Posts tagged with: genocide

The Acton Institute is currently hosting an art exhibit called “Holodomor: Through the Eyes of a Child” in our Prince-Broekhuizen Gallery at the Acton Building. It features artworks created by contemporary Ukrainian children commemorating the great famine of the 1930s that was inflicted upon Ukraine by Stalin, resulting in the deaths of almost 7 million people by starvation.

The exhibit is the brainchild of Luba Markewycz, whose aim is to shed light on this largely unknown chapter of Ukrainian history and expose the tyranny and inhumanity of Stalin’s Communist regime. On November 6th, Markewycz – who is a teacher by profession, and has served in many roles at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art in Chicago – was joined by Acton’s Director of Research Samuel Gregg to discuss the exhibit and to shed light on the terrible historical events that it commemorates.

Ukraine-Memorial-Holodomor

Holodomor Memorial in Kyiv, Ukraine

Seventy years ago this November, a new word entered the lexicon which would contextualize and put a name to the mass killings of minority groups that had gone on for centuries: genocide.

The Polish-Jewish lawyer who coined the word, Raphael Lemkin, used it for the first time in his book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, published in November 1944. Lemkin had been deeply troubled with mass killing and the lack of legal framework for adjudication of its perpetrators from a young age. He found it appalling that in the name of “state sovereignty” a leader was effectively able to kill his own citizens, without punishment under the law.

Lemkin’s coining of the word was followed by a relentless, single-handed effort to lobby diplomats, heads of states, and then the newly formed United Nations to create a law which would make illegal this recently named crime against humanity. Lemkin’s efforts were eventually rewarded when on December 9, 1948 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed into law the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

History reveals many “crimes against humanity” which preceded this development in international law. The current U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, notes a few of these in her book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.

And there are still many other largely unknown genocides that deserve our recognition. One of these will be covered in an upcoming Acton Institute art and lecture event on Thursday, November 6: “The Famine Remembered: Lessons from Ukraine’s Holodomor and Soviet Communism.”

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Mosher bookSteven W. Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, has written a book that is brutally truthful and brutally hard to read. It should be: it’s about the most brutal of government policies, China’s one-child policy.

Written in the first person, Mosher writes as “Chi An,” a young woman he first met in 1980. While he has changed certain facts and names in order to protect the woman he gives voice to, the story of her life in China is intimately true.

Chi An’s life begins in 1949 or so – because she was a girl, there was no celebration of her birth, and her mother did not bother to note the exact date. She grew up with two brothers, enjoying a loving childhood with a father who doted on her. Her professor-father shielded his family from the most difficult issues of the time: the gradual disintegration of liberty under the rising Communist regime. With her father’s untimely death, the family struggles to survive, nearly starving to death in the early 1960s, due to harsh government control of food distribution.

Chi An decided to go into nursing, and at the age of 16, performed her first abortion. It would be the first of countless abortions she would perform.

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Lemkin

Raphael Lemkin

Today marks the 54th year since the passing of one of the world’s most influential international human rights lawyers. Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term ‘genocide’, made the crime illegal under international law, and possessed an almost prophetic sense of the atrocities that would occur under Nazi tyranny in World War II, died a largely unnoticed man. Only seven people attended his funeral, and to this day, many have not heard of Lemkin or the great contributions credited to his name.

The following account of Lemkin’s life and work is largely drawn from “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, the 2002 book by Samantha Power. Power was named U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations on August 2nd.

Early Insights

Born in 1900 to a large Jewish family in the village of Bezwodene, Poland (now near Volkovysk, Belarus), Lemkin became conscious of crimes against religious and minority groups at a young age. At the age of 12, he read the book, Quo Vadis, which recounts the Roman Emperor Nero’s massacres of Christian converts in the first century.

