When Joe Biden recently redecorated the Oval Office with paintings he had a lot to choose from:  45 presidents, a collection of founding fathers and countless political figures that have accumulated during 245 years of United States history. There are, of course, some questionable characters among them due to events like the Civil War, Watergate and the last administration. But the number of individuals with clearance to stare down from White House walls is still astonishingly high.

Not too long ago and as an unpleasant surprise to many, particularly within the Native American community, Andrew Jackson was seen hanging in the Oval Office again, trying to make the point that he was still salonfähig. This is one of those German words that give Merriam Webster a headache.

“Socially acceptable” is the official translation, but it really means “can be brought to a highbrow cocktail party of notables such as literary figures, artists or statesmen without ruining everyone’s evening.” Well, Biden didn’t want Jackson to ruin any of his parties, so he got rid of his portrait and put up one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Although FDR’s legacy regarding the Holocaust remains controversial, he is still one of the most revered US Presidents with undiminished Salonfähigkeit.

Germany’s equivalent to the White House and Oval Office is the Chancellery in Berlin with the office that since 2005 has been occupied by Angela Merkel. As a scientist by training Merkel is dispassionate about many things including the arts. When she entered office, she played it safe — as she typically does — and put up a portrait of Konrad Adenauer, West Germany’s first chancellor after WWII. A stuffy conservative and at his time often criticized for mixing religion and politics, he is today the unchallenged father figure of the Federal German Republic just as George Washington is for the United States.

To her excuse, Angela Merkel had a more limited number of predecessor portraits to choose from than Joe Biden. This is due to the lack of term limits in the Basic Law and, consequently, several semi-eternal chancellorships between 1949 and today (including her own). Also, finding someone salonfähig before 1949 gets tricky in German history.

The First Reich lasted one thousand years and had many emperors but no chancellors. The Second Reich had fewer emperors and more chancellors — Bismarck being one of them — but none with any democratic credentials. And the Third Reich’s only chancellor promised one thousand years of Paradise that turned out to be twelve years of hell and Holocaust. The only other period in German history outside the Federal Republic that gets occasionally mined for portraits of ex-chancellors is the short-lived, interwar Weimar Republic. Out of that group the award for remaining most salonfähig today regularly goes to Gustav Stresemann who was chancellor for only three months but won the Nobel Peace Prize for his achievements as foreign minister in the 1920s.

So, picking Adenauer’s portrait was OK although certainly the least bold and most boring choice. For someone like Angela Merkel who came of age in East Germany in the early seventies, chancellor Willy Brandt and his Ostpolitik must have been more inspiring than Adenauer’s pontificating about godless communists from two decades earlier.

Did not make it into Angela Merkel’s Chancellery: Haus unter Bäumen by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1910).

Another wall in Merkel’s Oval Office remains blank for now. It was actually reserved for a painting by famous German expressionist Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Schmidt-Rottluff, however, was recently reported to have parroted the anti-Semitic war propaganda of the Kaiser’s government in his letters towards the end of WWI. Which is what many, if not the majority of Germans did at that time, including Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus school and, after emigrating to the US, leading architect of the International Style.

Clearly no excuse, but it is noteworthy that in contrast to fellow expressionist and Hitler enthusiast Emil Nolde, Schmidt-Rottluff distanced himself from the Nazis and later worked with and befriended Jewish colleagues in the art scene. It would have been nice if the German chancellor had at least made an effort to contextualize and differentiate instead of simply leaving the wall blank and avoiding any discussion. I don’t think that this is how Vergangenheitsbewältigung or working through the past should be done, not even by a dispassionate physicist who, ironically, never skips the annual Richard Wagner Music Festival in Bayreuth.

Is Karl Schmidt-Rottluff still salonfähig? Well, if Franklin Delano Roosevelt is, then Karl Schmidt-Rottluff should at least be given a hearing.

Henning Schroeder is a former vice provost and dean of graduate education at the University of Minnesota and currently teaches in the Department of German, Nordic, Slavic & Dutch. His email address is schro601@umn.edu and his Twitter handle is @HenningSchroed1.

As the academic year draws to a close at the Center and a clear route forward out of the pandemic has come into view, two popular Spanish refrains come to mind: “No hay mal que dure cien años” and “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” These adages roughly translate to: “there is no evil that lasts a hundred years,” and “there’s nothing bad through which good doesn’t come.”  

If anything, the advent of the pandemic made us more resourceful and agile as we pushed forward with unprecedented experiments with technology that connected CHGS with students, educators, advocates, and scholars across the country and the globe.  

The lockdown also forced many of us to explore in detail the brave new world of online teaching where we discovered that digital learning platforms can offer extraordinary tools to enhance collaboration, dialogue, and creative forms of instruction.  

Despite being unable to meet on campus, CHGS affiliated faculty worked closely together to provide engaging, unique learning opportunities for UMN students, connecting them with experts from other institutions of higher education throughout the world.  

Thanks to the hard work and tireless efforts of Jennifer Hammer and Meyer Weinshel we also continued developing the Center’s digital collections and making these more relevant and accessible for use in research and teaching.

Above all, we have learned that the digital, which previously seemed to isolate people, allowed us to stay together, bridge distances, and make us stronger.

Thus, the new academic year will not be “back to normal” (or merely a return to the old settled ways). We will build upon these experiences, where traditional in-person learning embraces innovative methods of outreach and dissemination to uphold the Center’s mission.

This piece was originally published by Scatterplot on May 24th, 2021.

