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JUDITH POLLMANN STUDIUM GENERALE WAGENINGEN, 25 MARCH 2014 Coping with Collective Trauma: Remembrance or Oblivion? 1.

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Presentation on theme: "JUDITH POLLMANN STUDIUM GENERALE WAGENINGEN, 25 MARCH 2014 Coping with Collective Trauma: Remembrance or Oblivion? 1."— Presentation transcript:

1 JUDITH POLLMANN STUDIUM GENERALE WAGENINGEN, 25 MARCH 2014 Coping with Collective Trauma: Remembrance or Oblivion? 1

2 EzmiSs 2

3 September Winston Churchill addresses students in Zurich: The guilty must be punished. Germany must be deprived of the power to rearm and make another aggressive war. But when all this has been done, as it will be done, as it is being done, there must be an end to retribution. There must be what Mr Gladstone many years ago called 'a blessed act of oblivion'. We must all turn our backs upon the horrors of the past. We must look to the future. We cannot afford to drag forward across the years that are to come the hatreds and revenges which have sprung from the injuries of the past. If Europe is to be saved from infinite misery, and indeed from final doom, there must be an act of faith in the European family and an act of oblivion against all the crimes and follies of the past 3

4 Churchill wanted: Instead: To turn our backs on horrors of the past Act of faith Act of oblivion Forgetting is impossible And is therefore harmful. We must remember What needs to be done after a war? 4

5 As an act of vengeance As a peacekeeping measure Popular policy instrument in Europe Amnesty Settlement of property relations Agreement to forget events ‘as if they had not occurred’ Oblivion 5

6 Is this possible? We are wired to forget most of what we do What we do remember changes over time Under the influence of those around us. And remembering is often also done collectively 6

7 But real meaning is another one: Ross Poole, ‘Enacting oblivion’, International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 22 (2009) pp ‘They do not mean that no one knows about the acts; it is rather that this knowledge is now, not merely of but also in the past; it does not bear on the present. It is history, we might say, not memory’ I.e. we do not act upon our memories. 7

8 Holocaust memorial Berlin Anne Frank ( ) Remembrance 8

9 Collective commemoration By storytelling By creating monuments Through ceremonies and rituals Through teaching and schoolbooks Through songs, films, novels, plays etc 9

10 Kiev, Museum of the Great Patriotic War, 1981 Prague, Monument for the victims of communism, 2002 From victors:To victims: Development in the 20 th century From victors to victims 10

11 And acknowledging guilt: Memorial for victims of transatlantic slave trade(2012) Nantes, France 11

12 Interest in trauma Long term impact of Holocaust experiences Willingness to engage with this pain among new generations Explanation for certain types of (collective) behaviour 12

13 Remembering pain: trauma A form of physical injury Since Sigmund Freud also: ‘long- term feeling caused by intense events, to which one feels incapable of responding’. Caused by experiences of personal loss, violence, pain – either man-made or natural Sigmund Freud ( ) 13

14 Was there trauma before Freud? 14

15 Reasons for silence Reasons to speak No one to talk to Shame Sense of responsibility and guilt Too painful New meanings to experiences Some form of gain, spiritual or material Early modern evidence: 15

16 Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Term invented about 1980 Used to describe stress caused by traumatic experiences Loss of sense of identity and control Experienced by about 9% of victims 16

17 Coping with trauma Sharing your stories with others Drawing a line between past and present. Alone or collectively 17

18 Resilience Giving it some sort of meaning E.g. seeing it as an occasion for spiritual growth Or turn it into an agenda for action 18

19 An altar stone deployed to commemorate hunger during the siege of Leiden 19

20 People in the West today Focus identity on the self more than on their group Do not expect trauma Are less religious 20

21 From individual to collective remembrance Individual memories Restoration of ‘normality’ forces oblivion Rediscovery and thematization of the past From memory to history 21

22 Can trauma be collective? Events are not ‘inherently’ traumatic for a group But they can be remembered as such Be perceived as an important part of their identity And transmitted to subsequent generations. Very much open to manipulation 22

23 Anti-Spanish propaganda in the Netherlands 23

24 What Churchill feared A repeat of what happened after WWI Humilitation and reparation demanded from the German losers Who came to believe they had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by their generals in 1918 And were so willing to follow Hitler in

25 Examples of national traumas (according to Wikipedia) Argentina: Dirty War Cambodia: Cambodian Genocide France: Loss of Alsace-Lorraine Germany: Treaty of Versailles, defeat in World War II, Berlin Wall Iraq: 2003 Invasion of Iraq Ireland: Great Famine Israel: Holocaust, Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin Japan: Black Ships, Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Netherlands: The loss of the 1974 FIFA World Cup final against Germany, Norway :2011 Norway attacks Russia Russo-Japanese War, World War I, Russian Civil War. Spain: Spanish-American War Sweden: Treaty of Fredrikshamn, Assassination of Olof Palme, M/S Estonia shipwreck, Gothenburg riots, Gothenburg discothèque fire, 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami United Kingdom: Battle of the Somme, Death of Diana, Princess of Wales United States: American Civil War, Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Assassination of John F. Kennedy, Vietnam War, September 11, 2001 attacks 25

26 Negotiating collective trauma: Advertising Truth and Reconciliation in Liberia,


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