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War Resisters' International and Dealing with the Past

Roberta Bacic

The past shapes the present and the future. This is even more true after war or dictatorship. How we deal with this past determines our future. Working with the relatives of victims of political repression, and having lived it personally, has led me to conclude that dealing with the past means ‘ learning to live / cope / struggle with it in the present.

WRI's project aims to evaluate the experience of such a traumatic past by looking into different ways of dealing with it – truth commissions or war crime tribunals are only two examples, taken from state and international initiatives promoted and demanded by social actors. Civil society also has its own way of dealing with the past, and we have been exploring memorials which bring up the issue of memory and what people need to remember and not to forget. WRI also wants to support grassroots organisations which engage in the struggle for truth, justice and – perhaps – reconciliation. Dealing with the past is part of the struggle for truth, social justice, for overcoming violence and a way of dealing through non violence when faced with conflicts.

As a Chilean I cannot forget the events of September 11th 1973. In her last book, My Invented Country, written in 2003, 30 years after the military putsch, Isabel Allende writes: ‘Memory is conditioned by emotion; we remember better, and more fully, things that move us, such as the joy of a birth, the pleasure of a night of love, the pain of a loved one's death, the trauma of a wound. When we call up the past, we choose intense moments – good or bad – and omit the enormous gray area of daily life. . .'

The exhibition ‘Memory and memorials from Chile: 30 years since the military coup‘ is my current contribution to memory.

We invite you to go to our web page at wri-irg.org and go into Dealing with the Past.