Historical Injustice and Democratic Transition in Eastern Asia and Northern Europe: Ghosts at the Table of Democracy
By Kenneth Christie and Robert Cribb
Summary written by Eric Brahm, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: Christie, Kenneth, and Robert Cribb, eds. 2002. Historical Injustice and Democratic Transition in Eastern Asia and Northern Europe: Ghosts at the Table of Democracy. New York: Routledge Curzon.
This volume emerged from the conference co-organized by Lund University's Centre for East and Southeast Asian Studies and the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies in Copenhagen, Denmark entitled "Remembering and Forgetting: the Political and Social Aftermath of Intense Conflict in Eastern Asia and Northern Europe." It is commendable in at least two respects: it compares countries and regions that rarely are compared and explores the legacy of past trauma in countries that often have not received much attention in the transitional justice literature. Chapters explore aspects of historical injustice in China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Finland, and the Baltic states. They share the same circumstance, namely that perpetrators retained power long after the violence and, therefore, dictated how the past was (or was not) dealt with. The collection's primary shortcoming is in that the editors do not provide much synthesis. They primarily position the inquiry within the realm of recent interest in transitional justice, but there is only a very brief, general discussion of what the individual chapters collectively add up to.
With arguably the world's greatest number of unexamined human rights violations, China receives significant attention. Jin Qiu focuses on the growth of personal accounts of experiences during the Cultural Revolution. Wu Di examines the impact of the Cultural Revolution in Inner Mongolia. Wu argues that the unexamined past continues to simmer and has contributed to continued separatist sentiment in a number of regions. Daqing Yang chronicles the changing place of the Nanjing massacre in the historical memory of China and Japan since World War II. On the Chinese side, the government largely was content to forget the past until the 1980s when it became a rallying point for nationalist sentiment. Only then did survivors' stories gain attention. In Japan, until the early 1970s, they too saw themselves as victims of the state of war. Particularly since the 1980s, veterans have increasingly been airing public testimonies of sort. Christopher Kaplonski's chapter describes Mongolia's confrontation of past repression in the Stalinist era. Only in the 1980s when political opening emerged were survivors able to begin to seek details about loved ones. Only recently, however, have Mongolians begun to confront their own responsibility for what occurred. Finally in Asia, Robert Goodfellow explores the legacy of the routing of the Communist Party in Indonesia in the mid-1960s. He does so in part by exploring personal stories of survivors in a section of Yogyakarta. Klaus H. Schreiner examines the growing interest in the past in recent years. Schreiner describes 'Lubang Buaya,' Indonesia's center for memorials from the Suharto era. He finds that the fall of Suharto has led to an overemphasis on his rise and fall as an alternative to truly confronting the past.
Moving westward, European cases focus on the Baltics and Finland. David Mendeloff examines why the Soviet Union's annexation of the Baltic states retains continued power in contemporary Russia. Through an analysis of secondary history textbooks, he argues that Russian amnesia about the period is part of a Russian needs for "positive, distinctly Russian nationalist symbols." The likely result is continued tension between Russia and Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Dovile Budryte comes at the issue from the other side, how is the memory of annexation kept alive in the Baltic states? Budryte looks at the personal stories that began to emerge in the late 1980s as political space opened up. At the same time, the newly independent states needed a foundation myth on which to found the new nation. Finally, the legacy of Finland's 1918 civil war is explored in three chapters. Risto Alapuro discusses how the lessons of the war were very different for the political left and right, with lasting consequences for Finnish political development. Ulla-Maija Peltonen focuses on survivors and their experiences during the war. Peltonen pays particular attention to women, who at the time were seen largely as mourners. To put things in broader perspective, the conservative victors dictated history until World War II, when Soviet victory and the Finnish government's alliance with the Nazis gave credibility to the left. Only in the 1960s did dialogue truly emerge and projects began to collect stories about the civil war. Mandy Lehto explores how the fact that it was civil war has made dealing with the past so difficult. The fact that former opponents must continue to live together has made for a long, ambiguous battle over history.