Inclusive remembering (III): propositions

The topic of inclusive remembering around the 4th of May Commemoration has been a hot potato. Marginalised voices have expressed their needs to have the injustices and trauma done to them become part of the commemoration, but recognition has not come automatically as can be seen in the Jewish fight for inclusion in the commemoration. So how to make remembering genuinely inclusive? My answer would be that we focus our work on three things: shared history, its institutionalisation linked to a collective future, and official recognition. 

If we understand the 4th of May to mean a national day of commemoration, then it follows that this day is about creating a sense of shared history of what it means to be part of Dutch society, its values and its history. Not all of us live through the same experiences and yet these are the parts that make the whole: signifying that we in some ways belong together. Shared history carries in itself the imperative to share: we need to keep sharing our stories and make room for others to share theirs. And share them with utmost particularity: tell it like it is. Don’t lump stories together, be specific about what the injustice and trauma looks like from each community’s perspective and experience. 

While indignation, outrage and activism may be important drivers for a more inclusive commemoration, genuine learning from the past needs some form of institutionalisation. As Benjamin Duerr in De Groene Amsterdammer argues, ‘simply storing and preserving information about the past is (…) not enough to learn from it. Experiences must be repeated, present and visible’. In the multitude of shared stories we can find patterns that we can use as scenarios of proactive warning that link our fragmented past to our collective future. Duerr stresses that the ability to recognise these scenarios is a societal skill that must be actively and continuously trained. In this way our society is able to identify risks and steer away from potential disaster. It follows that no single story of remembrance is therefore ever heard ‘enough’, or loses relevance. And so in thinking of inclusive remembering, the stories need to be able to exist side by side and must be repeated and relistened to over and over again. 

Finally, in order to truly make the leap into institutionalising the learned lessons of remembrance, we need to understand that the work of healing from trauma starts with a recognition of that same trauma. The Dutch government must step up and take seriously its responsibility in recognising the injustices done. The Jewish community received official apologies for the Dutch role in the Jewish genocide only last year – 75 years after the end of the war. Other communities are still waiting. Only when official recognition of trauma is made, can a commemoration like the 4th of May become a truly valuable checkpoint of remembrance in our collective efforts for an inclusive society.

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