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

  • Author / Creator
    Rabuffetti, Fiorella M.
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of Political Science
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Epp, Roger (Political Science)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Heyes, Cressida (Political Science)
    • Nichols, Robert (Political Science)
    • Luhmann, Susanne (Women's and Gender Studies)
    • Epp, Roger (Political Science)