Peace and the Politics of Memory

In societies emerging from violent conflict, victims, perpetrators and bystanders often live side by side, harbouring conflicting memories and experiences of violence. One of the most pressing questions concerns how the difficult past can be remembered without threatening the fragile peace of the present and future. This project investigates if and how commemoration impacts on the quality of peace, and aims to explain why commemoration may contribute to the making of a durable peace or the perpetuation of conflict.

In-depth and comparative studies are  conducted of memory politics in five cases: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Cyprus, Rwanda, South Africa. In order to capture the shifting and conflictual politics of memory we develop an analytical framework around four conceptual entry points: narratives, agents, sites and events, that together constitute ‘mnemonic formations’. In each of the four selected case studies key topics of memory politics are identified and their associated mnemonic formations are analysed.

Examples of such key contentious topics of memory politics are political imprisonment in the era of apartheid in South Africa, the war crime of rape in Rwanda and the Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The comparative element of the study enables us to develop a typology of mnemonic formations. We anticipate that comparisons will also generate observations at country level due to the diagnostic function of the selected mnemonic formations.

Our conceptualization of durable peace zooms in on some key characteristics that we posit are of particular importance in relation to memory politics: Durable peace is inclusive in terms of ethnicity, religion, age and gender, it is pluralist in terms of diverse societal discourses, and it embraces human dignity in terms of human rights. We will use this definition of durable peace in order to assess whether, how and why commemoration impacts on the quality of peace.

The project addresses the lack of detailed investigations into the fluid and frictional construction of commemoration in societies transitioning from war to peace, and thus makes an original contribution to the literatures of transitional justice and peacebuilding. Further, the project provides policy-relevant insights into how commemoration can function in support of peacebuilding.

The project runs 2017-2021 and is funded by The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences (5,5 Million SEK)