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The Genesis and Social Significance of Rituals and Memorials Honoring Victims of Mass Atrocities and Disasters (1/2)

Panel Chair: Herman L. Beck | Monday, August 24, 9-11 a.m.

Mass atrocities and disasters often disrupt societies leaving them behind in trauma. Only by the performance of certain rites or the erection of memorials in memory of victims it seems to be possible to heal this trauma. One of the conditions of this healing process is the victims’ feeling of satisfaction of their longings for justice and redress. In an interdisciplinary research cooperation with the International Victimology Institute Tilburg of the Tilburg Law School, the Tilburg Research Group “Ritual in Society” is focusing on the genesis and social significance of rituals and memorials honoring victims of mass atrocities. In this interdisciplinary research four perspectives will be taken: the perspective of ritual studies, the legal and political perspective, the psychological perspective and the ethical perspective. In the current upsurge of memorial sites, memorial museums, and memorial days, victims of mass violence, atrocities, genocide, slavery and colonial régimes may find their way to worldwide public recognition – or may be denied, forgotten, obliterated. An example of a ‘forgotten genocide’ (Lemarchand 2011) is that of Roma and Sinti during World War II. One presenter will explore religious ritual and symbolism of the Holocaust Memorial to Sinti and Roma in Berlin (2012), whereas another presenter focuses on the Requiem for Auschwitz by the Sinti composer Roger Moreno Rathgeb: its performance in Amsterdam in 2012 by the Frankfurt-based Sinti and Roma Philharmonic Orchestra will be compared to a new round of performances planned in the first half of 2015, to be played by ‘outsiders’. The question ‘whose’ atrocity is being commemorated is one of the contested issues surrounding another under-explored genocide, the massive extermination of the Herero people in Namibia at the start of the twentieth century. The yearly commemoration of the fallen heroes has taken an increased weight in the definition of national heritage, but here too the question is posed: what heroes are included, to the exclusion of what others? A similar case of inclusion-exclusion dynamics is found in the fourth presentation. The Mutiny Memorial in New Delhi, a cathedral-like structure originally erected by the British (1863) as a monument to those killed on the British side (including Indian soldiers in the service of the British), since 1972 explicitly includes those who had started the mutiny against the British East India Company. This mutiny had been triggered by the religiously grounded refusal to use cartridges greased with either pig’s or cow’s fat. By adding a plaque the monument’s stated enemies are now being turned into the heroes who were the first to rise against colonial rule. Finally, by expanding our topic from mass atrocities to disasters we hope to include the monument erected to commemorate the bombings in Bali (2002) as well as other case studies. Any contribution on rituals and memorials honoring victims of mass atrocities and disasters wherever in the world will be most welcome.

Martin Hoondert

A ‘Gypsy’ Requiem performed by Dutch Musicians: The Impact of Performance in Practices of Commemoration

The genocide of Roma and Sinti during World War II is one of the forgotten genocides of the 20th Century. Only recently memorials have been realized, for example the Holocaust Memorial to Sinti and Roma in Berlin (2012) and the Requiem for Auschwitz by the Sinti composer Roger Moreno Rathgeb. The premiere of this Requiem took place in May 2012, Amsterdam. The Sinti and Roma Philharmonic Orchestra from Frankfurt performed the Requiem and it was broadcasted on national TV the following day. Rathgeb composed his requiem for all the victims of Auschwitz extermination camp, but the events organized alongside the performances in seven cities in Europe focused specifically on the genocide of the Roma. In May 2015 Rathgeb’s Requiem will be performed by a choir and orchestra not of Roma and Sinti origin. It will be performed in three cities in the Netherlands, alongside an exhibition and teaching material for schools. The 2012 performance by the Sinti and Roma Philharmonic Orchestra was besides a practice of commemoration also a practice of protest: protest against violence and war, but even more protest against forgetting a specific group of victims: the Sinti and Roma. Question is how the 2015 performance will be perceived by both performers and listeners. What is the role of performers in relation to the impact of a practice of commemoration? Is there still an accent on the forgotten genocide (and the protest against forgetting), or is there a shift in function and focus? These questions will be researched by participating in rehearsals and concerts, interviews with the composer, performers and audience members.

