with the dark pages of its past, the church must understand and respect the Indigenous people’s own concepts of reconciliation.

 

Film Review: A Good Wife – The Family Life of a War Criminal

Film poster to A Good Wife (Dobra Zena)

 

Film poster to A Good Wife (Dobra Zena)

Film poster to A Good Wife (Dobra Zena)


By Koen Kluessien and Marieke Zoodsma 

 

Perhaps one of the most disturbing (moving) images from the wars in the former Yugoslavia are those shot on the so-called Scorpion Tape. The tape is named after the paramilitary unit that produced the video, Škorpioni – who curiously named themselves after their favorite weapon, the Škorpion vz. 61 machine pistol. The Scorpions, founded in 1991, were a Serbian nationalist paramilitary group consisting of several hundred armed groups who were involved in multiple combat operations during the wars. The full-length 2-hour tape depicts the activities of the unit between 1994 and 1995, with the Trnovo murders in July 1995 as its disturbing climax. It shows how members of the unit transport six Bosniak men who were captured after the fall of Srebrenica, physically and mentally abuse them, and finally execute them. In Serbia, where a culture of denial about (Serbia’s involvement in) the war crimes is widespread, the video caused huge commotion after it was made public in 2005 during the trial of Slobodan Milošević, leading to several arrests of those Scorpion members captured on the tape.


So, one might ask, who kept the tape for all these years? Who knew about its existence and why did that person come forward with it after ten years? A Good Wife (Dobra Zena)
, one of the featured films of the Movies that Matter Film Festival 2016 and now On Tour, questions such as these are cleverly intertwined in the storyline. The film shows the family life of one of the members of the Scorpion unit, several years after the war. It is reminiscent of the ordinary life of a mobster that is told in the HBO series The Sopranos, in which the story focuses on the criminal activity of mafioso Tony Soprano but primarily aims to depict the everyday life of his family. This is also the aim of A Good Wife: instead of outlining the life of Serbian paramilitary Vlado (who even has an uncanny resemblance to Tony Soprano: fat, slightly balding, and with an appearance that breathes authority) it focuses on his wife Milena. The film asks the question what the family members of a paramilitary – or a mobster for that matter – know, and more importantly, want to know.


According to sociologist Stanley Cohen, this paradox of both knowing and not-knowing lies at the heart of the concept of denial (read here Marieke’s article on current day examples of denial and Koen’s article on genocide denial by Serbian politicians). Denial is intrinsically partial as some information is always registered. What is important is what one does with that information. Milena knows her husband was in the military during the war and we see her watching the news about the aftermath of the mass atrocities committed by Serbian units. However, she does not ask him any questions, not even when she sees him getting heavily agitated after watching a human rights activist comment on the war crimes on the television. She has a suspicion but does not have an “enquiring mind”, as Stanley Cohen would call it.


Alienation and demonization are often heard reactions to distance oneself from the cruel actions of perpetrators of mass atrocities. It is easier to see perpetrators of mass violence as intrinsically evil people. They can thereby remain the so-called “Other”; something that stands so far from us that we do not truly have to understand it. A Good Wife excellently depicts the opposite. It provides the audience with a unique insight into the ordinary life of a war criminal, when the violence is over and life turns back to “normal”. Yes, Vlado is easily annoyed, has a bad relationship with his eldest (progressive) daughter, and is still an overt believer of the nationalist Serbian cause – but furthermore comes across as the average husband. We see him buying jewelry for Milena’s birthday, sitting at the head of the dinner table, and going out together with friends. As the film progresses, however, coping techniques cannot hold back his lingering trauma and it starts to affect his family life.


The key scene in the storyline of A Good Wife is the moment when Milena finds a copy of the Scorpion tape in one of her husband’s drawers. Unaware of what the tape actually contains, she turns it on and sees her husband and his comrades commit the above-described crimes. Heavily upset she turns it off. The leading question of the film remains, now that she cannot deny the involvement of her husband in these crimes, what will she do with the evidence?

 

The actual Scorpion tape was found by Nataša Kandić, a human rights activist from Belgrade, who tracked down one of the Scorpion members that was in possession of the tape. There had been twenty copies, but when Slobodan Medić Boca (the commander of the Scorpions) realized that the images could be used against him, he ordered the destruction of the footage. However, one Scorpion who was not present at the executions and did not have good relations with his former comrades made an extra copy and hid it in Bosnia. On the same day, the tape was sent to the Special Prosecutor for War Crimes in Belgrade and to the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICTY. When the video was played in Serbia, it was the first time Serbia was confronted with a crime committed by Serb forces in Bosnia.

 

Serbian politicians later acknowledged the crime. At that point it seemed like the Serbian “state of denial” was about to change and Serbians would be ready to deal with their past. Indeed, many people still give credit to the tape for “sending shockwaves through society”. Unfortunately, the truth is slightly different. Quickly the discourse changed back to usual statements showing the unwillingness to confront the past. The taped killings were relativized by pointing out crimes committed against Serbs that were still unpunished. When asked why the video had not had more effect, Dejan Anastasijević, a journalist for the newspaper Vreme, responded: “Public opinion [has been] cemented by now – it’s been 10 years. All I can say is that the capability of the human mind of refusing to face unpleasant facts keeps on amazing me”.

