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Monday, 17 June 2019

Memory wars and war therapies in conflict resolution and peace building

With Dr. Kepa Fernandez de Larrinoa as convenor, and in collaboration with SEESOX, the BASQUE VISITING FELLOW CONFERENCE, on Memory Wars and War Therapies in Conflict Resolution and Peace Building, took place on 14 June. It gathered scholars from Oxford University (Professor Stathis Kalyvas, Lord John Alderdice), University of London (Dr. Jessie Hronešová), Queen’s University Belfast (Professor Dominic Bryan), Oxford Brookes University (Professor Jeremy MacClancy), University of Reno Nevada (Professor Joseba Zulaika) and RMIT University, Melbourne (Research Professor Hariz Halilovich). Speakers presented case studies and perspectives from Northern Ireland (Lord John Alderdice and Dominic Bryan), Bosnia-Herzegovina (Hariz Halilovich and Jessie Hronešová) and the Basque Country (Joseba Zulaika and Jeremy MacClancy). The Conference did not focus only on a comparative approach, but also on interdisciplinarity. Thus, the programme brought together anthropologists, historians and political scientists, who discussed analytical ethnographies of cultural expressions and depictions of political violence, particularly in scenarios where distinctive sociocultural communities come to be involved in the politics of supporting or rejecting the creation of new nation-States.

Three academics from Oxford University moderated the open debates. Dr. Othon Anastasakis (St. Antony’s College) chaired the first panel, on Neighbours, Criminals and Heroes: The Politics of Memory in the Post-War Balkans. Dr. Marc Mulholland (St Catherine's College) chaired the panel on Anthropologies and Psychologies of Visual Displays of Political Violence and Conflict Resolution in Northern Ireland. And Professor Tom Buchanan (Kellogg College) chaired the one on Transcending the Politics of Intimidation in the Basque Country: Political Religions and Cultural Identity in State and Counter-State Violence. Overall, the conference dealt with the politics of war remembering and forgetting, visually and verbally in processes of community healing and social reconciliation. Gladstone Professor of Government Stathis Kalyvas, from the Department of Politics and International Relations and All Souls College (Oxford University) wrapped up the Conference, speaking on theoretical issues, lexicography and analytical categories at stake while studying civil, political and religious violence in inter- and intra-State armed conflicts.

Hariz Halilovich discussed war memory as narrative. He began his presentation by distinguishing between popular memories and official memories. Then undertaking a cultural critique of the terms and stereotypes in use when studying war, nationalism and religion in the Balkans. One, for instance, was ‘balkanization’, which evokes division, fragmentation, tribalism, barbarism and backwardness. This view projected a notion of ‘endemic enemies’ endlessly engaged in a cruel interplay of primary violence. Such an understanding of inter-ethnic violence is known as ‘the ancient hatred thesis’, which happens to reproduce itself in memorials and commemorations. Halilovich pointed to two separate kinds of narrative in Bosnia-Herzegovina: on the one hand, there are the dominant nationalistic memory narratives of the war; on the other, there are the counter-memory narratives of the survivors, which he further explained as narratives of resistance. He stressed that at play in this dichotomy is a political struggle for the control of spaces and symbols conveying ‘ethnic’ meaning. In conclusion, Halilovich looked at women’s associations, whose members frame their engagement in memorials in terms of a ‘moral statement in search of justice’.

Jessie Hronešová addressed the ‘dark’ side of the politics of war memory: sex assaults on women. She focused on women in the post-war politics of victimization and analysed gender as a specific agenda in memory politics. She discussed women’s memories of pain and loss in connection with the notions of victim and perpetrator. Hronešová disclosed, firstly, an understanding of victimhood and war memory enclosed in ethno-national and gender identities and, secondly, a male-oriented politics of memory in which two concerns overwhelm: denial of crime and re-victimization. As she explained, victims are omnipresent in war remembering, particularly women, who are trapped in patriarchal society and male-coordinated warfare.

Psychiatrist Lord John Alderdice and anthropologist Professor Dominic Bryan analysed public expressions of mutually confronted political identities. Alderdice took up the topic from the realm of large group psychology. Adopting a cognitive approach, he discussed the idea of ‘fusion with a group’ and explained that, under existential pressure communities, react by community members attaching themselves to sacred emblems and highly valued causes. That is to say, instead of making decisions in terms of personal ‘cost-benefit’, individuals rather engage themselves in evoking strongly shared symbols and narratives. Alderdice approached the process of peace in Northern Ireland following a line of inquiry centred on ‘the symbolic’, particularly on public visual art. He examined urban architectures, street murals and the painting Assembly Artwork by Belfast artist Noel Murphy. He showed the existence of new discourses as well as remodelled symbols that now clearly transcend former group boundaries. Bryan too approached the issue of ethnic group and community dynamics from symbolic analysis. He examined ritual behaviour as it relates to ethnic, class, gender, religion and local identity, privileging the expression narrative over those of memory and history. He qualified them as a better means for anthropological examination and stressed that most social relationships take place as a means of avoiding conflict rather than aiming at it. Both Alderdice and Bryan underlined that social memory is better understood as group dynamics acted through artistic form, symbol display and ritual performance staged in public scenarios.

Jeremy MacClancy drew a broad picture of the war politics that the spirits of revolution and counter-revolution encompassed in Navarra during the 18th and 19th centuries. After describing the Carlist war as a peasant resistance to liberal reformation at the time of the first and second Spanish republican governments, he explained that Carlism became in Navarra the main symbol of armed resistance to social and economic modernization. Moreover, Carlism was a key political agent in the organisation of the coup d’État against the Republic in 1936 and violent repression during the Civil War. However, during the later years of Franco’s fascist regime a significant amount of Basque Carlists embraced socialism and some took up arms to fight against dictatorship.

Finally, Joseba Zulaika explored ETA’s politics of terror from inside cultural anthropology. First, departing from anthropologist James Frazer, he drew attention to a dual identity inherent in the self of the Basque terrorist: they have been both priest and murderer; they have been both hero and criminal. Second, after looking at Basque terrorism through the lens of Homeric epic, he drew attention to the notion of tragic error, which he suggested be taken into consideration vis á vis dominant literary narratives such as that deployed in Fernando Aranburu’s best seller Patria. Third, he went into the issue of writing on political violence and crime when the writer is witness and ethnographer at the same time. Finally, Zulaika considered the relevance of contemporary rituals of reconciliation and the current social and political attempts to overcome collective trauma. He discussed political violence in the Basque Country as manifestations of culturally unconscious understandings of the collective self, understandings that have demarcated clear-cut boundaries between our/their human-less and their/our human-ness.

In summary, this was a Conference on the politics of collective crime and glory, of punishment and myth and epic, and of pain and healing in the making and unmaking of contested European nation-States.

Kepa Fernandez de Larrinoa (Basque Visiting Fellow, 2019)

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