From the Destruction of Memory to the Destruction of People : Social Movements and their Impact on Memory, Legitimacy and Mass Violence - A Comparative Study of the West German Student Movement and the Serbian "Anti-Bureaucratic Revolution".
Abstract: Challenges to the legitimacy of established collective memory can prove so inflammatory that mass violence, ethnic cleansing and even genocide have followed in their wake. However, if few doubt that the ethno-nationalist memory wars during the 1980s collapse of Yugoslavia contributed to the real wars and ethnic cleansing witnessed in the 1990s, no previous research has been able to explain why this is so. This paper pinpoints the determinant variable and causal link between attacks on memory and subsequent mass violence (or a lack thereof). It uses a theoretical model that ties together memory, legitimacy and power to compare the cases of West Germany’s 1968 student movement and Serbia’s 1986-1989 anti-bureaucratic revolution before establishing that the level of prior state repression is one factor that determines whether memory challenges will turn violent. The paper recommends further theory building over the permeable boundary that separates state and civil society, particularly in terms of how accessible state functions are to those social movements that seek to challenge and delegitimise memory.
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