Every year since 1977, International Museum Day is held worldwide on May 18. From America and Oceania to Europe, Asia and Africa, International Museum Day aims to increase public awareness of the role of museums in developing society.
This year, some 30,000 museums in 100 countries will hold special activities around the theme “Museums and Memory.”
April 26, 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Gernika, memoralized in Pablo Picasso’s seminal work “Guernica.” On April 26th, 1937, the town of Gernika was bombed in an air raid by German and Italian forces with the blessing of Spanish General Francisco Franco. Gernika, the first of many aerial bombardments targeting civilian populations during the Spanish Civil War, has become a symbol of the atrocities of modern warfare.
In recognition of this important history, the Gernika Peace Museum Foundation, with the support of the Ministry of the President (Spain), will host twenty-seven Sites of Conscience at the fourth regional meeting of the Coalition’s European Network. The Gernika Peace Museum Foundation, and more recently the Gernika Gogoratuz Peace Research Foundation, are the only two members of the Coalition in the Basque Country; as Sites of Conscience, both strive to promote memory, peace, and human rights by connecting past and present to create a more peaceful future.
In commemoration of the anniversary, the Coalition will feature special essays by six Sites of Conscience on our website over the next five days. These essays, reflecting on the significance and implications of the bombing of Gernika, will be available daily from April 26-30, 2012.
By Julio Solórzano Foppa, Coordinator, Memorial para la Concordia (Guatemala)
On March 19, 2013, the genocide trial against General José Efraín Ríos Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez began in Guatemala. Ríos Montt led a coup d’etat that brought him to power from March 1982 through August 1983, and Rodríguez was his chief of military intelligence during the same period. This was an historic trial, not only for Guatemala, but for all of Latin America. It was the first trial for genocide to take place in the region, which was plagued by repressive military dictatorships that committed all number of crimes against the populations of their respective countries, with the most intense years between 1960 and 1990. On May 10, 2013, Gen. Efrain Rios Montt was convicted of genocide and sentenced to 80 years in prison; Rodríguez was acquitted. Montt’s is the first conviction for genocide in Latin America and the first in the world issued by a local court.
Guatemala is a small country (108,000 km2) located in Central America that borders Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Belize. At the time of Ríos Montt’s dictatorship, Guatemala had a population of about 8 million. Ríos Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez were specifically accused of massacres committed against the Maya-Ixil population that left thousands of men, women and children tortured or killed, hundreds of women subjected to sexual slavery to the soldiers, and thousands more internally displaced or expelled outside the borders of Guatemala. The crimes being tried in this historical process make up just a fraction of the terror that overwhelmed Guatemala in the 36 years of armed conflict and repression (1960-1996). According to the information gathered by the Commission of Historical Clarification of the UN (CEH) and the report of the Recovery of Historical Memory by the Archbishop of Guatemala (REMHI), those 36 years of repression left a total of 200,000 victims – including 45,000 disappeared – in addition to one million internally and externally displaced people. 85% of all victims were indigenous and 93% of total deaths and disappearances were caused by state security forces.
The trial was prepared and conducted by the Center for Legal Action (CALDH), who had already presented the case to the National Court in Spain in 1999. The trial was carried out thanks to those that have worked tirelessly for over 30 years in search of truth and justice: survivors of massacres and repression, victims’ relatives, exiles, lawyers and human rights defenders, religious organizations, international institutions, and organizations dedicated to the exhumation of mass graves and research in police files. Among these are two members of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience: the Historical Archive of the National Police (AHPN) and Memorial para la Concordia. AHPN has digitized, in the past seven years, more than 15 million documents dating from 1975 to 1985, which was the period of greatest intensity of the repression in Guatemala. These documents have been indispensable in many trials – including the Ríos Montt case – to strengthen the evidence against those responsible, but also for a greater collective knowledge of the truth. Memorial para la Concordia aims to recover the memories and the dignity of all victims; it also works for the development of spaces and opportunities for dialogue and peaceful resolution of ongoing conflict. At present this is particularly necessary given the increasing polarization in the country.
Although this trial took years to materialize, and although the vast majority of crimes committed have not been tried – nor those responsible punished – this historic conviction is of enormous significance. Others will follow. Guatemala needs to confront its past, acknowledge the truth, and prosecute those responsible for the crimes committed. Only then can peace be constructed and justice promoted to fight inequality and racism for a less violent and polarized society with freedom, the rule of law, and respect for the dignity and human rights of all.
