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Human Rights, Memorialization and Nationalism

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - HRMN (Human Rights, Memorialization and Nationalism)

Reporting period: 2017-09-01 to 2019-08-31

In my Marie Curie project, I applied historical sociological methods and the knowledge from the sociology of ideologies to better understand human rights and its outcomes on the ground. I have focussed on the ways in which memorialisation processes are understood in post-conflict and in-conflict settings and how those processes affect, and are affected by human rights and nationalism. Based on ethnographic evidence from the Western Balkans (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia) and Israel and Palestine, I present three main conclusions. First, states with a difficult past perceive the external “colonising” of human rights as a threat which, contrary to expectations in literature and policy discourses, gives legitimacy to their nationalist feelings, where these sentiments are viewed as an oppressed, authentic, autochthonic truth that is under attack. This, I show, can partially explain the rise of nationalist sentiments across the globe. Secondly, I show that both micro-solidarity and human rights infrastructures are eminently temporal, and though they often make short-term transformations, they are liable to hijacking by the nation-state, which can easily harvest and transform the micro-solidarity of human rights into nationalist-centred sentiments. Thirdly, I demonstrated how the normative framework of human rights obscures processes of depolitization, decontextualization and dehistorization of particular social agents, showing that the normative framework produces not only new boundaries of inclusion and exclusion, but also fuels corruption, and perpetuates hierarchical and often colonial structures that are already in place. As a result, I argue, mandating memory in the name of human rights does not end up in a better appreciation of human rights, but instead is often destabilising, potentially adding fuel to the very same nationalist fires that it is supposed to extinguish.
"In January 2019 I completed my book manuscript: “The Past Can’t Heal us! The Dangers of Mandating Memory in the Name of Human Rights”. I have been offered a book contract by Edinburgh University Press which I haven’t sign yet because I am waiting for the final decision from Cambridge University Press. One review came back and was very positive and I am currently waiting for the series editors’ reviews and their final decision.
The book manuscript critically investigates the relationship between human rights and memory, suggesting that, instead of understanding human rights in a normative fashion, human rights should be treated as an ideology. Conceptualizing human rights as an ideology gives us useful theoretical and methodological tools to recognize the real impact human rights has on the ground. The book analyzes the rise of the global phenomenon of the human rights memorialization agenda, termed ‘Moral Remembrance’, and explores what happens in small societal pockets once this agenda becomes implemented on the ground. Based on the evidence from the Western Balkans and Israel/Palestine, it argues that the human rights memorialization agenda does not lead to a better appreciation of human rights but, contrary to the expected, it merely serves to strengthen divisions and leads to new forms of inequalities.


Brief Description
This book brings into question one of the most basic, embedded assumptions in human rights and transitional justice: that ""proper"" memorialization is a crucial step in establishing moral responsibility for past atrocities and human rights values in conflict and post-conflict settings. ""Proper"" memorialization is to be achieved by implementing standards prescribed by various international bodies. The book explores what happens when certain memorialization standards are mandated by an international community in the name of human rights. In an almost unified voice, human rights advocates (scholars, legal practitioners and activists) insist on the standardization of memory, arguing for its effectiveness and necessity in promoting human rights values in these settings. Standardization of memory reflects a gradual process from “duty to remember” as a moral instance, to policy-oriented “proper way to remember” as an alleged insurance policy against the repetition of crimes. This study, however, questions whether such standardization is useful in achieving ""reconciliation,"" through close analysis of the actual effects in real-life settings of attempts to mandate history in, and after, ethnic conflict, and sees it as being generally ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. The book goes against this proposition, arguing that the human rights memorialization agenda is constructed and adopted as a result of experiences based on historically-grounded events that, once transformed into policy-oriented memorialization efforts, become abstract. Those de-contextualized memorialization efforts produce, along the way, a long list of false premises that, for the reasons elaborated in the book, in the long run, end up enforcing divisions on the ground. Hence, the focus of this book is the way in which memorialization processes are understood within human rights-centered ideology and how this understanding, once it is promoted locally, affects nationalism on the ground. Based on ethnographic evidence from the Western Balkans (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia) and Israel and Palestine, I bring two main conclusions. Firstly, quite often, states with a difficult past perceive the external “colonizing” of human rights as a threat which, contrary to expectations, gives local legitimacy to their nationalist feelings which become viewed as an oppressed, authentic, autochthonic truth that is under attack. This, I show, can partially explain the rise of nationalist sentiments across the globe. Secondly, I show that human rights infrastructures are eminently temporal, and though th"
In 2017 I established an international interdisciplinary research network on Critical Thinking on Memory and Human Rights within the Memory Studies Association. I organized (with Dr Gruya Badescu and Taylor McConnell) an international conference (around 30 participants) on Critical Approaches to Human Rights and Memory, that was held on February 6-7, 2019 at the Humanities Institute, UCD, with Prof. Carol Kidron (Haifa University) as a keynote speaker. As a chair of Human Rights and Memory research group, (together with Dr Gruya Badescu and Taylor McConnell) I organized 5 panels on Critical Approaches to Human Rights at the upcoming Memory Studies Association (MSA) conference held in Madrid (25-28 June). The research network is very productive and widespread, which allows me to present my research to different academic audiences coming from a variety of disciplines and geo-political setting.
peer review journal thesis eleven