On Monday, December 6, 2021, President Biden announced that not a single U.S. official would be sent to Beijing Winter Olympics this coming February. The U.S. has not boycotted the Olympic Games since the Moscow Games in 1980, so why now? The United States is taking a public stance by symbolically protesting the atrocities committed to the Uyghur Muslim minority in Northern China.

The International Olympic Committee has always seen itself as a non-political progressive force that provides an alternative to conflict by promoting peace, unity, and egalitarianism embedded in the Olympic ideology of Olympism. The Olympics take great pride in being seen as a legitimate platform outside of the United Nations for international relations. However, time and time again, the Olympics have been an overtly political space. The Nazi games of Berlin in 1936, the Cold War propaganda between the United States and the Soviet Union, African nations protesting South Africa’s inclusion during apartheid, China protesting Taiwan’s participation, Puerto Rico’s use of the games for nationhood, and the labor issues during the Beijing 2008 and Sochi 2014 Games name a few occasions in which politics were front and center in the Olympics. This symbolic boycott by the United States is intriguing for understanding international politics and the political use of the label “Genocide.”

“Genocide” is one of the most politically charged terms that exists. Governments strategically choose when to apply the term genocide to an atrocity in order to avoid political and economic intervention. Look no further than the belated application of the label “genocide” by the United States government regarding Rwanda in 1994 and Darfur in 2008. The setback to label these events as “genocide” led to a delay in intervention, leading to increased violence and death tolls.

China is the United States’ biggest rival for the title of the globe’s Superpower nation. Like in the Cold War, the United States is using the Olympic Platform for political propaganda. Suppose the United States and the Biden administration were serious about the atrocities committed towards Uyghurs. Why do they not boycott the Games in their entirety? The United States is still allowing American athletes to compete in Beijing. The Olympics are an arena in which soft power manifests itself, where government officials and business elites attend from across the globe. It is a platform used to promote and perform a nation’s strength. The United States refusing to send a single government official represents the nation taking the moral high ground, while simultaneously allowing American athletes to compete demonstrates the ideological faultlines for this “symbolic” protest.

Now, history seems to be repeating itself with the politics of labels overriding politics of action. Just like in the past, the term “genocide” is only being used as a half-measure not to send officials to a sporting event dubbed the “Genocide Olympics” but not enough to justify the intervention of actual genocide. The United States may deem themselves self-proclaimed winners, but the Uyghurs are losing, and not on a semantic level.

Edgar Campos is a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He studies cultural politics and how it affects international relations. His dissertation focuses on the politics of culture surrounding the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games. Campos will start a new role as an assistant professor of sociology at the Department of Sociology & Anthropology at Texas Christian University in Fall 2022.

Eighty-nine years ago, a famine swept Ukraine, a result of intentional policies instituted by the Soviet government. A combination of confiscated harvests and the rejection of aid lead to the starvation of millions of Ukrainians (the exact number is still debated, as reflected in a graduate student panel hosted by CHGS last year). The name given to this man-made famine, Holodomor, means to kill by starvation. 

Although recognized by several international organizations and several nations as genocide, including the United States since 1984, the Holodomor is still little understood, and even less taught in the U.S. In a survey CHGS conducted of educators, less than 6% of teachers had an understanding of the Holodomor, and even fewer included it in their classroom lessons. Much of the shroud surrounding the genocide can be attributed to secrecy implemented by the Soviet government; understanding and awareness were kept under wraps until the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

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The Center has been busily promoting the work of Professor David Feinberg, who has retired from the Department of Art after an illustrious 50-year career. A retrospective of Feinberg’s work is currently on display at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery on the UMN West Bank Campus. 

The works on display serve as important reminders, best summed up in Feinberg’s own words: 

“All art comes from the unconscious. The unconscious makes connections between the past and the present. Truth has to be found, not contrived or preconceived. Seeking truth is the way to originality. The only true thing a person has is their unique perception of the world.” 

The exhibition, Divide Up Those in Darkness from the Ones Who Walk in Light, consists of two collections: Voice to Vision and a collection of Feinberg’s earlier works. Upon walking into the gallery, one first sees several of these early pieces on display, encouraging visitors to immediately engage with an overarching theme of the retrospective: the role of art for the individual—not only to shape public consciousness but also larger arcs of history. Subjects of these early pieces include partisans active during World War II, the 1956 explosion at the Brooklyn piers, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and the “Day the Music Died” to name a few. 

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The American Swedish Institute (ASI) current exhibit, “Rescuing Children on the Brink of War,” provides various accounts from those who, as children, were sent to various countries to escape Nazi persecution between late 1938 and September of 1939. 

Originally a 2018 collaboration between the Yeshiva University Museum and Leo Baeck Institute (both located at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan), the exhibition created an outpouring of public interest around the Kindertransport’s 80th anniversary and led to the donation of numerous items that have since ended up on companion sites.

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After 20 years, the Taliban have returned to power in Kabul. Two decades of progress for women and human rights are certain to be completely demolished. One group, in particular, the Hazaras, are especially fearful for what the future holds. 

Hazaras bury their children after a recent school bombing. Photo Courtesy of the NYTimes.

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Rapprochement over estrangement, renewal, and hope, these sorely needed values strengthen our rituals for new beginnings. This applies to the new academic term and the Jewish New Year, which converged as we strive to overtake the pandemic this September of 2021. Sadly, the bright start to our gatherings was soon clouded by the disturbing news about attacks and attempts to cause harm to Hmong and Jewish communities in the Twin Cities.

Racist anti-Asian and anti-Black attacks and antisemitic assaults are very often perpetrated by the same offenders. Undoubtedly, blind hatred and intolerance are motivators of such heinous acts. The importance of collaboration and solidarity in the face of unabashed hostility cannot be understated and it is heartening when diverse communities unite, rally, and respond with a sense of shared purpose. At the same time, we are aware that antisemitism cannot be fully grasped when merely absorbed and understood as just another form of racism.

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Nikoleta (Nika) Sremac is a third-year Ph.D. Student in the Department of Sociology. She received her BA in Political Science – International Relations from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her research focuses on the intersections of gender, culture, politics, and collective memory of mass violence in the U.S. and the Balkans. She is interested in the role of cultural production and political activism in processing past violence in the service of post-conflict reconciliation. 

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One of the most dangerous weapons in the world has been increasing in prevalence over the past few decades. This deadly weapon is not advancing technology, nuclear weapons, nor lethal biological warfare. Instead, it is something that is not immediately seen as a threat, something that undermines our sense of security due to perceived innocence and peacefulness. Women.

Female Chechen suicide bomber (Daily Star, 2010)

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Holocaust and Genocide Education Workshop at The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) recently released the second draft of proposed social studies standards. The draft, part of a mandatory process to review teaching and learning standards every ten years, will not only secure but significantly expand Holocaust and genocide education across the state for years to come. 

The months-delayed second draft follows the release of a controversial first draft in December 2020, which did not mention Holocaust and genocide education. The decision meant not carrying through the three existing references from the current social studies standards, which were adopted in 2011.

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The CHGS collections include not only a diverse array of papers and physical objects but also many of the Center’s past lectures and events, as well as a backlog of oral testimonies from survivors of genocide. Not to mention: CHGS partners with the UMN Libraries to promote the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, which includes 55,000+ oral testimonies from genocide survivors. 

Although this rich set of materials is used by faculty, students, researchers, and K12 teachers alike, there are obstacles to managing the collections. Arguably central, and accessioned at various points over time, are under-utilized parts of the collections that include artworks, photographs, materials from Center-sponsored exhibitions, and rare items from private donors. Two such collections are the focus of this blog post. 

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