What Can Be Done? Ambassador Stephen Rapp on Justice in Syria

“Nasty, brutish, and short.”

In a recent lecture by Ambassador Stephen Rapp, hosted by the Human Rights Program, he borrowed from Thomas Hobbes’ famous line to describe life in a world without justice. His presentation kicked off a lecture series about the ongoing Syrian crisis.

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Ambassador Rapp

Saying that Ambassador Rapp has an extensive resume is an understatement: he served as Ambassador-at-large for War Crimes in the Office of Global Criminal Justice, a position which brought him around the globe to address a wide span of conflicts during his 2009-2015 term. His legal experience includes positions in the International Criminal Court and the International Tribunal for Rwanda, where he helped prosecute the first conviction for a member of the media in inciting genocide. Currently, he holds positions with the Hague Institute for Global Justice and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide.

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Photographing Displaced Persons: Then and Now

In our post on the photography of Maxine Rude – on display in the Eiger-Zaidenweber Holocaust Resource Center at the Sabes JCC – we touched on issues involved in exhibiting these photographs, including that a photographer’s choices on how to present a subject (framing, selecting, and excluding subjects) may influence a viewer’s perception.

A curator also makes influential choices, deciding how and what to include in an exhibit, and what to exclude. In putting pieces of art or photography together, these works may take on new and unexpected meanings in a visitor’s mind that were never intended by artist or curator, but are a result of the exhibition nonetheless. Or, a curator may intentionally be drawing comparisons that were not in the original artist’s mind.

In presenting Maxine Rude’s work, we take note of her portrayal of children and families, asking questions of the viewer about their response to seeing these victims of World War II and the Holocaust.

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White Supremacy on Campus: An Ahistorical Campaign of Racial Prejudice

Racism comes in many forms. Some strains mask themselves in institutional legitimacy and free speech. Others advance claims of victimhood, loss of religious freedom, or champion assertions that they are defenders of local custom and tradition. Regardless of its shape, however, racism is always the product of two forces: ignorance and malevolence. Racism is perpetually ignorant because it relies on ahistorical constructions of difference to advance universal assertions of racial, cultural, social, or national superiority. In this manner, racism is also always malevolent because it seeks to impose hierarchical configurations of ‘race’ in an otherwise multicultural, multiethnic world.

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The Mitzvah Project: Interview with Roger Grunwald

Roger Grunwald, the child of a German Holocaust survivor is a performer from San Francisco and the author of The Mitzvah Project. On February 14th, 2017 he presented his solo show at the University of Minnesota. In The Mitzvah Project Grunwald reveals the surprising history of the German men known as “mischlinge” – the derogatory term the Nazis used to characterize those descended from one or two Jewish grandparents – who served in Hitler’s army.

 

How did you get started integrating theater and community service?

In New York in the late 70s, I became a community activist and helped to build an organization called the New York City Unemployed and Welfare Council. This was at a time when New York City was in receivership. The city was broke and the major banks had taken over. The first programs to be cut were the ones in the poorest communities. One of the things that we learned from these men and women touched by the council’s work was that their kids loved culture but there was no real outlet for them to express this. A number of us who were involved in this community organizing activity came up with the idea of putting on a talent show. For the young people we produced a talent show in a church basement in the Bronx in the early 80s and that was the beginning of the All Stars Project. It is now in six cities around the United States.

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Roger Grunwald in The Mitzvah Project (Photo by Jennifer Hammer)

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Student Spotlight: Paula Cuellar

Paula was born in El Salvador and, because of the armed conflict in that country, she and her family fled to Mexico at a very young age where she was raised. After the armed conflict ended, she returned to El Salvador where she pursued her LL.B. at the Central American University “José Simeón Cañas.” After graduation, Paula worked as a judicial clerk at the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice of El Salvador for seven years and, also, as a professor at the Central American University “José Simeón Cañas.” In the year 2009, she moved to South Bend, Indiana, to pursue a LL.M. at the University of Notre Dame du Lac. When she returned to El Salvador inPaula Cuellar Photo (1).jpg 2010, she was appointed as the Director of the International Assistance Unit, until she decided to move to Minnesota in 2013 to pursue her Ph.D. in History major and Human Rights minor. Paula was the 2014-2015 Badzin Fellow in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. She is currently the USC Shoah 2016-2017 Graduate Research Fellow, a 2016-2017 American Association of University Women International Fellow, and a 2016-2017 University of Minnesota Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellow.

Paula is interested in the question of genocide in Central America. Specifically, her intention is to debate whether scorched earth operations conducted as part of a state policy during the civil war of the 1980s in Guatemala and El Salvador indeed constituted genocidal practices per se, independently of the group targeted. Since the victims of such military operations are far more likely to be women, children and seniors, she is also interested in studying the diverse forms of sexual violence to which women and girls are subjected to by the perpetrators during the conduction of these military tactics.