Image Credit: Ben Hovland

Tomorrow marks one year since the murder of George Floyd at 38th and Chicago in South Minneapolis, sparking a rebellion that burned a police precinct and much of a nearby commercial strip. In the days that followed, a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council declared their intention to “dismantle” the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). This declaration seemed to place the city at the forefront of a national conversation to reimagine public safety and redress racialized police violence. And yet, although the people of Minneapolis largely agree about the need for systematic changes in policing, residents, activists, and policymakers continue to disagree about the nature and scope of those transformations. These political struggles have complicated efforts to dismantle the MPD.

As I wrote on scatterplot last summer, periods of upheavalrarely produce total abandonment of the status quo, but political leaders, activists, and community members can use such openings to shift the direction of policies, practices, and institutional and cultural arrangements. Those words ring even truer today. Nearly a year following the declaration, the MPD remains standing, but changed, as the city continues to struggle over how to create “safety for all” in a starkly unequal society. Fights over public safety are central to the upcoming election, where city residents will vote on a new charter amendment to replace the MPD with a Department of Public Safety and re-elect or vote out of office the council members who have fought for (or resisted) these changes and the Mayor who has rebuffed calls to dismantle the MPD.

I started writing this post several weeks ago, trying to map out the many developments in public safety over the past year. But the details soon grew too long for the format, threatening to turn a blog post into the book I’m currently writing on policing in Minneapolis. Instead, here I’ll provide several links to local reporting on these issues and then focus on the charter amendment. 

These changes include:

  • Police reforms led by the Mayor and MPD’s Chief, in part through a court order imposed by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. These include a ban on chokeholds, a new “duty to intervene” requirement for officers, and ongoing reforms to training and misconduct policies and practices.
  • Expanded violence interruption teams, including community patrols during the unrest, the Chauvin trial, and spikes in gun violence.
  • 5% cut to the MPD’s 2021 budget to fund violence prevention programs and a new mobile mental health crisis response program.
  • The ousting of MPD from the city’s public schools and their replacement with civilian safety specialists (some of whom have a law enforcement background).
  • The torching of the third precinct and successful resistanceto resiting the precinct within the ward.
  • The “autonomous” George Floyd Square, which is still barricaded and managed by community members opposed to police presence in the neighborhood.
  • State-level police reforms passed in 2020, which banned chokeholds (in most cases) and strengthened community involvement in Minnesota’s law enforcement licencing board. A new package of bills is currently under consideration in Minnesota (though is being blocked by Senate Republicans), which would eliminate most pretext vehicle stops by police and require the state licencing board to regulate officer support for white supremacist groups.

In addition, the events of this summer have pushed a cultural shift–prompting citizens, community leaders, and law enforcement to change. Residents have been increasingly drawn into the political struggles over public safety. Images of George Floyd and signs for “Justice for George” are ubiquitous across the city, even as residents and city leaders who support the MPD in the city have grown more organized. Officers have also left the force in record numbers, citing trauma from the unrest and frustration with elected officials, reducing the MPD’s size by 20% without any change in the charter. Indeed, it is this shrinking of the police force through attrition (not policy change) that has brought the number of MPD officers below the staffing levels required in the current city charter–opening the city up to a lawsuit filed by some community members who argue that the city has not adequately protected them. These safety concerns have been particularly acute in North Minneapolis, home to many Black residents, where gun violence has spiked since the start of the pandemic,* with community leaders demanding the city address these pressing safety concerns.

The city also agreed to  a record-breaking $27 million civil settlement for George Floyd’s family, announced just weeks before Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder. (The city and state also spent millions rebuilding from the unrest and fortifying downtown during the trial.) State and federal criminal cases against both Chauvin and the three other involved officers continue. In addition, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are both continuing civil rights investigations into the MPD’s policies and practices. Both investigations could lead to additional consent decrees forcing the city to further reform the MPD. In some cities, DOJ consent decrees have mandated cities spend more on police training and staffing, changes that may contradict the proposed charter amendment.

Last summer, after the June declaration by a majority of Minneapolis City Councilmembers, the council put forward an initiative to replace the MPD in the city charter with a Community Safety and Violence Prevention department. This charter amendment represented the most concrete effort to dismantle the MPD in the wake of the June 2020 declaration, though not all the councilmembers who took to the stage emblazoned with “DEFUND POLICE” supported the proposal. By city governance rules, any changes to the charter must be reviewed by the city’s Charter Commission, an appointed board tasked with providing a recommendation to the city council. In August, the city’s charter commission ran out the clock on their review of the proposal, effectively blocking its appearance on the 2020 ballot.

This initiative, however, was re-proposed in 2021, supported by both several city council members and a popular ballot initiative organized by Yes 4 Minneapolis. In November, Minneapolis voters will decide whether they want to replace the MPD in the city charter with a new Department of Public Safety, an initiative that has so far polled favorably but remains deeply contested. The new department would include alternative first responders alongside law enforcement, though it is unclear what the numerical balance will be between the different units. (Under the language of the Yes 4 Minneapolis amendment, the department will include “licensed peace officers if necessary to fulfill the responsibilities of the department.” State law requires the city to have police, making them “necessary” according to the language of the proposal.) It is also unclear how the shift from MPD to the new Public Safety department would impact ongoing negotiations with the police officers’ federation, with officers (and their contract) presumably shifting automatically to the new department if it passes. The amendment would also move power over the department from the Mayor to the City Council, a shift long supported by some councilmembers.

Supporters argue that the charter is the first step in reimagining policing and creating a structure for the city to develop holistic public safety interventions. The Mayor and many of his allies (including business leaders and some community leaders), however, have pushed back on these calls, arguing that it would defund (with the goal of ultimately abolishing) the MPD. They argue such moves would endanger public safety in a time of rising crime. The charter amendment also faces resistance from other activist groups, who argue that it may worsen the accountabilityproblem by shifting power to the council. One group of critics is working to propose an alternative charter amendment for community control of the police.

