Memory as a remedy for evil

Todorov, Tzvetan. Memory as a remedy for evil. Berg Publisher. U.K. 2010.

In his book contemporary Bulgarian historian and philosopher Tzvetan Todorov points out that “ our memory of the past become sterile if we use it to build an insurmountable wall between ourselves and evil”. He adds another very interesting statement. “ We are very quick to forget all the bad things we inflict on others in every day life, and yet we hold on to our memories of suffering for a long time”.

And so we may ask ourselves: what can we do to remedy all the wrongs of the past? Very little, if anything at all. “We can, however, take action against criminals, people from the past, in order to ensure that they do not repeat their actions and we can influence people of the future as well”, says Todorov. He adds that public statements that recognise the suffering experienced by old victims can help to sooth the pain, although it cannot bring back the dead.

Point VIII of the Letter of Peace says, “The present representatives of the institutions that have prevailed through History, certainly have no responsibility for actions which took place in the past, since they were not alive then. But, in order to promote peace, these representatives should nevertheless publicly state their regrets for past evils and injustices committed by the institutions throughout History, when it is prudent to do so. In their institutional roles they should try to compensate for the damage caused.”

Todorov refers back to the situation in South Africa in another part of the book. He talks about how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, presided over by Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, worked on collective memory. The commission’s central objective demonstrated how people who were responsible for violating human rights in South Africa should publically confess their crimes, whilst the victims receive state compensation if their testimonies could be confirmed. This meant a sense of truth and openness could be established, thereby achieving a second objective, forgiveness and the reconciliation of the population, where the white minority accept their responsibility for what happened in the past and the black and mixed race majority aims to overcome their resentment.

Is this an easy thing to do? Of course not. The case explored in the book has been applauded by many countries all over the world, but no one seems prepared to imitate its example. Are we now prepared to compensate others for our own mistakes? How can we do this?

Alfredo Fernández. Journalist.
Letter of Peace adressedd to the U.N.

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