Global Wrongs

A Haunted World: Unsettling demands of a Globalised Past

Photos and images can have profound effect on people, and they can somewhat haunt people’s lives. A globalised world, where images in the media play a central role, is therefore a haunted world. Often pictures of disasters and tragedy echo the impact of civilisation, highlighting humanities devastating impact on the globe, whether by accident or design. Pictures of disasters or other events can easily be found via the internet, and are often remembered long after the event.

Global events transcend time and remain engrained in people’s memory, and continue to shape opinions and policies today. What happened then affects the now and can encourage or discourage certain actions – the global population learn from events. The global population may have lived through the events, or perhaps a family member, or perhaps it was not living history. Needless to say whether separated by years or distance, sometimes events can feel personal and proximate. However, that’s not to say events are not forgotten.

Some events haunt the global population, such as the bombing of Hiroshima. The atomic bomb entered a new era for warfare – while there were many questions whether such actions were legal and justified. It created a new sense of what the future could be like – while the Chernobyl explosion highlighted the necessity for safety provisioning and danger of technology.

Living in this globalised and haunted world, does not just mean we are touched by events both historic and far away, but it means there is something ‘unfinished’. There are two interrelated haunted scenes;

  1. Haunting indicates that something from the past has caught hold of the present – and it can return through many mediums. It can be brought to life through acts of remembrance or by other similar events. The idea of haunting suggests that past returns because it was not properly buried. It can make demands on the present to resolve unfinished business.
  2. Haunting brings back the past in ways that are highly charged whether emotionally or politically. We are less concerned with senses of the past that evoke fond feelings, rather, we are concerned with the disturbing feeling of something refusing to go away. Haunting demonstrates the emotional qualities associated with the return of the past, often with feelings of sorrow, guilt, fear, terror or horror.

In a globalised world the past can become unexpectedly proximate even if it happened to someone else, long ago or in a faraway place. It can even be explained as a ‘globalised past’. Acknowledging historical legacies of previous communities, empires and societies, as well as understanding the political and cultural roots of societies.

The globalised past is part of the globalised world, and these legacies create demands on the present. This can include taking responsibility for actions of your relatives or nation years ago, spanning across distances and time. It can also include maintaining traditions, joining a political stance and to give aid to those faraway who may be suffering after an event years ago. Like with the present globalised world, the historic global world can be kept close or pushed far away – present or absent.

Memorial Sites & Unsettling Legacies

The past is ordinarily made present with the use of memorials. Although memorials do not mean the same thing, or hold the same weight to everyone, they exist to remind and influence the present day. Throughout many cities there are statues and plaques to commemorate or celebrate a person or event. In many ways statutes seem like they are durable and unchanged, even if they are ignored neglected or vandalised. For this reason, although harmless, some statues can spark political or social debate.

The USSR and Hungary (1990)

Communism in Hungary affectively ended in 1990 after an election for a new government. Unlike its neighbours in Berlin, there was little destruction of the communist statues and memorials. In Budapest there was little destruction of the memorials of the communist past, like headless Lenin statues. Nevertheless, the sculptures and constant reminders of the past proved to be a political problem for the new regime.

The Soviet style monuments were a tribute to the Communist regime, and they reinforced the idea that Communism was indestructible. Coupled with the fact there was a failed revolution in 1956 to overthrow the Communist regime. It posed a lingering problem for the Hungarian authorities.  Initially Hungary, like much of the Soviet State, was behind the times and after the revolution, memorials were built to consolidate the Soviet power. The memorials in this case held different meanings, for some a glorious act of power and influence and others an act of vulnerability or simply another thing to be ignored.

The Captain Ostapenko statue is commonly associated with holidays in Budapest as it by the entrance of a popular holiday destination, Lake Balaton. However, the statue was originally erected to symbolise Russian victory – he was a Russian envoy shot in the back by the enemy in 1944. During 1956 the statue was mutilated, but by 1989 this sentiment had disappeared.

With the dissolution of the communist regime, how could statues of the past be dealt with democratically, to match their new political regime? Although treated with such detest in the 1960s against their oppressive regime, but the 1980s they were treated as though they were dead or dying, with respect. After the dissolution there were many ideas with what should happen to the statues.