These divides–between more status-quo reform and radical transformations and among groups calling for radical changes vs. abolition–are part of a broader struggle in left-leaning cities in the U.S. Since the summer, a split has more publicly emerged between those who support police reform (or efforts to minimize certain kinds of police violence, particularly lethal killings of civilians, through policy and practice reforms), and abolitionists, who want to literally abolish the police (and, for many, abolish capitalism), reducing police violence by shrinking the number of police-civilian interactions. Even among activists who identify police abolition or radical transformations in public safety as the ultimate end-goal, however, tensions about how to start the journey toward that horizon remain.

Largely due to these struggles over public safety, the Mayor and the President of the City Council are no longer on speaking terms. The Mayor recently held a press conference about a spate of gun violence in North Minneapolis, which critically injured two children and killed 6-year-old Aniya Allen. Standing behind him were several of the community leaders and city councilmembers who have supported the Mayor’s plans; he did not invite the two Northside representatives who have championed the new models of violence prevention co-opted in the Mayor’s new safety plan. In November, Minneapolis residents will decide the fate of the public safety amendment, select a new Mayor or re-elect the incumbent, Jacob Frey, and vote for the full slate of city councilmembers (including one who will become the new City Council President). Residents will also vote on another charter amendment–the “strong mayor” proposal–which would give the Mayor more control over the operations of city departments (akin to the control he currently wields over the MPD).

In short, public safety in Minneapolis is changing quickly and in multiple, and at times contradictory, directions. It will likely shift even more after November and the conclusion of the DOJ investigation. While the June declaration to dismantle the MPD didn’t immediately “end” the MPD, it has dramatically altered local politics. It is unsurprising that crime–and gun violence in particular–has become a wedge issue in this struggle. Police represent, alternatively, the ideal of state protection and the threat of state violence, often to the same people, a tension legal scholar Monica Bell describes as the conundrum of Black security. Community members in the neighborhoods most impacted by over policing and under-protection often describe wanting both deep structural transformations in policing and more protection from exposure to violence in the community. While calls for more policing are a common response to rising violence, law enforcement is often a poor mechanism for producing the broader social fabric needed to prevent victimization. This means that “safety for all” cannot end with police reform–or even public safety transformations–but rather requires redressing the vastly unequal social conditions of residents in Minneapolis and across the country.

*Rises in some kinds of violent crime, including shootings, in 2021 and 2021 have often been attributed to changes in policing or criminal justice policies in the media. But police (and courts) are just one piece of a much bigger puzzle in society that drives crime up or down. There are lots of reasons to think that the pandemic, which disrupted so many parts of life, had a causal impact on crime. The pandemic pushed kids out of school buildings and adults out of employment and daily life on streets across the country. Abolitionists also note that the definition of crime is itself socially constructed and largely focuses on the kinds of harm committed by the least privileged in society. This framework argues we ought to treat deaths from preventable sickness (including COVID-19) and other kinds of structural violence with the same importance and urgency as homicides.

Thanks to Josh Page, Amber Joy Powell, and Christopher Robertson for their insightful suggestions.

Michelle Phelps is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. Her research is in the sociology of punishment, focusing on mass probation, criminal justice transformation, and policing.

The genocide committed against Indigenous groups in America has been described as a topic of the past, however, this is a practice which has not paused since the arrival of the Europeans to this territory which we today call the American continent. 

The recent government actions against indigenous populations demonstrate this, as it occurs in countries like Brazil and Colombia. At the same time, people look to claim their rights and resist through a diverse set of strategies that range from direct protest in the streets to the defense of their culture and thought via quotidian acts, pedagogical, and performative acts on Western culture.

The indigenous people of the territory referred to as Latin America face daily structural obstacles which limit their full social and economic inclusion in each of the countries in which they live.  This is not novel information, on the contrary, it contains the normalization of a social group that is excluded as a result of state actions and that justifies itself through economic structural causes that perpetuate colonial differences, now more than 200 years after the end of the colonial process.

On top of a lack of State guarantees for access to resources, there have been systematic assassinations of individuals belonging to indigenous communities, which have occurred throughout history and continue to occur in various countries of Latin America in an ever-growing count of bleeding droplets emanating from the community.  

There are multiple examples to mention: until just a few decades ago, Colombia permitted hunting indigenous people to populate their lands; in Argentina, the existence of indigenous people has been largely denied; and under the Fujimori government in Peru, illicit hysterectomies and vasectomies were conducted on the indigenous population, among many other acts of extermination which have been done in this region. 

Similarly, another way of sponsoring genocide of indigenous populations is to make them invisible; and states have minimized their existence via inaccurate census counts, by the absence of questions for self-identification, exaggerated error margins, or their very absence. Each of these are mechanisms that result in one not knowing the full extent of the number of indigenous populations, and therefore the necessary policies are not developed to respond to their needs.

This type of treatment towards indigenous peoples is framed in discourses of hate sponsored by governments or political leaders that present stigmatized information. Those discourses of hate are the corallary of epistemic violence (or epistemicides as Boaventura de Sousa has said), as the attacks and assassinations are of physical violence. 

Both kinds of violence form the basis of the “modern subjective ideal” according to the philosopher Nelson Maldonado-Torres. This means that in order to arrive at the processes of bleeding, forgetting, and inattention to the indigenous people, there has been a sustained racist and classist mental paradigm built as the ontological foundation in current societies.  That is why these types of violence can be committed by different actors that feel that they are backed by society and that they are maintaining the status quo.

