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Imagining Political Forgiveness in the Aftermath of Atrocities: Towards a Story of Collective Responsibility Open Access


Other title
José Mujica
political apology
collective responsibility
political forgiveness
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Rabuffetti, Fiorella M.
Supervisor and department
Epp, Roger (Political Science)
Examining committee member and department
Nichols, Robert (Political Science)
Luhmann, Susanne (Women's and Gender Studies)
Epp, Roger (Political Science)
Heyes, Cressida (Political Science)
Department of Political Science

Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Arts
Degree level
This thesis is a reconsideration of the phenomena of political apology and forgiveness as they have been framed in recent years in Uruguay but also in a growing social scientific literature. Drawing on the contributions of Hannah Arendt, Vladimir Jankélévitch, and Jacques Derrida, as well as on some insights from Hegel, this work outlines a conceptualization of political forgiveness in the aftermath of atrocities as a collective struggle through the tragic paradoxes of political action, between the conceptual impossibility of the community overcoming the loss and the practical possibility of togetherness after that loss. The acknowledgment of collective responsibility is presented as the pivot between those paradoxes, potentially enabling the community to struggle against political motionlessness while challenging closure. In this regard, political forgiveness, and the acknowledgment of collective responsibility at its core, make way for the community to move beyond the tragic conundrums of political action through political action and thus, through tragedy itself. Political apology appears as a gesture that contributes to the co-creation of a story of collective responsibility by introducing in the public space multiple stories of responsibility, thus setting the stage for political forgiveness. Building upon this conceptualization, the thesis seeks to make sense of the Uruguayan “Ceremony of Forgiveness”, in which the President José Mujica acknowledged the state’s responsibility for human rights violations in the “lead years”, that is, right before and during the civic-military dictatorship (1973-1985). Mujica did this in fulfillment of a sentence imposed on the country by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on February 2011. In order to not fuel antagonisms in the public space, still fractured by the unhealed wounds of the lead years, Mujica chose to deliver a strictly juridical speech focused exclusively on legal responsibility, thus subscribing to a binary narrative of the past that may, paradoxically, fuel those antagonisms. In this regard, I claim that, although Mujica’s acknowledgment of the state’s responsibility at the “Ceremony” was a major achievement for Uruguayan society, he missed a historic opportunity to question both the idea that past wrongdoings are the consequence of a confrontation between two actors, and that there is a choice to be made between forgetting the past and revisiting it. I refer to these ideas as a binary narrative of the past, and posit a narrative of collective responsibility as its alternative. By broadening the circle of sufferers – in Mujica’s case that could have meant stepping out from his institutional role to speak from his personal stories – and by counter-remembering, thus re-evoking the unfinished past suffering in the present, such a narrative provides the grounds to struggle against the irredeemable nature of the grief caused by loss in the aftermath of atrocities, not for the sake of imposing an end on that grief, but for the sake of rekindling political action. Furthermore, the work of counter-remembering evokes a shared sense of loss that founds, paradoxically, a renewed sense of belonging, which nonetheless exists in permanent dialogue with the past. Counter-remembering then becomes a way to re-member the political community, suggesting alternative foundations for the promise of togetherness and inviting the political community to re-imagining itself.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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