Reconciliation and Its Resentments: The Suppression of Justice and Truth Recovery in Germany, Northern Ireland, and Western Balkans

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    In his seminal work, Civilisation and Its Discontents (1930), Sigmund Freud challenges the near-universal espousal of civilisation (die Kultur) as a virtue and social process, while ignoring the great costs and sacrifices that such a project demands. The over- suppression of deep-seated human needs renders the otherwise humanity-serving endeavour a source of unnecessary suffering for those who “fail” to be civilised. The “discontent” (das Unbehagen) or dissatisfaction with such a condition is thus expressed as an earnest call for the reform of civilisation.

    In the past three decades or so, there has also been a sustained effort to promote “reconciliation” among historical enemies around the globe, not the least by the European Union, whose self-identity as a peacebuilder and model reconciler in regional conflicts has been buttressed by the Nobel Peace Prize of 2012. Yet, there has also been growing resentment among those – not the least within Europe itself – directly affected by the project of reconciliation, whose needs for justice and for truth have time and again been sacrificed in the name of peace and mercy. Like the “uncivilised”, the unreconciled are subject to social pressure to let go or to feel the guilt imposed upon them for “blocking” society from moving forward. As they say in Northern Ireland, “Reconciliation is a dirty word” (McEvoy et al. 2006).

    Such discontents and resentments with regard to political reconciliation and their sources are the subject of the proposed four-year project. Built upon its principal investigator’s previous and ongoing work on “coming to terms with the past” in different regional contexts, the project takes seriously the lingering “resentments” and “nasty unreconcilability” (Améry 1966: 115) of victims and survivors of atrocities committed in Europe in the last century. It investigates the nature of such resentments at political reconciliation in selected post-conflict European cases. Using process tracing and triangulated comparative historical analysis, the project examines the cases of reunified Germany, post-accord Northern Ireland and the disintegrated former Yugoslavia to theorise on “premature reconciliation” and “false reconciliation” as the twin mutations of the otherwise commendable enterprise that are responsible for lingering resentments of victims and survivors of past atrocities.

    In terms of impact beyond academic outputs (e.g. in International Journal of Transitional Justice, Journal of Peace Research), the project endeavours to contribute to the discussion on “reconciliation” in Hong Kong where the abuse and misuse of the concept have likewise aroused reservation (Shen 2020).
    Effective start/end date1/01/2331/12/26


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