The Past as Monument in El Salvador

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This chapter explores conservatives’ monumentalization of the past. Yet rather than erect a physical monument, the way the right talks about the importance of remembering the past monumentalizes and petrifies it, making it irrelevant to the present and future. For the human rights community, on the other hand, the past is alive. It lives and breathes and is highly pertinent to the present for it explains and inspires. Within the human rights community’s whole hearted support of memory, and conservatives less than half-hearted mentions of memory, there is room to remember different truths of the past, and to forget them. Struggles between these distinct truths of the war dominate in post-Peace El Salvador.

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Ethnic minority communities make claims for cultural rights from states in different ways depending on how governments include them in policies and practices of accommodation or assimilation. However, institutional explanations don’t tell the whole story, as individuals and communities also protest, using emotionally compelling narratives about past wrongs to justify their claims for new rights protections. Democratization and Memories of Violence: Ethnic minority rights movements in Mexico, Turkey, and El Salvador examines how ethnic minority communities use memories of state and paramilitary violence to shame states into cooperating with minority cultural agendas such as the right to mother tongue education. Shaming and claiming is a social movement tactic that binds historic violence to contemporary citizenship. Combining theory with empirics, the book accounts for how democratization shapes citizen experiences of interest representation and how memorialization processes challenge state regimes of forgetting at local, state, and international levels. Democratization and Memories of Violence draws on six case studies in Mexico, Turkey, and El Salvador to show how memory-based narratives serve as emotionally salient leverage for marginalized communities to facilitate state consideration of minority rights agendas. This book will be of interest to postgraduates and researchers in comparative politics, development studies, sociology, international studies, peace and conflict studies and area studies.
Studying memorial practice offers a revealing vantage point into changes in attitudes towards the past and with observers referring to ‘memorial mania’ it is an opportune moment to do so. Two main lines of questioning regarding contemporary memorial practices are addressed here. The first looks at memorial functions and intentions. The second examines some of their social and political impacts. The final part of the article analyses some of the consequences of these impacts for citizenship: notions of victimhood and silencing. The main case study is the evolution of memorial practice in Spain since the Civil War (1936–39) this is set off against examples from other places. The conclusion that emerges is that predominant memorial practices are far more despotic than democratic in their injunction to recall a specific narrative of events and trying to steer a paradigm shift towards democratic memorial practices raises questions about civic rights and duties towards the past.
Despite substantial work in a variety of disciplines, substantive areas, and geographical contexts, social memory studies is a nonparadigmatic, transdisciplinary, centerless enterprise. To remedy this relative disorganization, we (re-)construct out of the diversity of work addressing social memory a useful tradition, range of working definitions, and basis for future work. We trace lineages of the enterprise, review basic definitional disputes, outline a historical approach, and review sociological theories concerning the statics and dynamics of social memory.
Professional historians tend to be ambivalent about one of the prime historical phenomena of our time: the desire to commemorate. The amount of attention given to memory (collective or not) and trauma bears witness to the fact that historians really do want to give in to that desire; the fact that they treat these subjects in a rather “positivist” way suggests that they regard it as a bit improper to do so wholeheartedly. As a result commemoration is all over the place but is never taken as seriously as it should be. This essay argues that effective commemoration should start with a question Giambattista Vico might have asked: “who are we that this could have happened?” Posing this question means relinquishing the identity-enhancing, self-celebrating stance from which we tend to commemorate “unimaginable” events. Commemorative self-exploration is a confrontation with what we don't like to be confronted with: the fact that occasionally we behave in utter contradiction to what we regard as our identity. Heterodox, “monstrous,” and therefore Gedchtnisfhig behavior comes in three varieties: things we are proud of, things we are ashamed of, and the sublime “mutations” in which we “commit” history and embark on the unimaginable. Because sublime mutations change consciousness, commemorating them confronts posterity with almost insuperable epistemological difficulties. Commemorating sublime mutations means burying them—not in the sense of “covering” them, but in the sense of “inventing” a way in which they keep on living.
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