Lemkin learned about the Ottoman Empire’s extermination of its Armenian minority in 1915, and the 1920 assassination of Mehmet Talaat, the architect of the genocide. While studying linguistics at the University of Lvov, he asked one of his professors why the Armenians did not arrest Talaat instead. The professor said there was no law under which he could be arrested. “Consider the case of the farmer who owns a flock of chickens,” he said. “He kills them and this is his business. If you interfere, you are trespassing.” Lemkin was deeply troubled by this response and the idea that “state sovereignty” effectively permitted leaders to exterminate entire minority groups. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Monday, December 21, 2009
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I saw the latest blockbuster Avatar last night, and the early plaudits are true: this is a visually stunning masterpiece of “hybrid” cinematography, a “full live-action shoot in combination with computer-generated characters and live environments.”

But there are other, less compelling ways, in which Avatar is a hybrid of sorts. There are literal hybrids in the Avatars themselves, the genetically-altered bodies combining both elements of Na’vi and human genes to act as bodies for the Avatar “sleep walkers.” Other commentators have noted the lack of originality in the plot. Indeed, Avatar’s narrative seems to be a combination of other films and stories, and Avatar‘s only original contribution is the setting on the planet Pandora. In one sense, you could think of Avatar as The Mission set on an alien planet and with scientists instead of Jesuits.

Another film worthy of comparison to Avatar is last year’s CGI masterpiece, WALL-E, as both tread some of the same territory, so to speak. In both films humans have laid waste to the Earth, which is no longer capable of supporting a viable ecosystem. WALL-E spends a great deal of time set on the damaged planet, but Avatar only makes vague references to the “dead” planet where there is no green, and that the humans, the sky people, have killed their mother (Mother Earth).

It’s here that Avatar‘s message stumbles the most. Whereas in WALL-E responsible stewardship of the world was set within a compelling criticism of consumerism and waste, it is emotionally powerful without being sentimental, preachy, or clichéd. Avatar misses this kind of nuance. It plays on the worst stereotypes Westerners have about native and indigenous peoples to present a naive portrayal of the Na’vi, the alien inhabitants of Pandora.

In WALL-E, when humans use up the Earth, they essentially gorge and pleasure themselves in space, passively waiting to return to home one day. In Avatar, humans maraud other innocent worlds, looking for other ecosystems to kill. Now as Bill Easterly points out, this alone shouldn’t be enough to raise the ire of conservative critics against Avatar.

There is much that rings true in the film’s depiction of human greed and disregard for those considered to be “other.” As Easterly writes in another context, “those of us of Euro-American heritage would be a lot more convincing on Individual Rights by acknowledging that we have had as much trouble applying them as anybody else. We were pioneers in applying them to our own ethnic group, but we kept handing out free passes to kill other people’s rights.” This is one of the core messages of Avatar that is right on, and pundits and commentators on all sides of the political debate should be able to see this.

So it isn’t in its critique of genodice or murder that Avatar fails, but rather in its tone, its caricature rather than prophetic depiction of the human condition (war-mongering Marines come off especially flat and unconvincing). As an indictment of a kind of space colonialism, Avatar functions well, sometimes reaching a meaningful level of authentic rebuke. As a screed against the favorite peeves of the radical environmentalists and a paean to the neo-pagan deity, however, Avatar falls flat.

Blog author: tabitha.blanski
Thursday, December 17, 2009
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My Acton commentary this week looks at As We Forgive, a moving documentary about reconciliation and forgiveness in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. As I reflected on forgiveness in my own life, my thoughts fell on a dear friend who died very young and my feelings towards the man who took his life.

The full commentary follows:

Two and a half years ago I lost my good friend, Tim. He had just reenlisted for his second term in the Army after having already served once in Iraq. On a late summer evening, while stationed on his base in Washington, a fight broke out. Tim tried to break it up and was stabbed in the neck by a fellow solider. He died shortly afterward at the hospital. Tim was 22. I haven’t ever thought much about the young man who took his life. And if I had the opportunity to meet him, I can’t think of any reason that I would. Tim’s killer is locked behind bars for the rest of his life, and for all intents and purposes justice has been served. For me it’s easier to forget that he still lives while my friend is dead.

