There is a good deal of grievance around

Posted by Helen Thursday, December 15, 2011 , ,

Jeremy Black, a conservative historian who is probably a member of the Conservative Party as well, writes in History Today about the grievance industry.

Grievances are a characteristic of post-Cold War history, as various ‘liberated’ peoples have adopted historical claims in the service of their political goals. The end of the Cold War discredited Marxism as an official creed and lessened its influence as a basis for analysis, resulting in a major shift away from the understanding of society linked at an international level to the expression, revival or rise of national grievances, notably within Eastern Europe.

Grievances provide an easy way to mobilise identity and expound policy; and the use of grievance in this fashion by one party encourages its use by another. The copy-cat nature of public history has become very apparent, as in rival Chinese and Japanese accounts such as those inspired by recent territorial disputes in the East China Sea. Grievance becomes a means both to interrogate the past and to deploy the past to justify current actions.
Using the past to justify actions in the present is a very old game, indeed. As old as history itself. It is possible that the number and frequency of grievances aired in the public sphere has multiplied since the end of the Cold War but, on the whole, I think not.

Public grievances seem to multiply in direct relation to the compensation available, either in financial or political terms. Sometimes that compensation is simply the demand that certain, otherwise unpalatable, actions be condoned as the Chinese government expects and receives from numerous commentators.

Sometimes it is a question of simple acknowledgement as, I think and hope, with the Armenians and the 1915 massacre, though the insistence on that insidious word "genocide" makes one wonder. Frequently, however, it is a demand for more direct compensation with money or land. Why I do not think this is a particularly post-Cold War phenomenon is because there is one set of horrors for which precious little compensation has been paid out in any shape or form, and that is horrors imposed by Communist regimes.

Art confiscated by Communist governments has not been restored and there are no signs that it will ever happen; property confiscated is supposed to be restored in theory but in practice it rarely happens, unless some particular national group can be blamed; apologies have been half-hearted and attempts to air those grievances in international bodies have not had much success. There is, indeed, no point in producing those historic grievances if the perpetrators are not listening.


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