An Icon of Democracy Complicit In Genocide? The Dangers of a Deceptive Democracy in Myanmar

What makes someone an effective leader? Arguably, one vital component is being a capable and willing protector of one’s people. Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counselor of Myanmar and also a Nobel Laureate, is currently failing in this role. She continually chooses to “protect” only the Buddhist majority of Myanmar by supporting the government of Myanmar’s stance that the Rohingya, long time inhabitants of the Rakhine region of Myanmar, are not citizens. Their lack of legal citizenship has been used as justification by the state to perpetrate atrocities against the Rohingya, who are denied civil rights. These atrocities escalated this August when Rohingya militants attacked Burmese security forces. In retaliation, the Burmese military launched a violent crackdown against the Rohingya, killing over 400 people, and forcing over 140,000 to flee into Bangladesh. There is little doubt left that Myanmar has begun a state sanctioned ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, using the violence perpetrated by a few Rohingya militants to justify the mass slaughter of an ethnic population.

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Rohingya Protestors (PC: Hindustan Times)

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Making Mute Art Speak for the Victims. Reflections on the UMN Course “Holocaust Art: History and Commemoration”

My official title during my Spring 2017 teaching appointment at the Global Studies program – Visiting Professor – was in some ways misleading. The University of MN campus was not in any form new to me. I trod its paths as a graduate student back in the seventies, and later as a faculty member in the Classical and Near Eastern Department in the nineties. I was glad to be invited to revisit a familiar turf, not as a momentary visitor, but as a staff member. Embraced by Chair of CHGS, Professor Alejandro Baer, and ever-accommodating Program Coordinator, Jennifer Hammer, I plunged into the University’s old and new teaching routines with a little side splash. Challenges were encountered on unexpected fronts such as the likes of decoding the mechanics of discourse between computers whose compatibility was unnatural – a “Hebrew Speaking” PC and the campus’ Apple lingo. Or the ever-astonishing fact of a May 1st snow storm. Even as a veteran of a dozen winters I was caught by surprise. Perhaps the twenty warm years since I left the campus, and the Israeli scorching sun must have affected my brain’s memory cells. I was also surprised by the sign over the entrance door to Classroom 1-111 on the first floor of Hanson Hall, which read: The Dairy Queen Class. Quite ironic, I thought to myself, for a course on the history of the Holocaust. Evidently no prank, just one coincidence of what life is made of.

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Jennifer Hammer, Yehudit Shendar, and Alejandro Baer

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Student Spotlight: Moritz Meutzner

Moritz has been recently awarded the 2017-2018 Bernard and Fern Badzin Fellowship in Genocide and Holocaust Studies! Congratulations, Moritz!

Moritz was born and raised in Berlin, Germany and moved to Minneapolis in 2013 to pursue his graduate studies. He received his M.A in Germanic Studies from the University of Minnesota in 2015. Before moving to the United States, Moritz had a vocational career in theater, stage lighting, and intercultural communication. He studied Cultural Studies (cultural history major, linguistics minor) at theEuropean University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder), where he received his B.A. in 2012. Moritz’s teaching and research interests are modern European literary and intellectual history, German-Jewish history and modern Ottoman/Turkish history. Moritz is interested in the representation of the Holocaust and experience of exile in literature and the arts and focuses on the encounters of Holocaust representation with other forms of twentieth-century violence, specifically for the case of Turkey and the Middle East.

Moritz is currently working on his dissertation project on the history of German and German-Jewish exile in Turkey during the 1930/40s. Focusing on the case of the literary critic Erich Auerbach (1892-1957), who wrote his most influential works on European literature while in Turkish exile and later in the U.S., Moritz examines the relationship of German-Jewish émigré culture to Turkish intellectual history. During the 2017/18 academic year, Moritz will conduct research abroad and begin writing his dissertation (prospective defense: Spring 2019).

Towards a Marxist Critique of the Cambodian Genocide

Between 1975 and 1979, the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), also known as the Khmer Rouge, fundamentally transformed the social, economic, political, and natural landscape of Cambodia. During this time as many as two million Cambodians died from exposure to disease, starvation, or were executed at the hands of the state.

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The dominant interpretation of Cambodian history during this period, known as the Standard Total View (STV), presents the CPK as a totalitarian, communist, and autarkic regime seeking to reorganize Cambodian society around a primitive, agrarian political economy. Under the STV, the victims of the regime died as a result of misguided economic policies, a draconian security apparatus, and the central leadership’s fanatical belief in the creation of a utopian, communist society. In short, according to the STV, Democratic Kampuchea, as Cambodia was renamed, constituted an isolated, completely self-reliant prison state. My publication From Rice Fields to Killing Fields: Nature, Life, and Labor under the Khmer Rouge (Syracuse University Press, 2017) challenges the standard narrative and provides a documentary-based Marxist interpretation of the political economy of Democratic Kampuchea.

