Public Seminar: Power of Remembrance

On 24 November 2014, Dr. Mara Albrecht (University of Erfurt, Germany) and Dr. Bassel Akar (Center for Applied Research in Education, Notre Dame University - Louaize, Lebanon) presented the findings of their study The Power of Remembrance: Political parties, memory and learning about the past in Lebanon. The presentation took place at Friends Hall on the Notre Dame University Main Campus. The study was carried out in collaboration with Forum Civil Peace Service (forumZFD Lebanon), and is part of the Dealing with the Past programme area within forumZFD Lebanon.

The researchers looked into the significance of collective political memory for political parties in Lebanon and how they make use of their own interpretations of the past in the political and educational fields. For the study they investigated seven political parties:

  • Free Patriotic Movement (FPM)
  • Future Movement (FM)
  • Lebanese Kataeb Party
  • Hezbollah
  • Lebanese Forces
  • Progressive Socialist Party (PSP)
  • Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP)

Dr. Elie al Hindy (Assistant Professor of International Relations and Human Rights, NDU) highlighted the relevance of the study in his opening speech as exceptional effort in reviewing and analyzing the role of political parties in memory and history education. “The research broke another taboo and reached the main finding that establishing one story of history is impossible and that seeking that may actually be harmful much more than useful.The alternative suggested is to allow different perspectives on the past to co-exist simultaneously”.

Key findings of the study

Dr. Mara Albrecht presented the key findings of the study and emphasized that each of Lebanon’s political parties has its own political memory, which is shaped by their different ideological world-views as well as by their diverse experiences of historical events and violent conflicts. Despite their differences they share common themes and narratives such as the veneration of the parties’ leaders, the adherence to resistance narratives (Islamic Resistance, Lebanese Resistance, Left Resistance) and memory of War and Violence. She stressed that political parties use these political cultures of remembrance to form collective identities, to create socio-cultural boundaries and specific in-group perspectives and to show strength and publicly staging the party as powerful actor in the political field. Furthermore; Dr. Bassel Akar illustrated that in formal and non-formal education all political party representatives highlighted that learning history is critical for social cohesion and not repeating any violent past. While some parties (e.g., FPM and SSNP) adhere to one story, others (e.g., Kataeb) encouraged reading multiple interpretations.

The researchers came to following conclusions:

Political parties in Lebanon have very different narratives about the past, especially memories of violence and war, which are in many cases contradictory. The ideal to find a single, unified, national narrative all parties agree on poses risk of further conflict and could lead to partisans detaching from their parties. An alternative to learning about the past is a disciplinary approach for learning about the past in the fields of politics and education, which requires the examination of multiple interpretations of historical events and other sources of evidence. Mutual respect for different narratives of the past by all political groups can highlight Lebanon’s political and cultural diversity as a cultural strength
Further research and dialogues can explore a new form of collective memory that transpires from a shared science of examining different interpretations of the past.

After the public seminar members from civil society organizations discussed at a roundtable session possible entry points to work with political parties to create space for mutual respect for multiple narratives on past and present violence.

The study is available for download in English and Arabic.