Laszlo Snoreni argued a statue park should be created for the communist statues, and that this park should be located on a previous prisoner camp. However, this idea was faced with criticism. Should statues be treated as though they were political prisoners too? Was this the right way to remember, or forget, the past? Was this new age thinking for the democratic era? A new site was identified on a bare piece of land that a park could be created on, and Akos Eleod won the tender to create this park. The statues would be close enough, proximate, to visit, but far enough to be protected and remembered. They would be absent from the city, but not erased from history. On the 5th December 1991 the General Assembly voted which statues to value and others of no value. The statues were treated in a democratic way that citizens were not subjected too during the Communist regime.

It can be argued that the removal of the communist statues from the towns and cities, and laid to rest in the park, can demonstrate a ‘political cleansing’ that citizens were subject too during the regime. The meaning of the statues changed as they were removed from society. Removing the statues expelled them from the everyday and repressed any sentiment towards them. Many called for Captain Ostapenko’s statue to remain where it was, instead I was only one of the forty-one statues that were selected to be put in the park. This action created dissent as the General Assembly acted as the undemocratic party before them.

Moving the statues created a sense of closeness as awareness was raised and citizens contested action to remove them. This created a sense of sentiment and was not the intended affect. To further this, the space left by the removed statue created a sense of absence. This absence draws attention to the Communist regime, and they are a reminder of what was and what is. The sense of absence haunt society and remind those of the communist past and post-communist Hungary. In recent times the statues have ironically been moved back to where they once were, demonstrating a sense of sympathy and nostalgia.

Hillsborough Stadium Disaster, Liverpool (1989)

In April 1989, the Hillsborough Football Stadium suffered a ‘human crush’ during the1988–89 FA Cup semi-final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. With 96 fatalities and 766 injured it is the worst disaster in British sporting history. Since the tragedy, there have been numerous campaigns for justice for the victims. For many victims’ families they blame the policing of the event which caused the human crush and poor response after. There is an eternal flame that burns at Anfield to serve as a reminder of the victims.

The legacies of the past

Public sculptures can make present the past, showing the past intentions and ideologies of those who built them. However, some sculptures serve as a reminder of what was and continue to shape the future and are the topic of debate. In this respect they act as ghosts who haunt modern society and reminding those what happened and how it can happen again, making demands to resolve the injustices of the past.

In Budapest for example the statues of the Communist regime were used by the old regime to show their power and the new regime to democratically decide what was to happen to them. The statues projected communist ideology into the past and future. The lack of consensus of what should be done, and putting some statues back in their place, shows how they act as a reminder and how they continue to shape the modern day. The statues don’t serve as a painful or horrifying reminder, rather, their absence is causing a sense of loss.

In Germany for example there are still legacies of the Nazi Regime which overlooked the extermination of millions of innocent people. The construction of the infrastructure in order to improve the lives of the Germanic race, and the extermination of other races, serves as a bitter reminder to citizens. For some, statues and buildings should remain to serve as a reminder and to prevent it happening again, for others the reminder is unnecessary as the world has changed and that is not ‘Germany’ any more.

Ghosts of the Past and Unfinished Business

Ghosts are entities that do not go away and they haunt the living with their unresolved conflicts that got them in their position. In many ways statues and memorials serve as a ghost, a reminder and a warning. By looking at ghosts we can learn more about the injustices of the past, and also about current demands on society. The ghost is not a dead or missing person, but instead a social figure.

There are demands on the globalised world, but not just articulated views, campaigns for social change and political or structural changes, but demands using emotion. People respond to the issue emotionally even if they have no direct connection to the issue. Ghosts can operate outside the passage of time and outside their demands they make.

Nevertheless, ghosts find it difficult to communicate and can be interpreted in various ways.

Moving History and Legacies

The Rapparee Cove incident shows how the globalised past can come to light, but as yet, the bones have remained where they are – they are immobile and inoffensive to anyone. In 2003 it came to light of a ‘ghost fleet’ of ships containing toxic substances. The ships were part of a 13 ship fleet in World War 2 for the US Navy.

The ships contained substances such as asbestos, PCBs, Mercury, Lead and Chromium which are all toxic substances for both human and marine consumption. All ships were facing massive deterioration and were posing a threat to human and animal life. It was decided the ships would be dismantled in the UK, but this meant sailing the frail ships there first.