 

A Good Wife depicts the family life of a war criminal as if they were your neighbors. Hopefully, it will also prove to be not only a thought provoking film filled with well-written symbolism and moving actors but also a step forward in taking down the wall of denial in Serbia.

 

 

Different Shades of Denial: are the White House and the German far right relativizing the Holocaust?

Auschwitz II-Birkenau, November 2016. Picture by Marieke Zoodsma
Auschwitz II-Birkenau, November 2016. Picture by Marieke Zoodsma

Auschwitz II-Birkenau, November 2016. Picture by Marieke Zoodsma

By Marieke Zoodsma

 

January is an important month for those involved in Holocaust remembrance; the 27th of January, the day that Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by the Red Army, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a month in which events are organised that involve Holocaust remembrance or topics related to the crimes of the Nazi regime, such as the Nooit Meer Auschwitz lecture in Amsterdam. It is also a month in which politicians engage in public statements regarding (the commemoration of) the Holocaust and the Second World War. However, it is also in the realm of politics where genocide, be it the Holocaust or any other, can become a dangerously fluid, unclear and undefined concept. Lobbyists, activists, and politicians from all different sides of the political spectrum use the term for their own agenda, thereby often (wilfully?) misinterpreting the facts. I will point out two examples.


At a speech in Dresden
on the 17th of January, Björn Höcke, a politician from the German right-wing Alternative for Germany party (AfD), labelled the Berlin Holocaust memorial a ‘monument of shame’. Höcke, a former history teacher, said; “Until now, our mental state continues to be that of a totally defeated people. We Germans are the only people in the world that have planted a monument of shame in the heart of their capital.”. General outrage from within as well as outside Germany followed as Höcke was being condemned for his statement as being anti-Semitic and a demagogue. One way or another, it is highly questionable if a political figure should engage in such inflammatory comments on (the remembrance of) a not-so-long-ago history. Perhaps his political agenda guided him otherwise.


The United States White House commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day with a statement. The statement reads: “It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust. It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”. Here too the statement was followed by astonishment since it did not include Jews, Judaism or antisemitism. Jonathan Freedlander commented in The Guardian: “The Nazis were broad in their hatred, targeting Roma, gay people and disabled people, as well as socialists, communists and many others. But any full account of that period begins with the recognition that Jews were singled out for total eradication.”. According to professor Deborah Lipstadt, whose story on Holocaust denial is intriguingly depicted in the film Denial, it is a form of classic “softcore denial” of the Holocaust. According to Lipstadt, the statement is not necessarily denying the facts but it minimizes them; arguing that the Jews as a group were not particularly targeted for destruction. This way, the Holocaust is de-Judaized.


Denial comes in many shapes and forms. The deaths in a genocide can for instance be rationalized as a result of an ‘age old conflict’ (as the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić did during the Bosnian war), or the statistics can be questioned or minimized. A common form of denial, especially among lawyers and politicians, is the claim that what is going on is not genocide. It is a definitional argument of which the United States State Department employees were fully aware when they drafted a memo in May 1994 (during the Rwandan genocide) saying; “Be careful … Genocide finding could commit U.S.G. to actually ‘do something’”. Different actors can deny certain things from having happened, from individual politicians to states – such as Turkey denying the Armenian genocide.


In the described statements, Holocaust denial or not, politicians are venturing out onto a slippery slope. Where the German politician Höcke can be said to trivialize the remembrance of the Holocaust, the United States government is minimizing the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust. As with many historical events – and perhaps especially commemorations – the Holocaust is being used for political agendas. Höcke, in the face of the refugee crisis and the recent terrorist attack in Berlin, might want to construct the image of a unified glorious German people to build on a better and brighter future instead of a defeated people with a shameful past. The motives for the United States might be focussed on combating the Jews “special pleading” over the Holocaust.


The sociologist Stanley Cohen offers an interesting perspective in his influential work States of Denial (2001). Trying to answer the question “how could people simultaneously know and not know about certain matters?”, Cohen argues that there seem to be “states of mind, or even whole cultures, in which we know and we don’t know at the same time”. The language that was being used during the extermination process is hereby an important aspect. The euphemisms, or language rules, that were deployed in the extermination process made it possible to deny what was actually happening; “the victims of Nazi atrocities were ‘deported’ to ‘work camps’ for ‘special actions’”. The meaning of the Holocaust is hereby simultaneously literally denied and one can thus claim it did not happen – during but also afterwards the genocide itself.


These language rules that are being used to literally deny and thereby reject the actual meaning of the Holocaust sound awkwardly reminiscent to the “alternative facts” (“falsehoods”, or in other words: denying the truth) of the new Trump administration. And we venture out further on that slippery slope…