Julio Solórzano Foppa is a historian, artistic producer, and promoter of human rights. He is the son of poet and feminist Alaíde Foppa and brother of Mario and Juan Pablo Solórzano Foppa, all victims of repression in Guatemala.
“…The nation should be quiet; black and white, and we should be in a prayerful mood, which would be in keeping with his life. We should make that kind of dedication and commitment to the goals which his life served to solving the domestic problems. That’s the memorial, that’s the kind of memorial we should build for him.”
-James L. Farmer, Jr., April 4, 1968
Fifty-five years ago today, on the balcony of one of the only hotels in Memphis that served black clientele, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot dead. His assassination brought the country and much of the world to its feet, inciting violent riots, peaceful reflection, and re-invigorated demands for justice.
Each year on April 4, it is not the death of Dr. King that we remember; it is his life and his work. We keep his legacy as more than just a tragic moment in time but as an ongoing struggle toward his vision of brotherhood and equality.
The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, housed in the old Lorraine Hotel where King was assassinated, is a tangible reminder of King’s untimely death. But the museum’s real tribute to Dr. King is in the programs they conduct to fulfill his mission. NCRM uses the stories of the Civil Rights movement as inspiration to address lingering issues of inequality – access to education, immigration reform, marital rights – through programs like the Student Responsibility March, giving the local community a voice and an opportunity to take action for change.
In many ways, memorials around the world are constructed in the heart and in the mind as much as on brick and mortar. In Kenya (where Dr. King was invited for the first anniversary of independence in 1964), government monuments to the victims of state and inter-ethnic violence abound: streets have been renamed for martyrs, buildings marked with historic placards, expensive stone monuments erected in public squares. More important to ordinary Kenyans were community memorialization initiatives that highlighted everyday people and worked to heal the very personal scars of conflict. Bodymapping emerged as a way for survivors to document their stories, but also to reflect on them, understand them, and use them to build stronger futures. Whether anyone ever sees these maps is secondary, because the memorials live on in the hearts – and actions – of the survivors.
This deliberate effort move beyond passive monuments and draw a clear linkage from memory to action is the hallmark of the Sites of Conscience movement. Rather than letting today serve only as a sad anniversary of one man’s tragedy, Sites of Conscience around the world look at it as opportunity to remember Dr. King’s goals and ambitions. What actions can you take toward Dr. King’s vision of equality, peace, and brotherhood across races, religions, and nations? As his good friend James Farmer said, “that is the kind of memorial we should build for him.”
Guest post by Akku Chowdhury
March 26, 2013
The Liberation War Museum opened on March 22, 1996, coinciding with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the struggle for freedom in Bangladesh – 42 years ago today – on March 26, 1971, now celebrated as Independence Day. It sought to fill in the gaps created by contemporary political crisis and social vacuum by collecting, preserving, and disseminating information, personal stories, documents, photographs, objects, and artifacts related to the nation’s defining moment, the Liberation War. In the process of this work, we the trustees became aware of hundreds of mass graves and evidence of unspeakable crimes and atrocities. Thus we expanded our terms of reference to include investigative and activist pursuits of justice for crimes against humanity and genocide committed in 1971.
In one of our galleries, for example, on display is a beautiful but faded turquoise short sleeve shirt. It belonged to a 4 month old baby girl named Rehana. She was the daughter of valiant freedom fighter Abdus Salam Khan, the commander of a group of freedom fighters in Digholia, Khulna. The Pakistani Army and their collaborators had put a price of 1,000,000 Taka (about $12,500 USD) on his head. But he paid a much higher price when his first born baby girl fell prey to the Pakistani Army, just as millions of other women and children whose husbands and fathers had gone off to fight for their motherland: In April 1971, Rehana was crushed to death by the boot of a Pakistani Soldier in nearby Senhati. She was wearing this shirt at the time of her death. Her story embodies the death of innocence the hands of the ruthless in Bangladesh in 1971. We are yet to be free from the shackles of fear.
