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Democratic Rhetoric and The Duty of Deliberation, Vol. 8 - 2001, No. 3

Politics of Memory. On Treatments of Hate

, pages: 9-22

The management of memory in the public sphere has followed historically, in democracies, three radically heterogeneous models which, in turn, have affected the way in which citizens are allowed or refused access to critical moments of "parole publique." The first model concerns the first known procedure amnesty, a decree taken in Athens in 403BC, following the tyranny of the Thirty and a civil war. A decree of amnesia-amnesty, the Athenian imperative of "I would not remember" goes against everything which we today regard as the duty of memory within the sphere of public deliberation. The second model is offered, in today South Africa and following the collapse of apartheid, by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Here amnesty opposes amnesia as a duty is placed on perpetrators to engage, by way of public rituals of narration, a non-criminal judicial process of "full disclosure". The third model is a procedure in use in most contemporary democracies in the management of sensitive archives (the case studied here is that of French laws regulating access files regarding World War Two and the Purge period in particular). These three models help shed light on certain relations between politics, discursive practice and deliberation, and enable us gain insights into the ways in which truth and deliberative politics are linked. The Athenian amnesia on civil war, and its duty of silence, and the South African full disclosure on a quasi civil war, with its duty of narration, fall on the same side of a divide, that of a memory politically alive, while the French memory-archive regarding collaboration, another form of civil war, relies entirely on a written treatment of documents that aim to de-politicize memory. All three models carry different implications for what we consider "parole publique" in a democracy and how private citizens, not experts, can or cannot engage the public past, in order to make informed choices regarding the common good.

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