Immediately environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, instigated legal action to prevent the ships from entering international waters. They argued the ships were a risk to human and animal life and that they could easily capsize on the journey. However, legal action failed and the ships set sail. The ships were exported from US responsibility into UK domain.  There was also controversy as to why one of the richest nations in the world cannot carry out this disposal. Some argued saying that Teesside was the most capable place to recycle and handle these deadly ships with its state of the art facilities, while it also generated jobs. The likes of India, namely Alang ship yard, was disregarded.

The fact the ships were referred to as ghosts denotes feelings that they have ‘come back from the dead’, and that there was something not quite right. There was something sinister with the ships, decaying and unsafe, and now suddenly present. As the ships aged, the more dangerous they became, which is in contrast to say the soldiers of the war.

In 2003 the first ships of the fleet arrived, the USS Canisto and USS Caloosahatchee. These ghosts from the second world war arrived at Teesside to be exorcised.  In 2004 the battle ensued regarding the environmental problems the fleet posed, as well as the political responsibility of who is responsible for the ships. Should the past responsibilities remain with the culprit, or can they be subject to relinquish responsibility?

Ghosts therefore are not static or confined to one locality or nationality. The ghost fleet demonstrate how ghosts can move and become a global platform for addressing issues. With the case of the Rapparee Cove, even if the issue is confined to one location, it can cause global political stir due to a globalised past. Haunting can take various forms and have various consequences. There are areas in society which are dedicated to remembrance, but also absence, such as cemeteries, memorials, museums, etc.

Ideas of proximity and distance, as well as presence and absence, play a key role in remembering events and their ability to haunt us. Haunting can also come on suddenly after being forgotten for so many years. Vandalism and graffiti can represent the conflict of degrading a person or event, or simply they are forgotten about so no one cares.

Part 6: Making the Past Present: Historical Wrongs & Demands for Reparation

Some examples of when the ghosts of the globalised world haunt the modern world are not deliberate, unintentional or not wanted. However, there are other examples when the ghosts of the past are deliberately brought up for political or emotional reprieve. There are explicit demands to right past wrongs for reparations, and these are brought to light. Likewise, there are attempts to quell the past, ignoring and erasing history and making the past absent.

Millions for Reparations was a movement to pay out for those who were enslaved in the US between the sixteenth and nineteenth centauries. The campaign was led by African Americans as it was those descendants whose forefathers were transported across the Atlantic to work in the USA. However, it is not just confined to the USA, but expands across the world to target those who were subject to being slaves and dismembered from their families. International recognition is an important part of remembering the past. The United Nations (UN) even proclaimed 2004 the ‘International Year to commemorate the struggle against slavery and its abolition’. It was to highlight not only the wrongs of the past, but also to challenge contemporary issues likes racism, discrimination and intolerance.

Slavery has existed in many forms and in many places throughout human history, and despite slavery being banned in most countries, it still exists today. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade supplied forced labour from the continent of Africa to Central and North America to work in colonies owned by Europeans. The consequences of the transatlantic slave trade are permanently imprinted on today’s society, and its effects are extensive and longstanding. The inequalities in today’s world are not too dissimilar to modern inequalities, where Western nations exploit cheap labour and the African continent still suffers poverty and a poor reputation.

Some argue that globalisation, in its infancy, stole the lives of millions of Africans and exploited them to the benefit of the white, Western nations. People are calling for reparation money for the exploitation of Africans, including during the Apartheid era. The reparation movement is an extension of rebellion, such as when the slaves disobeyed their masters. The slavery reparations movement claims that such processes also connect today’s world to distant historical periods. The slave trade showed the early roots of globalisation, connecting parts of the world and consolidating trade networks. Slavery was crucial to developing the modern, affluent nations of today. The move to get reparations is another cause to network areas in the world. The processes of the past still continue today. The responsibility of the slave trade does not stop directly with the slave owners, there were consumers involved mirroring the sweatshops of today.

Reparations to right past wrongs

The act of reparations to right wrongs is to take responsibility for an action, for recognising the perpetrator and the victim. The demand is the reparation itself.

Restitutions – these are commonly material and can include monetary compensation. It can include the return of lost territory or cultural property.

Apologies- can include statement of regret and often concern exchanges between respondents and claimants. These are often more symbolic.

Remembrance – this can include dedicating days towards these dates and can involve rewriting history from the claimant’s perspective.  

The items closer to the inner circle tend to concern themselves with material values and the outer circle is more symbolic. Also, the demands on the outer circle are often less concerned with punishment of wrongdoers, but, concerned with the legacies of events. Lastly some events are so historic, and the perpetrator and victims are long since gone, or the perpetrator is not just one person, group or nation, remembrance may be far easier to achieve than reparations.