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“We Still Have a Long Journey”: Hope Battles Criticism in the Rwandan Presidential Election

Twenty-three years have passed since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and the decades since have shaped Rwanda into a nearly unrecognizable country. The genocide seems, at first glance, to be a distant and painful memory. The capital of Kigali has transformed into a vibrant urban hub, complete with five star hotels and immaculate streets. Educational initiatives and a skyrocketing tourism industry are reshaping the nation. For many, especially those living outside of Rwanda, the genocide seems to be a historical event, locked firmly in the past. But while decades have passed since the 100 days during which at least 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed, the past doesn’t seem so far away to many Rwandans. The personal tolls, be they loss of family members or lasting emotional scars, still remain.

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Photo Credit: The New Times

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Ethical Reading: Approaching Genocide Literature in Middle and High School Classrooms

9781138657236.jpgReview of Sarah Donovan’s (2016) Genocide Literature in Middle and Secondary Classrooms: Rhetoric, Witnessing, and Social Action in a Time of Standards and Accountability.

In 2016, Michigan became the newest state to enact legislation to mandate the instruction of genocides for secondary students, specifically citing the Holocaust and Armenian genocide. Michigan joined seven states that have legislative mandates to teach about the Holocaust and genocide in public middle and high schools. Currently, several projects are calling for directives to teach about the Holocaust from all 50 states (e.g. New York’s Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect and The Butterfly Project).

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“Left-Wing Antisemitism is Dangerous Because it Denies its Own Existence”: Interview with Historian Philip Spencer

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Philip Spencer

Philip Spencer gave a keynote introductory address at CHGS’ International Symposium on April, 2017 entitled Comparative Genocide Studies and the Holocaust: Conflict and Convergence. Following the symposium, he and Bruno Chaouat (UMN, French and Italian) gave a book talk (recorded in full here), where Spencer introduced the book he co-authored with sociologist Robert Fine, Antisemitism and the Left. On the return of the Jewish question. After his talk, Spencer sat with Wahutu Siguru (UMN PhD Candidate, Sociology), Alexandra Tiger (UMN undergrad in Sociology), and Demetrios Vital (CHGS Outreach Coordinator), and offered thoughtful, warm, and inspiring answers to a range of questions on topics in his book and talks. What follows are three of those questions and answers.

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Holocaust Memory in Europe: An Interview with Professor Timothy Snyder

On April 6-8, 2017, CHGS held a symposium in celebration of its 20th anniversary titled, “Comparative Genocide Studies and the Holocaust: Conflict and Convergence”. Timothy Snyder, a professor of History at Yale University gave the keynote on “The Politics of Mass Killing: Past and Present”. Joe Eggers was able to sit down and talk with him.

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Dr. Timothy Snyder

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In Memory of Simone Veil (1927-2017)

Dear Simone Veil,

Your passing on June 30, 2017 barely made a ripple in the American news media; and yet even far away, there is so much we can celebrate and learn from you. Your many gifts and accomplishments do not inspire envy or a competitive spirit. You are one of the most beloved public figures in France. You never made me say in the usual resigned manner: of course, she is just a politician.

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Simone Veil

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[Re]Telling: Holocaust Art and Contemporary Response

When I first saw Fritz Hirschberger’s paintings in art storage, I was struck with cognitive dissonance. In the time that I’ve worked for CHGS, I looked at Hirschberger’s paintings and read about the artist quite a bit, but only in print or online in CHGS’ digital collection.

This was my first encounter with a Hirschberger painting in its physicality. Five feet tall, painted in translucent layers of bright oils, there, before me, stretched a saturated orange and purple canvas filled with the a war horseman brandishing deadly weapons. Hirschberger chose the Fifth Horseman precisely because it could not be discerned through physical senses,* yet here in my first encounter seeing this piece in person, it was arresting precisely because of its physical nature.

Weeks later, the paintings were installed and ready as part of [Re]Telling, an exhibition of Holocaust art, narrative, and contemporary response, held in the Tychman Shapiro Gallery at the Sabes JCC. Yehudit Shendar, retired Deputy Director and Senior Art Curator of Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, gave remarks at the opening reception of [Re]Telling featuring seven paintings by survivor Fritz Hirschberger selected from the CHGS permanent collection.

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“[Re]Telling” participating artists and artwork by Robert O. Fisch
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