Albertina Nugteren, Menno Janssen

Whose Atrocity? Victim Hierarchies in the Global Rush to Commemorate: The Sinti and Roma Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

In the current upsurge of memorial sites, memorial museums, and memorial days, victims of mass violence, atrocities, genocide, slavery and colonial régimes may find their way to worldwide public recognition – or may be denied, forgotten, obliterated. Victim hierarchies may thus be indicative of existing imbalances of specific groups’ access to political, socio-cultural, geographical and monetary power relations, but may also be subject to processes of retrospective recognition by the public. The complexity of the processes preceding the recent realization of Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial to Sinti and Roma (2012) is a case in point. Whereas many of the ‘forgotten genocides’ (Lemarchand 2011) took place at a safe distance from Europe – Congo, Burundi, Namibia, Tasmania, Tibet – the so-called ‘gypsy genocide’, although long ignored, today comes too close for comfort. This paper investigates the relation between victim satisfaction - that their particular case has publicly been acknowledged and that they have now acquired a ‘place of their own’ – on the one hand, and the rise of ritual culture on this central and emotionally charged spot, on the other. After ‘the process’, there now is a ‘product’: how is it perceived by local residents, tourists and visitors with a Sinti or Roma background; what ritual culture is emerging there?; what are the relations between this particular place and the many other local memorials in Germany and elsewhere, both symbolically and in terms of ritual practices? How culturally specific are the symbols used with which the site is landscaped? what inside narratives does the design refer to, and does any of such group-specific imagery speak a universally understood language as well? What criteria define that this may be perceived a ‘successful’ memorial? Rituals in memorial sites are cultural and social practices (Brosius & Hüsken 2010). Now that the monument has been realized, an examination of the complex process in which a ritual repertoire is being generated, may yield new insights into aspects of ‘ownership’, visibility, narrativity, healing, and the dynamics of remembering and intended ‘forgetting’ (Augé 1998).

Walter van Beek

A Contested Ritual of Unity: The Herero Red Flag Day (Namibia)

If anything has reconstituted the Herero of Namibia as a selfconfident and distinct cultural group, after the genocide by the German colonial army in 1904, it were the rituals of the Flag Days, Red, Green and White. Crucial in the history of Namibia as a young nation, after independence this yearly commemoration of the fallen heroes has taken on an increased weight in the definition of national heritage. This holds especially for Red Flag Day, the largest of the celebrations. which is linked to the National Heroes Day of Namibia On the other hand Red Flag Day has been the pivot of debates and conflicts within the Herero community, culminating in a recent court case, which has drawn a considerable national press interest. This contribution zooms in on the dynamics between a ritual of commemoration and an internal struggle for the control of these symbolic resources: what are the effects of an intense internal debate and struggle for power on the commemoration ritual as such, and vice versa how does this important 'ritual of unification' feature in the social and political dynamics of the Herero group? A film will be shown both as a means of presentation and of analysis.

Sandra Rios

Uses of Memory and Ritual in Political Resistance and Transition in Bojayá (Colombia)

Drawing on original ethnographical research, this paper analyses the role of Afro-Colombian funerary rituals and the local Catholic Church in the construction of social memory after the massacre of Bojayá in 2002. In a confrontation between Marxist guerrillas and extreme right wing paramilitary 79 civilians died in a church located on a rural village of the Pacific lowlands of Colombia. The memory of this massacre has been a field of political contention but also of grassroots resistance to persistent and diverse forms of violence. Using literature on sociology and anthropology of emotions, and sociology of religion, this paper explores how religion contributes to the management of victims’ emotions and in supporting claims of transitional justice from a grassroots perspective in a context of thin political transition and continuous violence. 


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