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Gewählte Amnesie. Die sozialen Dimensionen von Erinnern und Vergessen nach dem Völkermord in Ruanda

Susanne Buckley-Zistel

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Susanne Buckley-Zistel: Chosen Amnesia. The Social Dimensions of Remembering and Forgetting after the Genocide in Rwanda.

Over a decade after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, local communities remain strongly affected by the experience of violence. This is, inter alia, apparent in the way the past is remembered or forgotten and what narratives people select to refer to it. What was uncovered while conducting fieldwork in the local provinces of Nyamata and Gikongoro was evidence of the fact that although the memory of the genocide as such was essential for all interviewees, the time before the genocide in which the conflict between the ethnic groups Hutu and Tutsi developed had disappeared into oblivion. This article argues that this forgetting of the social cleavages before the genocide reflects less a mental failure than a coping mechanism. „Chosen amnesia“, the deliberate eclipsing of particular memories, enables people to avoid antagonism and to create a degree of community cohesion that is necessary for rural, impoverished life in Rwanda. The notion of „chosen amnesia“ is derivatived from Vakim Volkan’s concept „chosen trauma“, which suggests that the act of remembering traumas creates collective identities. In contrast, I argue that that choosing amnesia about traumas can have the opposite effect, i.e. it can prevent the clear demarcation of identity groups such as Hutu and Tutsi. While this way of dealing with the past might be useful for local coexistence, it forestalls the confrontation of the social cleavages that facilitated the genocide and impedes the social transformation necessary to render ethnicity-based violence impossible in the future.