An example of this have been the events in recent years against the indigenous people of Colombia that conform the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC). Since 2009, via the declaration of T-25 auto 004, the Colombian Constitutional Court declared that 32 of the 102 Indigenous Peoples of the country are in danger of extinction.  Furthermore, the court stated that the State should take measures to stop this. Nonetheless, the violation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples has not improved since then. 

Quite the contrary, they are among the poorest in the country, and many do not have access to basic services, health, and have low levels of nutrition according to reports from the Ministry of Health.  Furthermore, the physical violence that they are subjected to makes chilling statistics.  Between January 2016 and March 2021, more than 280 Indigenous People have been assassinated, according to data by the Institute for the Defense of Peace (Indepaz).   These assassinations have flared up following the signing of the Peace Accord, and the majority are committed in Valle del Cauca, a place disputed by different armed drug dealing groups.

The Indigenous group Nasa carrying the ONIC flag during a funeral of assassinated leaders in 2019.  Image Credit: LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images.

These statistics are a genocide by droplets, but additionally, there is no State protection to the community from these acts, and in some cases, the communities indicate that the perpetrators are themselves government forces, as communicated via organizations like Dejusticia, Indepaz or international entities like Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, among others.

It is precisely this which is happening these days in Colombia.  Since the 28th of April 2021, the country has been subsumed in protests against the current government’s decisions.  In this context, ONIC has organized an indigenous minga (a meeting where tasks and activities are developed and worked on together) to make demands to State representatives for action to protect them, and a response to the assassination of Indigenous and other Social Leaders. On this occasion, the minga took over and blocked public spaces in different parts of Cali, one of the country’s cities most affected by poverty, and consequently a key focal point for the national protests.   

Among its actions, the minga disarmed police infiltrators, removed their weapons and judged them according to their customs, and turned them over to the Ombudsman and the United Nations (UN). This peaceful act was responded to by armed civil society groups, supported by groups of police officers (as has been shown by many videos shared via social media), shooting at indigenous people that were in the minga in different parts of the city. A total of nine people have been hurt by the shots; some are in grave health situations.  Of this writing, there has not yet been one prosecution, investigation, or other response from the government.

These attacks were further accompanied by shouting at the minga, “Go away Indian!” coming from people who, according to the video footage, were with and supporting the armed individuals.

What can be done to resist and not give up in the face of this genocide by droplets? Confronting these constant attacks, the Indigenous Peoples of Colombia undertake actions of direct protest and develop judicial, penal, and cultural performative actions, such as knocking down the monuments of conquerors across the country. The Misak people, who are part of ONIC, have pulled down three of them.  

The first and second were of Sebastián de Belalcazar in September 2020 in Popayán, and on the 28th of April in Cali, the third was of Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, the 9th of May, 2021 in Bogotá. Both individuals are considered “founders” of the capitals by much of traditional history. Their names and their acts, by contrast, were genocidal, as the Indigenous people indicate.  The tearing down of these statues comes accompanied by symbolic “judgments” in which they have been sentenced to crimes such as genocidal dispossession and land hoarding, physical and cultural disappearance, and torture. Acts that are well known in history, and meanwhile national monuments to these individuals continue to be considered. This is also what the indigenous people wish to tear down, and therein lies the radical strength of their act.

The torn down statue of Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada in Bogotá.  The representatives of the Misak group which knocked it down are up on the pedestal where the statue once stood.

Knocking down these statues are acts of resilience, full of decolonizing symbolism. It is not vandalism, as some sectors of society have described it, but acts of revindication of Indigenous culture in Colombia. The Indigenous groups that lead these acts demonstrate a proposal to raise awareness in general society via disruptive acts – whether via the shock or sympathy that they generate. These acts of Indigenous resistance are simple, yet powerful.  They call attention to the way in which history is written, the position that Indigenous groups hold in society, and how different paths can be built in a country that has a deep debt in terms of recognizing the rights and diversity of Indigenous People.

Giovanna Aldana has a Ph.D. in Social Science Research from FLASCO in Mexico.  She currently has a postdoctoral position in the Institute of Anthropological Research at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). She has been a university instructor in Perú and Colombia and a social consultant for various organizations.  Her research has focused on topics related to the multiple expressions of Indigenous Resistance, and the quotidian forms of resistance, and those indirectly through culture.  Learn more about Giovanna via her LinkedIn or Academia pages.

To read this article in Spanish please click here.

In 2015, I was in a taxi in Medellin on my way to the airport. Upon hearing the news about the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC, the taxi driver vehemently complained that the authorities were negotiating with people who perpetrated atrocities.

I jumped in and pointed out that Colombian paramilitaries also committed atrocities, yet the government negotiated their demobilization a decade earlier and rightly did it so. The taxi driver paused for a moment in silence and then replied: “You’re right. At the beginning, paramilitaries only eliminated drug addicts, prostitutes, gays, and communists. Then, they started to do drug-trafficking, and that is when they went bad.” 

In Cali these days, and in other parts of Colombia, this is exactly the kind of mindset at work as we witness white SUVs running into the protesters at roadblocks and shooting at them. In an intercepted communication that Colombian media recently circulated, a vigilante laid out his modus operandi. “We go to the police officer in charge of the area and tell him – we tell him, we do not ask for permission – that we will approach the protesters and try to convince them to remove the roadblocks. And if they don’t get convinced, then we go back and take care of them” – with lead. 

In a country in which a part of society thinks that way at all levels of the social pyramid, the democratic process has little incentive to converge onto the center and support more encompassing and more moderate arrangements that isolate the extremes. There will always be people who will be ready to turn to their own guns if they do not get what they want. And the party that is willing and able to apply the greatest force will be the one that will ultimately have the upper hand. A race to the bottom will ensue: “When they go low, we will go so much lower.” 