For many in the small African country of Rwanda, however, it’s not easy to forget about death. Just over a year ago, I traveled with the Acton Institute to Rwanda in preparation for a new project on poverty. Although we were there primarily talking to entrepreneurs about wealth and poverty, it was impossible not to have questions about the 1994 genocide. In less than 100 days, nearly one million people were murdered and tens of thousands were responsible for these deaths. Flying into the country with that knowledge, a mere 14 years later, I didn’t know what to expect. I was anxious and unsettled, the same sort of tension that I felt while visiting Tim’s body at the funeral home. The weight of death stood in stark contrast to such a vibrant culture. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
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main-book1Catherine Claire Larson’s book As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda is an exploration of forgiveness and reconciliation in the years following the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Fifteen years ago this month, a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down on a return trip from Tanzania, sparking widespread ethnic violence across the country. By the time the civil war was declared over on July 18, 1994, between 800,000 and 1 million Rwandans had been killed.

As We Forgive tells the tale of the war through the lives of seven survivors of the genocide. “Rwanda’s wounds,” writes Larson, “are agonizingly deep. Today, they are being opened afresh as tens of thousands of killers are released from prison to return to the hills where they hunted down and killed former neighbors, friends, and classmates.” Larson’s book is a study in the personal experiences of both the perpetrators and the victims who are seeking some way to live together after such a troubled past.

Through these individual stories Larson places the reader in the recent history of Rwandan society. She writes, “One of the most haunting things about living in Rwanda after the genocide is that killers still walk among survivors.” After the commission of such unspeakable evil, how can a society survive and prosper?

The need for forgiveness is deeply personal. Many of the killers have come to regret their actions, whether soon after the deeds were done or only after years of imprisonment and reflection. But in order for reconciliation to be achieved, both the offender and the victim must seek it. A traditional system of retributive justice, in which the evil committed is simply countered by punishment, lacks many of the tools necessary to bring both parties together.

In this sense As We Forgive is a book about the practice of a different form of justice. “Restorative justice,” writes Larson, “is a process in which victim, offender, and community are involved in dialogue, mutual agreement, empathy, and the taking of responsibility. In contrast to retributive justice, restorative justice focuses on balancing harm done by the offender with making things right to the victim, and on restoring human flourishing.”

But the important thing to note is that restorative justice is not simply about changing the institutional application of criminal justice. Many of the most critical aspects of processes of restorative justice are not achieved by courts, prisons, or police. Indeed, as Larson writes, “there are ways to infuse restorative elements into already established systems or to offer such programs on a voluntary community-wide level.” Larson explores the establishment of these systems and their influence in the lives of Rwanda’s victims, especially from a perspective that emphasizes the Christian doctrine of forgiveness.

Many of the most effective organizations working toward reconciliation in Rwanda do so out of specifically Christian convictions about the nature of sin, repentance, and forgiveness. The title of the book is taken from the petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12).

One particular case in which this aspect of the book comes through is in the story of Claude. He was a thirteen year-old boy in 1994, when a grenade woke him from sleep and tore his world apart. Years after the end of the genocide, Claude held on hatred and lust for vengeance against those who had mutilated, hunted, and killed his family. Even while he was in school, Claude joined a group called the Survivors Club, which was intended to bring students together to share stories of their survival. But for Claude, “These tales only fanned the embers of something that had begun to burn deep within him and haunt his waking and his sleeping: revenge.”

It wasn’t until Claude became part of a different group, called Solace, that his perspective began to be transformed. “Like the Survivors Club at his school, this was a gathering of Tutsi who had managed to survive the genocide,” writes Larson. “The people who gathered were mainly divided into two groups: widows and orphans. But unlike the Survivors Club, this group sought consolation not simply from each other, but from God. Claude found that this wasn’t like being a member of an organization or society. Solace was like family to him.”