Whose History? Why Not All History Needs to be Represented in Our Capitol (Part 2)

If you’ve been to St. Paul lately, you’ve likely seen that the Minnesota Capitol Building is undergoing a massive renovation. More than $300 million is being spent to make the century-plus building a host of structural and technological upgrades. Once completed in the fall, a nearly two year-long project will come to an end.

However, it is not the building itself that’s been grabbing headlines. Instead, it’s the art inside – art that’s been estimated to be worth nearly $1 billion. Many of these pieces depict key moments in the state’s history: Among them the landing of Father Hennepin and the gallantry of the 2nd Minnesota Company from the American Civil war. One piece that will not be on display when the Capitol reopens is a 1906 work by Anton Gag. It shows the attack on New Ulm by Dakota warriors during the short-lived 1862 conflict.

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“Attack on New Ulm” by Anton Gag, 1904

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Student Spotlight: Erma Nezirevic

Erma was born in Bosnia, raised in Croatia, and moved to Idaho as a refugee at the age of 14. She graduated with a double BA in Spanish and Social Science from Boise State University. She earned her MA in Spanish from the University of Oregon, and in 2012, she began her PhD in Spanish at the University of Minnesota. Erma is interested in issues of mass violence, collective memory and nationalism in contemporary Spain. She has been involved with the Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence interdisciplinary graduate group since its inception and has served as the group coordinator and Research Assistant for the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

Erma’s current research examines Spanish cultural representations of the wars in the former Yugoslavia that took place in the 1990s. Her work is comparative, and based on the observed parallel experiences the two countries have gone through during the twentieth century including dictatorships, civil wars, and struggles over memory and transitions to democracy. As a literary and cultural scholar, Erma studies the way Spanish authors, journalists and photographers approach the Balkan atrocity as a symbolic reliving and reflection on old Spanish traumas such as the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) and Franco’s fascist regime. She will be defending her dissertation this semester.

The Art of Minnesota’s UnCivil War: Is the State Capitol its Proper Home? (Part 1)

The Minnesota State Capitol, not unlike other political spaces around the world, displays artwork meant to illustrate important moments in the history of the state. Of these, a number of paintings have created significant debate among politicians and community members.

Nearly a decade after the contentious Dakota War of 1862, an oil painting depicting Dakota warriors attacking white German settlers in New Ulm has, until this year, hung on the walls of the Minnesota State Capitol. The artist, Anton Gag, created “Attack on New Ulm” nearly forty years after the event. On January 26th, 1887, The New Ulm Review reported that, “Mr. Gag’s undertaking is commendable and every one interested in the history of the dark days of New Ulm should aid him.”

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“Attack on New Ulm” by Anton Gag, 1904

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Silence Surrounding the Rohingya

The lifeless body of a 16-month old Rohingya boy, Mohammed Shohayet, was found laying face down on the bank of River Naf at the Bangladesh-Burma border. Although reminiscent of the photograph of Kurdish-Syrian Alan Kurdi, neither this photograph nor the conflict in Burma have received nearly as much attention as the crisis in Syria. Of course, although coverage is important, it has not necessitated action in either conflict.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in Burma (also known as Myanmar), mainly residing in the Rakhina State. While the conflict in Burma has not yet been declared a genocide, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) compiled a report last May on the early warning signs of genocide. The Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide found evidence of a variety of key warning signs, including physical segregation of the population, restrictions on both marriages and births, constraints on movement, and physical violence. And since the release of this report, additional and increasing troubling information has continued to flow from the nation, with the most recent report by the United Nations documenting crimes against humanity. Media organizations have had limited access to the Rakhine state as the government continues its propaganda campaign, but recently leaked footage captured police officers attacking a group of Rohingya men. The government later arrested the officers and stated that the beating was an isolated incident, while claiming similar footage from the previous month was faked. As a result of the conflict, tens of thousands of Rohingya are displaced and have tried fleeing to neighboring countries on boats, only to be rejected.

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Student Spotlight: Yagmur Karakaya

Yagmur was born and raised in Istanbul and graduated from Bogazici University. After graduating with an MA degree at Koc University she moved to Minneapolis to start her PhD studies in Sociology. As a student of cultural sociology, she is interested in collective memory, nostalgia, and the role of emotions in remembering. While Yagmur was the 2015-2016 Badzin fellow in Genocide and Holocaust Studies, she worked on a comparative project with Alejandro Baer on Holocaust Commemoration in Spain and Turkey, which they presented at several venues including the Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence interdisciplinary graduate workshop and American Sociological Association’s annual conference. Currently they are working on turning the research into a paper.

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In Turkey, nostalgia for the Ottoman Empire, across both popular and political domains, marks a drastic shift from the early 20th century vision of history, which cuts ties to the Empire. Yagmur’s qualitative multi-method dissertation examines how political leaders use nostalgia to consolidate power, and simultaneously explore the limits of monopolizing history. She argues that state-led neo-Ottomanist collective memory practices serve as a mechanism of socialization that helps the citizens build an emotional attachment to the state. Yet, popular cultural forms such as television series provide their own version of this history, to be interpreted and reworked by an increasingly polarized Turkish society, indicating the limits of state control of collective memory.