Friday, 27 May 2011

Genocide lessons for our generation

Recent posts seem to be concentrating on legal-ish issues - and here's another one: 

For someone with any sense of justice it's difficult not to suppress a sense of jubilation at the sight of  Ratko Mladic - military leader of the Bosnian Serbs in the years of civil war and ethnic cleansing - being called to account. And yet at the same time for anyone with a sense of history it is difficult not to associate  the concept of 'war crimes' with  victor's justice. But just for the moment  I'm deliberately going to set that debate aside:

In our schools the Holocaust is taught as a defining moment in our recent history - when taught well it is an opportunity to educate new generations about the fragility of 'civilisation' and 'human rights'. Rightly so - it must never be forgotten - but there are problems with using it as such a vehicle. The passage of time and the emphasis on the 'otherness' of the Nazi regime has a danger of enshrining the holocaust in a time capsule  that new generations simply can't relate to. But in the very recent history of Balkan Europe  there is a much readily understood example of what Hannah Arendt called 'the banality of evil'. The thoroughly modern racism of neighbour against neighbour ... to the backdrop of MTV, Sony Walkmans and Benetton adverts. So close to our daily lives - and yet it is so swept under the carpet.

If the trial of Mladic is to achieve anything it could be to show that ethnic hatred is not something far away - either in history books or 'developing' countries. And although I'm delighted to see a new generation learning about 'The Boy In Striped Payamas' - I'd  also like them to be reading Joe Sacco's 'Safe Area Gorazde'.

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