For over a decade during my time in Colombia, I have devoted my sociology to identify channels that might help expand the horizon of civil interactions across a variety of social and institutional scenarios and have attempted to convince the parties on one side and on the other that this was the only path to sustainable gains for all. 

There comes a time in life, though, when one needs to acknowledge one’s own limits and accept that there are actors within society that will play the civil game only till it serves their own interests and that when it does not, or no longer, then they will opt for violent confrontation and for a war of attrition. 

Before this bitter realization, one is confronted with a question that is hard to elude: “And now, what?” One option is to leave my sociology and do something else in life. Paraphrasing Adorno, to do sociology of the civil sphere in certain contexts is almost like writing poetry after Auschwitz.

It is not barbarianism, but one is left powerless and without teeth in the face of barbarianism. It is a bit like writing sermons of hope in Germany or Italy in 1941 or in East Berlin in 1965.

Carlo Tognato is a Senior Policy Fellow at the Center for the Study of Social Change, Institutions and Policy (SCIP) of the Schar the School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

To hear Carlo discuss his newest work, please click here.

Editor’s note: April 24th marked the 106th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. That Saturday, President Biden formally recognized the event as genocide, the culmination of efforts by the Armenian community, nearly all of which are the descendants of genocide survivors. We asked Lou Ann Matossian, a local community historian, to reflect on the Armenian community’s connection to Minnesota.

By the fall of 1915, when the Ottoman Turkish extermination campaign was making headlines across Minnesota, the Armenian  Genocide had been underway for six months. Closest to the story were two groups of Minnesotans—ethnic Armenians and Protestant missionaries. 

Since 1899, when Oriental rug merchant Bedros Keljik arrived in St. Paul, the  Twin Cities community had grown to about 200 Armenian immigrants and their  American-born children. In May, 1915, as the genocide was unfolding in their homeland, Armenians appealed to President Wilson at a mass meeting in downtown St. Paul. At least 37 Twin Cities Armenians—a sizeable proportion of the community’s military-age men—left that summer to volunteer against the  Turkish army. 

Bedros Keljik, via the Star Tribune

Also in the danger zone were Protestant missionary-educators. Charlotte Willard and Frances Gage, who had met at Carleton College, rescued 41 Armenian women. Carmelite Christie protected Armenian students, distributed aid, and chronicled the destruction around her. Sophie Holt brought her wartime experiences home to Duluth. After the war, returning missionaries took part in national efforts to assist survivors of the Armenian Genocide.  

Carmelite Christie
Poster for the American Committee for Near East Relief

The largest such effort, Near East Relief, received strong support in Minnesota.  “They Shall Not Perish,” a striking NER poster, was created by Douglas Volk, a  founder of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.  Beginning in 1920, refugees such as Vartanoush Karagheusian, sister of Dayton’s  Oriental rug buyer John Karagheusian, found safe haven in Minnesota. Survivor  Oksent (“Mike”) Ousdigian would lead the Public Employees Retirement Association for more than 40 years. Today, Minnesota Armenians continue to play a vital, productive role in community life. 

We remember and demand.

Lou Ann Matossian, Ph.D., Community Historian

Nearly five years ago, the Center published two blog articles, Another Genocide Declaration: This One Matters, and Berlin’s Message to Ankara, detailing the importance of Germany’s recognition of the Armenian genocide. Then, Germany had just become the thirteenth country to formally declare the targeted destruction of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire as genocide. To many scholars, Germany’s recognition of the genocide was the most important official recognition, not only because of Germany’s support for the Ottoman military but also because the Armenian genocide paved the way for the horrors of the Holocaust just over two decades later. 

Beyond that, back in 2016, it was nearly inconceivable for the United States to recognize the Armenian genocide in any meaningful sense. Several Presidential candidates campaigned on the promise of recognition, only for the idea to be eschewed by the realities of contemporary geopolitics. Finally, in October 2019, the House of Representatives passed a nonbinding resolution formally acknowledging the genocide. In December, the Senate followed suit. Praising the vote, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz tweeted, “the Armenian Genocide is historical fact, and the denial of that fact is a continuation of the genocide.”

UMN student Matt Wallow

Now, two years later, a sitting President has publicly recognized the mass murder of the Armenian people as genocide. It’s a momentous occasion and caps decades of advocacy and awareness building by Armenian-Americans, nearly all of which are in some way connected to victims and survivors of the genocide. 

When the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies was founded nearly 25 years ago, it was among the first university centers in the country to do research and actively advocate for education and recognition of the Armenian genocide, to such an extent that the Center was sued by Turkish nationalists attempting to stifle our work. The Center’s founder, Dr. Stephen Feinstein, enjoyed a strong partnership with the Twin Cities Armenian community, something we’re fortunate to count on to this day. 

Now with President Biden’s remarks, the United States joins the nearly three-dozen nations in affirming the historical veracity of the Armenian genocide. For decades now, the Center has stood arm-in-arm with the Armenian-American community, but today we celebrate their accomplishment and applaud their tireless efforts to ensure its victims are never forgotten. 

Algeria’s Hirak movement has persisted since its launch in February 2019. From large urban cities to rural towns, the peaceful movement mobilized Algerian citizens throughout the country. Although some analysts feared that the popular social movement would result in a return to violence and create space within the country for violent extremists, the movement has exhibited a strong aversion to extremist groups. Thus, these fears have been largely unfounded, as protestors actively reject groups like the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which participated in the country’s decade-long civil war (1992-2002). 