Interspersed between the seven stories of reconciliation in Rwanda are short reflective chapters that apply the moral and spiritual lessons to a North American context. Each one of us knows what it is like both to be wronged and to commit wrong against another. And therefore each one of us knows what it is like to need to forgive or to need forgiveness. While many of the wrongs we experience pale in comparison to the grisly crimes committed in those 100 days of horror fifteen years ago, these exceptional evils prove the necessity of overcoming even seemingly more banal and daily sins.

As We Forgive is a must-read for anyone interested in the recent history of Rwanda, the practice of restorative justice, or the Christian understanding of forgiveness and reconciliation.

This review has been cross-posted at Blogcritics.org.

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, November 24, 2008
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——————– Start of message from list: eni-summary ——– Ecumenical News International News Highlights
24 November 2008

Ukrainian church marks 20th century ‘genocide’ Russia disputes

Warsaw (ENI). Ukraine’s largest Orthodox church has marked the anniversary of an early 1930s’ Soviet-engineered famine, in which millions died, by describing it for the first time as an “act of genocide”, a description rejected by the Russian government. “A crime like this could only happen in an environment hateful of God and man,” the holy synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate, said in a statement following an 11 November Kiev meeting. “It will always painfully remind us of the time when the devil reigned over both Ukraine and other nations of the former Soviet community.” [514 words, ENI-08-0944]

Blog author: jarmstrong
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
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Today I toured the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. I was unprepared for how deeply I would be moved by my three hours in this museum. The sights, sounds and tributes all moved me profoundly. Twice I had to wipe tears from my eyes. The whole thing is so powerfully presented that it actually overwhelms you, with both information and emotional impact. I believe it is one of the most important museums I have ever toured.

The experience of standing in a German rail car, used to transport Jews to the death camps, was quite moving. How they got over a hundred people in one of those small cars is hard to imagine when you stand in one. But nothing was as chilling as the crematorium ovens, the shoes and personal items the dead left behind before they entered the gas chambers, and the iron door that came from a death chamber at one of the camps.

The Holocaust Museum has established a Committee on Conscience to alert national conscience, influence policymakers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide and related crimes against humanity. The special emphasis of the museum right now is on the genocide in Darfur, which is a part of the country of Sudan in northeast Africa. In Darfur tens of thousands (some say 400,000) civilians have been killed and thousands of women raped by Sudanese government soldiers and members of the government-sponsored militia referred to as the Janjaweed. The Janjaweed are Arabic peoples and the people they are killing are blacks, or what they call “Africans.” There appears to be a clear religious connection to this violence, as there is in much of Africa these days. (more…)

A new review on H-German by John Alexander Williams of Bradley University examines the edited collection of essays, How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005).

The volume’s editors contend in part that “the green policies of the Nazis were more than a mere episode or aberration in environmental history at large. They point to larger meanings and demonstrate with brutal clarity that conservationism and environmentalism are not and have never been value-free or inherently benign enterprises.” While Williams argues that this conclusion “rings hollow” in light of the evidence produced in the essays, he does affirm that “the desire to protect nature must be accompanied by an equally strong commitment to social justice and human rights.”

On this point Williams specifically criticizes the final essay in the book, by Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn, which “focuses on the SS’s wartime planning of the landscape in the occupied territories to the east of Germany.”

As Williams writes, “The Nazi war of imperial conquest, in carving out a new ‘living space’ for German colonists through mass expulsion and extermination, opened ‘new vistas for landscape architects and urban planners’ (p. 244). Hitler appointed Himmler in charge of ‘cleansing’ of occupied landscapes for resettlement by ethnic Germans.” Williams’ concern is that “Wolschke-Bulmahn never clearly explains what was environmentalist about these planners and the blueprints they prepared for Himmler.”

Williams concludes, “The failure of this essay is unfortunate, since Wolschke-Bulmahn and others have written much more effectively elsewhere about the intertwining of pastoral landscape ideals with Nazi imperialism and genocide.”

Read the entire review here.