01 Lug GENOCIDE
Genocide is among the gravest crimes against humanity: the term was first introduced in the 40s by Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin in response to the Nazis’ mass atrocities and was later codified under Article II of the 1948 Convention on Genocide to include and define “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. Genocide crimes are attacks on humanity: perpetrators classify, discriminate and dehumanise their target based on the belief that the victim is “less human” than the dominant group. Tragically, the “odious scourge” of genocide is a living spectre, as seen in the ongoing acts perpetrated against the Yazid or Rohingya people.
In his book “Worse than War”, Daniel J Goldhagen uses the term eliminationism and seeks to understand why people kill others on a mass scale and how eliminationist theories are born, spread and implemented successfully. One of the most interesting analyses he brings forward is the aspect of willingness, the choice to kill that every executioner makes when perpetrating eliminationist politics.
Several filmmakers and artists have resorted to art to represent the atrocities of eliminationist events through history, but also to foster reconciliation and peacebuilding, repair open wounds or raise awareness on ongoing abuses.
In Hotel Rwanda, Terry George dramatised the story of Paul Rusesabagina, manager of Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, who gave shelter to 1,268 Hutu and Tutsi refugees during the 100 days of slaughter in 1994. Yet, the toll of the genocide is still felt today: despite reconciliation efforts, Paul Kagame – a.k.a. “the darling tyrant” or the “benevolent dictator” – rules by terror under the guise of preventing another genocide.
Artist collective @Sulu.Artco creates powerful portraits of artists, intellectuals and Muslim minority Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region who fell victim to the Chinese government repression. More than 1 mln are reportedly held in “re-education” camps where they are subjected to forced labour, surveillance, cultural erasure and sterilisation. U.S., Canada and Netherlands called the persecution against Uyghurs a genocide.
In “La Llorona”, filmmaker @jayrobustamante brings to the scene the genocidal slaughter of thousands of indigenous Maya that shook Guatemala during the years of the civil war between 1960-1996. Set in a haunted house, the movie portrays the life of Enrique Monteverde, a fictional retired general, who is put on trial thirty years after the violent genocide carried out by the government forces. While chaos and crowds of angry protesters threaten the opulent fortress of the ex-general where his sins go unpunished, a weeping female phantom – also known in the Latin American folklore as “La Llorona” – starts hunting him.
By depicting a positive version of the hispanic myth, “La Llorona” is imagined as a desperate woman who doesn’t give the perpetrator a rest and seeks justice for all those Mayans, victims of the slaughter, who were left without justice. The allegory of “La Llorona” not only creates a terrifying atmosphere but also a supernatural dimension where the oppressor finally receives his punishment.
The character of Enrique Monteverde is partially inspired by the real figure of José Efraín Ríos Montt, the General who led Guatemala’s military government in the 1980s and the intellectual author of one of the bloodiest pages in the country’s history. Charged with civil war crimes in 2013 and later absolved by a Guatemalan court in 2018 amid criticism, he died the same year leaving a legacy of impunity. During the 36 years of civil war, over 200,000 Guatemalans, mostly belonging to the Mayan community, were either killed by the military or forcibly disappeared.
Bustamante’s work has reached international recognition for his incredible work which combines the traumatic past of a nation with folkloric myths to give a meaningful redemption to the present.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Every year on 11 July thousands of people walk to Potočari’ in a March of Peace (Marš Mira) to commemorate the tragic anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, which took place between 11 and 16 July 1995. While the facts of the genocide have been established in the sentences of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), unfortunately the complex historical tensions between the Orthodox Serb and Muslim Bosnian population have not yet ceased to exist, with persisting attempts from some to fob the population off with denialist theories and propaganda.
But the social battle for reconciliation and lasting peace continues everyday in the cultural field, led particularly by youth movements (@youthforpeace_bih).
How can we reflect on these events through art?
In this post we have selected the astonishing artwork of renowned Bosnian artist Safet Zec, part of the series “Exodus” which was exhibited at the Srebrenica Memorial Centre on the 25th anniversary of the genocide. Zec’s Poetic Realism portrays with beautiful brutality the faces and bodies of people torn by war crimes. He said this work represented “an artistic attempt to react” to the genocide and contribute to its commemoration.
Another major visual artwork on the Srebrenica genocide is that of Scottish artist @peter.howson, who transferred the trauma of his experience in BiH during the war into the painting « The Massacre of Srebrenica » completed in 2019.
Finally, we can’t wait to see “Quo Vadis, Aida?” @quovadisaida. In Jasmila Zbanic’s film, based on true events, a translator for the UN assists the peacemaking forces in the town of Srebrenica in 1995 during the bungled negotiations with the Bosnian Serb army. Against the background of the UN’s failure to protect civilians, the movie reconstructs the tragic events unfolding in the city before the Bosnian Serb part eventually slaughtered 8,000 Muslim Bosnian men and boys.