The GIA was a Salafi-Jihadist organization that engaged in open warfare with the Algerian government and eventually Algerian society during the country’s civil war. The GIA’s defeat during the civil war and the contemporary Hirak movement’s aversion to extremist organizations can be linked to the GIA’s attacks on civilians and its campaign of kidnapping, sexual violence, and forced domestic servitude. 

Photo Courtesy of LePoint

When scholars discuss Algerian citizens’ aversion to groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, they situate the conversation in the number of deaths during the black decade. The organization’s unrestrained violence against civilians led to the group’s defeat and to members defecting into what is now al-Qaeda. Although Algerian citizens point to the legacy of the Armed Islamic Group’s (GIA) violence, these killings are not the only reason al-Qaeda and the like are not welcome in Algeria.

The stories of Algerian women subjected to organized sexual violence are infrequently discussed and primarily lost. A discussion of the GIA’s sexual violence is often absent from the framing of the country’s inoculation to terrorism. The erasure of this history reflects a lack of nuance in how terrorist groups are often studied. 

Therefore, delving into the history of the GIA requires uplifting the stories of women victimized by the group through its systematized sexual slavery in the mountainous hinterlands of Algeria. Revisiting this history also rejects the novelty assigned to other violent extremist organizations’ violence against women and shows a continuity of gender-based violence. 

Although ISIS has frequently been credited with being the first Salafi-jihadist terrorist organization to declare a caliphate (Islamic State), the GIA declared a caliphate nearly 20 years before ISIS in August of 1993. Furthermore, ISIS is frequently credited with setting the precedence for a Salafi-jihadist group institutionalizing sexual slavery

Although ISIS’ system of sexual slavery was innovative and highly bureaucratic, the GIA’s use of summer marriages predated the so-called Islamic State by two decades. During the civil war, the Algerian military pushed the GIA and other extremist groups out of the cities and into the hinterlands. Once in the hinterlands, young Algerian men who made up the majority of the GIA and similar groups experienced extreme frustration because of their repeated defeats. 

In their book, Algeria Anger of the Dispossessed, Martin Evans and John Phillips argue that “the armed groups, as male societies based on the cult of the strong, were under constant pressure to assert themselves as fighting men.” Evans and Phillips argue that young men broken by defeat expressed their masculinity by kidnapping women as young as fifteen. Kidnapped women were raped, forced into temporary marriages, and compelled to engage in domestic servitude. These women were considered to be “Sabayas,” parts of the spoils of war. 

It is difficult to know the exact number of victims, as many refuse to speak about their experiences, risking the shame within Muslim Algerian society, which came with being raped. From 1993 to 1997, fundamentalists battling the Algerian state abducted thousands of women.  Five thousand rapes were reported, including those that occurred during organized massacres. 

Human rights groups estimate that hundreds or even thousands of women were raped and sold into marriage, although very little reporting was devoted to the issue. The GIA systematically planned and theologically justified the rapes. The group’s emir and commanders assaulted the women before passing them on to other fighters. This process is eerily similar to Yazidi activist and survivor Nadia al Mansour’s telling of the sexual crimes of ISIS members in her book.  

Although there are several similarities between the GIA and ISIS’ use of sexual violence against women and girls, there are significant differences in their treatment. There is very little documentation of the GIA’s gender-based violence in Algeria during the black decade, especially in English. There is much more documentation of the stories of survivors of ISIS’s sexual violence and the group’s corresponding institutions, bureaucracies, and theological underpinnings that sanctioned it systematized sexual slavery. Furthermore, there are instances of ISIS members being tried in judicial proceedings as a result of these human rights abuses. However, there are still difficulties in prosecuting ISIS members for war crimes and human rights abuses. 

Yet, these successes, although limited, are likely a result of increased attention due to the global war on terrorism and increased visibility of crimes due to advances in social communications technology in a more connected world. Therefore, current geopolitical conditions likely account for the discrepancy between records of the GIA and ISIS gender-based violence. 

Thus, when interrogating the lack of recorded history and contemporary treatment of survivors of gender-based violence during the Algerian civil war, several issues arise. The international community must do more to support survivors of gender-based violence at the hand of violent extremists. This may facilitate the conditions that support survivors who want to tell their stories and who demand accountability.

Second, it is vital that we responsibly discuss how terrorism and human trafficking intersect (both sex and labor/domestic servitude). A nuanced conversation may prevent the securitization of human rights issues while addressing the root causes and precarity that undergird vulnerability to trafficking and recruitment into terrorist organizations. 

Finally, we must continue to examine how organized sexual violence, masculinity, systems of sexual rewards, assigned gender roles during conflict, and societal dynamics may contribute to the erasure of survivors’ stories and the persistence of sexual violence against women. Increased understanding and support for survivors may significantly reduce the difficulty of enforcing international laws and protecting human rights during conflict. 

Sammie Wicks has a MA in International Security from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. He has ten years of law enforcement experience, focusing on crisis intervention, mental health, community engagement, and targeted violence prevention. He serves on the board of a nonprofit focussed on combatting human trafficking and has experience as a human trafficking task force member focused on data and research. He has spent time in the MENA region studying and attending international conferences. His research interests include transnational organized crime in diaspora communities, violent social movement organizations, and human trafficking in the Sahel and Maghreb. 

The geographic span of the Holocaust was one of the most pivotal elements of the genocide. The extreme lengths that the Nazis took to displace many of their victims demonstrates their dedication to ethnic cleansing, enslavement, and ultimately the eradication of entire societies.

In Professor Sheer Ganor’s course “History of the Holocaust,” students’ final projects were designed with three core goals: to highlight the spatial dimension of the Holocaust, to give students an opportunity to intimately learn individuals’ life stories, and to analyze primary sources and scholarly studies that shed further light on survivors’ stories. 