Reparations take many forms, often recognition of the wrong, taking responsibility of the issue and monetary recompense. Transitional justice involves the punishment of an identifiable group of perpetrators, ideally through trials. It tends to apply especially after political trade, such as from an authoritarian regime to a democratic one.

The demand for reparations have become more commonplace in the 20th century. After world war 1, Germany was expected (and coerced) into paying war reparations, war damages, land and more. After world war 2, West Germany offered to pay reparations for Holocaust survivors and to the state of Israel. West Germany in 1952 agreed to pay US$715 million in goods and services to Israel as compensation, US$1110 million for resettlement and relief programmes and direct reparations to survivors over 12 years.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour (1941) there were demands from citizens of the US to relocate citizens of Japanese ancestry, more so in the Western states. In 1942 the government submitted to demands and relocated 120000 people of Japanese descent and put them in camps forcibly. After the war the camps were closed finally in 1946. However, after years of lobbying, the US government made a formal apology in 1989 and provided some monetary compensation for the relocation and confiscation of property.

Many aboriginal or indigenous populations have also called for compensation for lost lands and heritage.  This included assimilation and legislation to prevent traditional cultures, alongside the discrimination and torture these populations suffered at the hands of European settlers.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1995) was a group set up to assist with the human right abuses that happened under apartheid.

The Role of Time

Time plays a massive role in righting past wrongs. What if the victims and perpetrators have long since gone? Can you pinpoint one sole person or group to blame? Can claimants make a demand now? How can respondents right past wrongs effectively?

  • Demands for reparations must establish a past wrong occurred which is recognised

The slave trade at the time was regarded as permissible, and only over time as against human rights. Public opinion needs to change in order for wrongs and rights to be recognised.

  • Demands for reparations must show that the past wrong continues to matter in the present day – the past wrong is still present

Making a past wrong present for current generations may involve universal arguments about human right violations. It also needs to consider the impact of this past wrong on the present, i.e. the slave trade repatriated many people, slavery which developed the US, racism (Jim Crow Laws) and civil rights thereafter.

  • Demands must establish a relationship of identity between past perpetrator and present respondent and between the pact victim and present claimant

This does not mean determining a direct connection or apportion of blame. Often the blame is shared or collective, and not one person is solely responsible. When taking about victims or claimants, we do not often refer to one person, but a collective,

Making the past present

The negative responses to the reparations demands involve making the past distant, denying its significance and accepting responsibility. It is difficult for a claimant to make a demand when the wrong and the demand are not proximate, whether by physical distance or by time. However, even in the face of negative responses, activists still persevere.

Counterfactual Claims

Counterfactual approaches to the past are controversial and often enquire about the what if side of history. Such as, what if the salve trade did not happen? What if Muslims enslaved the Christians? Etc.

Walter Rodney (How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 1974) – the enslavement of the African people began the continents economic decline, as well as political marginalisation, such as colonialism. The loss of a workforce in Africa caused it to be underdeveloped and impoverished. Africa’s lack of commercial success and industrial revolution is likely to be a direct result of the slave trade. Of course, not everyone was enslaved, but it caused a fractured trade route as some were enslaved and others not in Africa. The social disparity between say Europe and Africa have enriched some nations at the expense of others. With this in mind, the nations in Africa and the African diaspora are owed reparations. This is supported by the Abuja Proclamation.

The emphasis on how the processes then have affected the now, the past cannot be dismissed. The outlook of a fictional world if global events were different creates a sense of proximity to the issue, as distant worlds and events are brought closer.

Collective Shared Identities

The reparation movement is to empower ‘blacks’ and to blame the ‘white’ population who enslaved them. By highlighting race as a connection between the black victims and white perpetrators, there is a shared identity. There is however no consensus amongst the black community on reparations, whether they should be paid and how they should be paid.

Reparations would only be successful if a collective group fought for the same things and if a collective perpetrator was recognised. The continuing Western dominance over Africa and the inherent racism in the Western world is only two consequences of slavery. The victims of slavery were not just those enslaved, but those who face racism in the modern day. The absent past is brought back to the present through racism and lack of opportunities in Africa and the diaspora.

By proving that past wrongs still affect today, the demand for reparations is even more evident. However, some still contend shared identities and the fact that some black and Arab people facilitated the slave trade.

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