Periodic Reporting for period 1 - HRMN (Human Rights, Memorialization and Nationalism)
Reporting period: 2017-09-01 to 2019-08-31
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.
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 they often cause short-term transformations, they don’t offer a real alternative to the nationalist visions of collectiveness and hence are doomed to become hijacked by the nation-state that can easily harvest and transform back the micro-solidarity of human rights into nationalist sentiments. As a result, I argue, mandating memory in the name of human rights does not lead to the adoption of human rights values, but is instead a destabilizing force, potentially adding fuel to the very same nationalist fires that it is supposed to extinguish.