The students used StoryMaps, a digital platform intended for telling spatial stories. “[Story maps generally] use geography as a means of organizing and presenting information,” says Shana Crosson, Academic Technology Consultant in the College of Liberal Arts, who worked with Professor Ganor to implement this technology in her course. “In some classes, students create spatial data by closely evaluating primary sources such as newspapers, oral histories, archival records, guide books, or even phone books. This information may be combined with other databases and information to create maps, and ultimately, combined with narrative in a story map.”

Above: History student Alexander Champeau’s Storymap of Ivan Deutsch, showing a map of Budapest as well as a photo of Deutsch’s sister, father, and mother.

Survivors, as students learned, were torn from their hometowns, dislocated multiple times — often through several ghettos and camps — and left to search for a new home after the war’s end. As a result, mapping the paths of different individuals illuminated the Holocaust as a global event and showed how the genocide’s far-reaching effects extended across borders and continents. 

Though millions of people fell victim to the Nazis’ genocidal machine, each person’s experience was unique. By closely studying a single survivor, students developed a sense of familiarity with that person and the details of their biography — from their childhood memories to strategies of processing trauma. Video testimony also increased this familiarity, as students learned to recognize the survivor’s voice, understand their accent, and pay attention to their body language. 

This spatial visualization not only highlighted the centrality of forced removal in the execution of this crime; using story maps, students also embedded the events recounted by survivors into a broader history of the Holocaust and the Second World War. Students took the maps and spatial data they created and then communicated their understanding of events by combining textual narratives, maps, and other visuals. 

The audience for these projects often extends beyond the course instructor, which gives them a different impact than a mere term paper. Students not only create a usable resource when compiling the data themselves; by defining structural parameters themselves (i.e., when students act as the mapmakers), they understand how mapping is left to subjective interpretations.

Above: A still from Serena Maura-Brown’s project on Esther JungreisAs this image shows, text and captioned images can work together to complicate an individual narrative.

As Crosson also noted, feedback from students has been quite positive. Kyli Knutson, one of the students in Professor Ganor’s course, said, “I think what struck me the most about this project while working on it was just how close I felt to [Felicia Weingarten] after completing it. Even though I had never met [Weingarten], I learned so much about her life and her personality, that I felt like I had met her.” Knutson’s comments echo what many students said: they learned new skills, including learning a new technology, presenting information in a different format, and how to build maps. 

Knutson enjoyed the opportunity to do something creative with story maps that also addressed challenging topics such as the Holocaust. “It was hard for me at first to figure out how to structure the Storymap because the question was: how do you compile someone’s whole life in a way that does justice to their story while also educating others? The story maps helped combine [Weingarten’s] life story, the educational importance of her story, and relevant secondary sources.

Above: Kyli Knutson’s Storymap of Felicia Weingarten, showing the geographical scope of Weingarten’s displacement as a Holocaust survivor and refugee. Weingarten’s video testimony as well as other objects are included in CHGS’ collections.

Knutson’s subject, Felicia Weingarten, was born in Łódź in 1926. Weingarten has been a consultant for the University of Minnesota in the past and has served as a resource for interviews and panel discussions on television and radio, as well as for newspapers and books. She has spoken extensively with high school and college students on topics dealing with the historical, psychological, and political factors of the Holocaust. In 2005, her book “Ave Maria in Auschwitz: A True Story of a Jewish Girl From Poland” was published by DeForest Press. The book is a collection of short stories that poetically reflect her experience in the ghettos and camps during the Holocaust. 

Some students even traced the paths of survivors who settled in the Twin Cities and whose materials are part of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies’ permanent collections. Felicia Weingarten’s book and other materials are available through the Center’s collections. Her testimony is available at the University of Minnesota through CHGS (via Elevator),  the Visual History Archive, developed by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education. Since its founding, CHGS has maintained and curated its own collections, which are accessible to UMN faculty, students, and staff as well as the general public. 

Taylor Johnon, an MFA Candidate in Art at the University of Minnesota, along with Jennifer Hammer, began in earnest to reorganize the Center’s Elevator site to make it more user-friendly. Since last spring, CHGS staff have begun creating new search parameters and organizational practices. CHGS hopes that, with an Elevator interface that is easier to use, more faculty and students will use the Center’s digital resources. 

Sheer Ganor is an assistant professor of history at the University of Minnesota. A historian of German-speaking Jewry and modern Germany, her work focuses on the nexus of forced migration, memory, and cultural identities. 

Shana Crosson is the academic technology consultant at the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts. She currently helps integrate Geographic Information Systems in a variety of disciplines in K12 and Higher Education, including History, Sociology, and Foreign Languages. 

Kyli Knutson is a junior History major at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. She has always been interested in history. Her undergraduate coursework has allowed her to pose important questions about historical events and figures, as was the case with her Storymaps project. In addition to her interest in History, she plans to double major in Art History and graduate in the spring of 2022.

Meyer Weinshel is a Ph.D. candidate in Germanic studies at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. He is a research assistant and the educational outreach coordinator for the UMN Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. He has taught community Yiddish classes with Minneapolis-based Jewish Community Action and will be a lecturer of Yiddish studies at the Ohio State University in 2021.

In April of 1994, genocide began in Rwanda. More than one million Tutsi were killed over the course of a mere 100 days; the lasting impact of this violence is immeasurable. Each year, beginning on April 7th, Rwandans across the world come together to reflect and commemorate during the annual Kwibuka remembrance period.

Names of genocide victims listed at Nyanza memorial in Rwanda. Photo courtesy of authors.

