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

Panel Chair: Herman L. Beck | Monday, August 24, 3:30-5:30 p.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.

Albertina Nugteren

History Rewritten: The Mutiny Memorial (1857) in New Delhi as a Stone Witness to Changed Perspectives

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 access to political, socio-cultural, geographical and monetary power relations, but may also be subject to processes of historical reinterpretation. Major shifts of perspectives over time have often resulted in the erasure of either the heroes or the victims of one era when a new era dawned. Yet collective memory may also opt for a third way: history may be shown as layered in stone instead of being erased completely. One striking example of this is provided by the Indian Mutiny Memorial in New Delhi. Originally erected by the British (1863) as a monument to those killed on the British side - it bears 2163 names on its base of those killed or wounded on the spot - it survived the upheavals of Partition and Independence (1947). In a city with such a layered history as Delhi, it used to be merely one of the countless landmarks of local history. However, in 1972 the Indian Government renamed it Ajitgarh (‘place of the unvanquished’ or ‘invincible fort’) and simply added a plaque stating that the ‘enemies’ mentioned on the memorial were, in fact, ‘immortal martyrs for Indian freedom’. Its stated enemies were thus turned into heroes who were the first to rise against colonial rule. This Mutiny against the British East India Company, which started with the religiously grounded refusal of cartridges greased with either pig’s or cow’s fat by the local soldiers, resulted in full-blown colonial rule. The material monument survived, and with its cathedral-like appearance on one of the city’s ridges it seems to be nothing more than one of the numerous religious buildings in a staggeringly multicultural city. But its heroes changed. This was accomplished not by radically erasing the past, but by subtle co-existence and engraved re-appropriation. History was not overwritten, it was simply rewritten in the same stone. Although this textual addition may appear as a mere footnote to an extremely bloody moment in time (which historian Amaresh Mishra rightly calls an ‘untold holocaust’, claiming around ten million people dead over a span of ten years!) I argue that from a ritual point of view the place is a strong testimony of an organically growing act of remembrance.

Anne Sokolova

From Memory To Memorialization: The Modern Funeral Rites In Russian Social And Political Context

In the last 15 years, the practice of spontaneous memorialization has appeared in Russia. Individuals or community members spontaneously gather in a certain place to commemorate people who died of unnatural causes (in a car accident, terrorist attack, plane crash or murder). As a result, a memorial or a memorial sign composed of various items (flowers, pictures, poetry, toys etc.) brought by these people appears in this place. In most cases the process of spontaneous memorialization is not triggered by the tragic incident (social trauma) itself, but rather by actions that caused this accident, if the State was involved or if the State inadequately responded to the incident. Therefore, spontaneous memorialization of social trauma can be seen as a way for society to articulate its protest or discontent with state policies. This allows us to assume the presence of an inverse relationship: spontaneous memorialization is a marker of society’s attitude towards the authorities. This has a particular significance in contemporary Russia, where the feedback channels between society and State are disrupted. The paper is dedicated to the following questions: how the different reactions of the State on social trauma trigger different "responses" of society by ways of spontaneous memorialization, and how these "responses" construct cultural memory about traumatic accidents.

Anna Yudkina

Spontaneous Shrines in Contemporary Russia: Between Tradition and Global Trends

The spontaneous public memorialization of untimely deaths and human disasters, such as the results of terrorism massacres, murders, political repressions, car accidents or other forms of societal violence, is a new and practically unstudied aspect of funeral and commemorative practices in contemporary Russia. These events can be considered as ‘potentially traumatic’ because they are unexpected, radical and unpredictable, and also because they affect the foundations of society. So, from the perspective of the experience of trauma, two very different reactions may be the result. Either the traumatic event is remembered or it is deliberately forgotten. Ironically, both reactions function to overcome the effects of traumatic experiences. We believe that both strategies are realized in the contemporary processes of memorialization. In the paper I'll present the results of 2010-2013 field work dealing with roadside memorials in Tula and Vladimir Regions, Moscow, Yaroslavl’ and a number of particular cases from another regions of Russia. Also I investigated the cases of istitualized memorialization of Beslan, Nord-Ost and Moscow Metro terrorist attacks in Moscow in 2011-2014 and in Beslan (2014).


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