8927 - Truth Commissions: Testimony and Collective Memory in Chile

Deeply entwined with the political transition process, truth commissions are highly political instruments negotiated between many actors. A truth commission’s report aims to present the nation with a historical narrative that puts past events into an understandable, graspable story, a master narrative of the conflict it has studied. The commission and the report form a public recognition of the (state) violence of the past. Even though the goal of the truth commissions is to offer victim-survivors a (legal) space to tell their story there are considerable restraints. The testimonies may be scripted by a strong human rights discourse, focussed on the violations and victimhood. Also testimonies will be expected to contain certain ‘hard facts,’ such as actions, times, places and names. Inevitably there will be disjunctions between the stories of those who testify before a truth commission and the narrative that is eventually related in the commission’s report. These disjunctions may lead to a contestation of that historical narrative, which can take many (cultural) forms.

In this paper I shall argue that a truth commission must be understood as an instance in a much wider process in society. Truth commissions allow testimonies to flow into a legal and public space. This space may have its limitations; however it also may be a space for empowerment, as it can offer opportunities for the opening up of other spaces where the master narrative of the truth commission can be contested. I will do so by analysing the contestation of the master narratives of the Chilean truth commissions that dealt with the aftermath of the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990) ), especially in the creation of monuments and memorials. Not only has the collective memory of the dictatorship thickened in the process; victim-survivors, family members and others have pushed for a different kind of collective memory of the dictatorship in which the witnesses are not just victims, but also political and social agents.

Palavras-chaves: truth commissions, testimony, memorials, social action

Autores: Klep, Katrien (Utrecht Univeristy, Netherlands / Niederlande)


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