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[WHRCF2020] Historical Memory: Emerging Approaches and Policies b…

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작성일20-05-13 10:29 조회486회

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Historical Memory: Emerging Approaches and Policies by Human Rights Cities



May 13th, 2020

UCLG-CSIPDHR Secretariat



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Credits: WHRCF Secretariat
 

As Han Kang wrote in her Human Acts novel, depicting the events of the Gwangju Uprising from the perspective of its participants, “Some memories never heal. Rather than fading with the passage of time, those memories become the only things that are left behind when all else is abraded. The world darkens, like electric bulbs going out one by one. I am aware that I am not a safe person”. Events like the Gwangju Massacre do indeed leave a distinct trace in the history of places, people and countries; a history they come to shape by violence and brutal repression, but also by the levels of mobilization, displays of solidarity and hopes in the near future shown by common people like the Gwangju citizens back in 1980. All in all, the story of its Uprising is similar to the one of many other cities across the world, who harbored remarkable examples of popular protest and political change throughout time.


Today, many human rights cities across the world tend to connect their own human rights policies to these episodes, as if the past was well alive in today’s human rights issues and remembrance was as key to guarantee democracy, justice or peace at the local level as any other major policy in the field. But, how do local government tend to address these events through public policy? With what purpose? And how do they connect their historical significance to their present human rights agendas? Finally, and even daring to go beyond their local nature, could we say there’s a shared, global story to tell about how cities’ look at historical memory in connection to human rights and democratization?


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Credits: Michal Jarmoluk (Pixabay) 


The history of Barcelona - a well-known human rights city who traces back its first human rights policies to the 1990s - is similar to the one of Gwangju in terms of popular mobilization in favor of rights and democracy. Only in the 20th century, the city concentrated some of Spain’s largest protests in favour of social and economic rights, as well as against Francisco Franco fascist dictatorship (1939-1975). In order to provide context to these events, Barcelona’s current municipality carried out an extensive signposting policy, which focused on recognizing the contribution of citizens and community groups to the city’s democratic struggle. Barcelona’s memorialization initiatives focused also on promoting research and debates; supported community-based initiatives; and developed thematic programs tackling issues like the memory of the city’s former jail (which was a centre of political repression during Franco dictatorship), the representation of colonialism in public space or the city’s bombing during Spain’s Civil War (1936-39). Indeed, the range of issues addressed through Barcelona’s historical memory policies reaches many themes, like the stories of popular neighbourhoods, business, migrants or women in the making of the modern city.



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Credits: Roberto Bosi (Pixabay) 


The city of Torino, as many others in Italy, celebrated the country’s Liberation Day last 25 April in rather odd circumstances. This day has a major significance for Italian democracy, as it celebrates the 1945 victory of the country’s grassroots opposition forces over fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. The Liberation Day is widely celebrated in Italy as a reminder of the need to protect democratic and social justice values at any time. Last 25 April in Italy was marked by the COVID-19 outbreak, which made it impossible to celebrate any public event due to quarantine measures. However, local governments such as that of Torino found alternative ways to hold memorialization initiatives. Under the title “Voices, Music and Stories to Not Forget”, the city organized an “online marathon” with more than 200 video, music and storytelling contents developed by more than 300 people (among which writers, sociologists, historians, actors and community groups). The city did not do it by herself, as it counted with the support of local museums, libraries, media and even civil society groups representing the country’s freedom fighters from 1945.


Historical memory at the local level goes beyond the focus on landmark events, like revolutions or mass demonstrations. In telling the stories of specific residents and groups’ contributions to these processes, it also turns history into a more human practice, closer to people’s lives. Renca, in Chile, has launched a memorialization program with the support of the National Museum on Human Rights and Historical Memory focused on women contribution to grassroots resistance against Augusto Pinochet Dictatorship (1973-1990). This program focuses on the social work led by these women, who were behind the launching of a grassroots network of solidarity and food distribution for people in need during periods of economic hardship (known as Ollas Comunes, or Common Cooking Pots). Also in Chile, the municipality of Recoleta has been among the first in the country to organize memorialization events dealing with the Occupation of Araucanía (1861 - 1883); a turning point in Chile’s history which led to the continuous repression of Mapuche people. Even though Mapuche culture is still well alive today, the events organized by Recoleta municipality - which included music shows, debates and a street parade - had a significant value in both terms of historical justice as well as of celebration of Chile’s own cultural diversity.


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Credits: Sabocean (Pixabay) 


For all of these cities, locally working on human rights comes in hand with working on historical memory, as their present human rights struggles can’t be disconnected from these decisive events of their past. As Gwangju, the city of Rosario (Argentina) is a key example of this trend. It was the world’s first local government to declare itself a “human rights city” back in 1998, and it did so by opening in the same year its “Museum on Memory”: a municipal equipment whose main goal is to “promote access to knowledge and foster research on the situation of human rights and political and social history in the city, Argentina and the whole Latin America”, in a way that is closely related to human rights violations undergone during the country’s Civic-Military Dictatorship (1976-1983).


Popular protest, grassroots organizing, neighbourhoods transformation, minorities empowermentAll these are topics addressed by these policies, most of the times after the initiative of local residents developing their own initiatives in this field much before local governments did. Seen in perspective, they are all crucial to understand why these local governments decided to locally defend human rights, but can also be seen as a source of inspiration for future generations’ own human rights struggles and action, as recalled by the same Gwangju Spirit promoted every year by the World Human Rights Cities Forum.