Kwibuka, a Kinyarwanda word that loosely translates as “to remember,” is a period to pay respect to genocide victims and reflect on Rwanda´s history and ways to overcome its legacies of conflict. This week, Kwibuka will begin once again, but the ongoing pandemic means that this time will continue to look very different than previous years. 

Before the pandemic, Kwibuka involved many large group gatherings and collective commemorative rituals. The remembrance period customarily begins with a night vigil, a traditional funeral rite in Rwanda, taking place on the eve of actual commemoration. Alongside this comes a “walk to remember” that kicks off other ceremonies at commemorative spaces, like stadiums, memorials, state administrative offices. For the government, Kwibuka gatherings provide a platform to pass on political messages. Annual themes reflecting the government´s vision, like “Remember, Unite, Renew,” can be read on banners across the country.

For many genocide survivors, Kwibuka is both an emotionally challenging time and a time to feel spiritually connected with those killed during the genocide through visits to their burial sites. Physical presence at burials and ceremonies like laying wreaths facilitate this connection to loved ones, as Rwandan spiritual tradition holds that communication is possible at the grave of the dead. This mourning generally requires Rwandans to travel to memorials and other sites where their loved ones were killed. Kwibuka can also promote connection within communities through events at the family level, community level, or even within diaspora communities.  In normal circumstances, Kwibuka necessitates travel, large group gatherings, and physical closeness – actions that are unsafe during the pandemic. 

As author Eric Sibomana wrote last year, COVID-19 has led to significant alterations in commemorative policies in Rwanda. It triggered a shift from physical to digital forms of commemoration, and consequently, the number of mourners attending commemorative ceremonies was reduced. Rituals requiring mass participation were prohibited, and other practices such as the night vigil, a walk to remember, among many others, were canceled to adjust the pandemic regulations.

Last year, the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), the state agency that organizes Kwibuka, called for significant shifts. CNLG Executive Secretary Dr. Jean Damascène Bizimana said, “The official opening of commemoration ceremonies at district levels on April 7 will not take place. All citizens will participate in the commemoration from their homes using TV, radio, and social media.” 

Meetings and ceremonies requiring physical contact and large group gatherings were banned and replaced by video conferencing. In addition to the digitalization of memorial rites, CNLG committed to issuing a daily write-up to help mourners catch up with the aired materials. Officials also suggested alternative forms of commemoration during the lockdown. Some of these were collective, like tuning into commemorative television and radio broadcasts. Others encouraged individual acts of remembrance, like lighting a candle or connecting with community members to discuss genocide memory. 

Shifts in the organization of genocide commemoration speak to debates in the collective memory literature about the importance of physical presence in solidifying the power of memory in sacred space and ritual. For Randall Collins and his theory of interaction ritual, “bodily co-presence” is a required ingredient to establish the collective efference that makes the ritual outcomes of emotionality, solidarity, and norm-setting possible. Through this lens, shared physical presence enables the power of ritual, and to disrupt this physicality is to sap the ritual of its strength.

Many scholars, however, have advanced alternatives to the necessity of co-presence. Jeffrey Alexander and Katz and Dayan point to the capacity of technology to expand the reach of ritual space. Television and radio have the capacity to broadcast rituals to those who might otherwise not be able to access them.

Further, Campos-Castillo and Hitlin theorize that this reach illustrates the inherent subjectivity of co-presence: not all actors experience shared space in the same way. They argue that the power of co-presence is based upon a feeling of unity, which draws from shared attention, emotion, and action over physical proximity. Rather than a binary between present or not, their work illustrates how traditional rituals also differ for those who experience them. 

While scholars debate the impact of shifting to digital forms of commemoration, there are also practical concerns at hand. For example, the pandemic points to the limitations of commemorative mediums that rely on technology. Remote broadcasts are inaccessible to many Rwandans, especially rural inhabitants with limited access to digital platforms or literacy education.

With high rates of illiteracy in rural areas, oral tradition remains a strong means of communication. This suggests the effects of Covid-19 have further isolated the less technologically equipped and illiterate community of mourners in Rwanda, who could not fully participate in commemoration during the pandemic. 

COVID restrictions are beginning to lift across the globe, but this year’s Kwibuka will certainly continue to look different than in pre-pandemic years. While many social scientists point to the potential impact of remote commemorative rituals, such commemoration is different in terms of both power and reach.

And further, the case of Rwanda shows how this difference most impacts those who experience economic and educational marginalization. While the pandemic has shown the potential of remote experiences, such inequities are an important reminder that distanced sites of memory are not equally accessible.

Eric Sibomana is a Rwandan scholar, holder of M.A. in Genocide Studies and Prevention, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Vienna- Austria, and a researcher in the European Research Council (ERC) funded project on “Globalized Memorial Museum,” at the Austrian Academy of Science, Institute of Culture Studies and Theatre History. His research interest is in atrocities – war and genocide – their memorialization and musealization politics and dynamics -political, social, cultural, and judicial – attached to them; and in dead body politics. Since 2012, he has worked on national and international projects centered on genocide in Rwanda and its responses – Gacaca jurisdictions, social integration of former perpetrators, and reconciliation. Also, he has served as a research associate at the African Leadership Center (ALC/Nairobi, Kenya) since 2019.  

Brooke Chambers is a Ph.D. Candidate in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Sociology. Her research interests include collective memory, political sociology, genocide, and the law. Her dissertation work examines generational trauma in contemporary Rwanda, with a focus on the commemorative process. She was the 2018-2019 recipient of the Badzin Fellowship in Holocaust and Genocide Studies and a 2019-2020 Fulbright Research Fellow.