Justice for these crimes committed by the Pakistan military and their local agents in Bangladesh’s 1971 Liberation War has been denied for the last 42 years. It is a sad reality that Bengalis who suffered such atrocities, genocide, and crimes against humanity had to remain in waiting for almost 40 years. Uncovering the truth of this history is important not only for the war generation, but also for future generations to understand the pain and sacrifice endured for the birth of our nation. It is also a tool to help young people relate to the past and draw connections to lingering contemporary issues. The Liberation War Museum believes that future generations, if enriched with the heritage of their Motherland and able draw inspiration and pride from the spirit of the Liberation War, will contribute to nation-building to create a better future.
Akku Chowdhury is a freedom fighter and trustee of the Liberation War Museum in Bangladesh. You can reach him by e-mail.
Dr. Galla has for three decades been a champion of cultural democracy, UN Millennium Development Goals, and safeguarding all forms of heritage. An alumnus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi), and Professor of World Heritage and Sustainable Development at Split University, he is the founding Executive Director of the International Institute for the Inclusive Museum in Denmark and India. His extensive publication record, focusing on inclusion and active citizenship, ranges from World Heritage: Benefits Beyond Borders (Cambridge University Press & UNESCO Publishing, 2012) to Heritage Curricula and Cultural Diversity (Prime Minster & Cabinet, Australian Government Publishing House, 1993). He was the 2nd and 3rd Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Intangible Heritage and founding Editor of the International Journal on the Inclusive Museum. Prior to migrating to Denmark, he was Professor of Museum Studies at the University of Queensland (Brisbane), as well as Professor and Director of Sustainable Heritage Development Programs at Australian National University (Canberra). From 1994-99 he was the International Technical Adviser for the transformation of Arts Councils, National Museums, and the National Parks Board (now SAN Parks) in post- apartheid South Africa. He worked on the implementation of ‘Museums and Cultural Diversity Promotion’ at the National Museum of Ethnology (Leiden, The Netherlands). He has been honored internationally on several occasions including the Outstanding Conservationist of the Year Award (Vietnamese government, 2002) and the European Best in Heritage Award (2008). ICOM Australia conferred the 2012 Individual achievement award for excellence for Amar’s extensive and on-going commitment to museums, sustainable development, and poverty alleviation through culture.
By Sarah Pharaon, Program Director for North America
This blog post first appeared on UpNext, the official blog of the U.S. Institute for Museum and Library Services.
I’m married to an immigrant. My two children have Arab names, eat hummus and baba ghanoush, and—if my husband and I can do a better job using Arabic in our home—will speak two languages. I consider myself relatively well-informed, well-read, and, through my work coordinating the Immigration and Civil Rights Network of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, engaged in the current immigration reform efforts being proposed by the President and members of Congress.
But in my household, around the dinner table, we don’t talk about immigration. Though my husband and I both have strong feelings about the debate, our experience often feels like that of a typical museum visitor: through the constant stream of media coverage, we are listening to an immigration audio tour, isolated in our separate experiences and never pausing to speak with each other.
But over the past two years, museum professionals from twenty museums across the country have committed to developing new approaches to immigration by making their museums safe places for visitors to explore and discuss the historic context and contemporary implications of immigration with other visitors. Their staff received training in designing and facilitating dialogue programs to address immigration issues in their regions and have offered on-site programs to help their communities define the path forward.
Though the lessons have been many, a few stand out:
This week, against a backdrop of increased government and public attention toward immigration reform, these and other sites will gather in New Orleans to complete their training and explore how to continue their work together. We will sit around tables and engage in dialogue with our colleagues about immigration issues in our communities. When we return home, I hope we’ll do the same at our break room tables, our conference room tables, and even around our dinner tables – because I’m tired of having a solitary experience, just me and my audio tour. I want museums to be a community “dinner table,” a place of civil discourse, a place where we examine the challenges that lie before us and take that all-important first step of listening to each other.
Sarah Pharaon is the Program Director for North America with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, a worldwide network of historic sites and museums specifically dedicated to remembering past struggles for justice and addressing their contemporary legacies. Previously, she worked as Director of Education at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and as the founding curator of the Arab American National Museum. Ms. Pharaon is a consulting trainer on dialogue and community engagement for the National Park Service, and adjunct instructor with Johns Hopkins University. She is the curriculum designer for the American Association for State and Local History training program, “Strengthening Interpretation through Compelling Stories.”
Taking on explosive issues is never easy, but these sites believe the alternative is even more dangerous.”
-Liz Ševcenko, Founding Director, International Coalition of Sites of Conscience