Final Thoughts on Mnemonic Constitutionalism

Twelve scholars from eight countries have offered their critical perspectives on the legal governance of historical memory, categorised under the common heading of “memory laws”. One aspect crystalized by this symposium is that despite their multiple forms (punitive and declarative, constitutional and administrative, legislative and judicial, etc.), the adoption of such memory regulations has been on a tremendous rise in Europe.

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Memory Politics and Academic Freedom: Some Recent Controversies in Greece

An important area where law and historical memory intersect is the use of memory laws to express collective disapproval of crimes against humanity. These laws, although based on a compelling need to use the symbolic dimension of the law in order to condemn the lowest points of history, can have dangerous unintended consequences for freedom of speech.

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Remembering as Pacting between Past, Present and Future

The past has not been spared from the “politics of resentment” engulfing Poland for the last two years. The peculiar (mis)understanding and political instrumentalization of history by Polish rulers provide an important cautionary tale against one-sided partisan historical debate as it impacts how we remember the past and see ourselves today.

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The Kundera Case and the Neurotic Collective Memory of Postcommunism

History is a battlefield of present politics. Dealing with the past reveals the power struggles and strategies of the present. Past events are both denounced and glorified by political agents of the present hoping to weaken their enemies. However, the past also contains injustices and political crimes and any decision not to deal with them in the present only reaffirms them and confirms the unjust status of their victims. Not to contend with the past injustices thus compromises the legitimacy of the present system of positive law. To deal, or not to deal with the past, indeed, is an important question. However, it is also inseparable from questions of which past is to be dealt with and how.

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Memory Wars of Commercial Worth – The Legal Status of the Red Star in Hungary

With this blogpost for the T.M.C. Asser Institute – Verfassungsblog joint symposium, I would like to draw attention to another facet in the legal governance of historical memory, that regarding the use of totalitarian symbols of the past. This issue remains particularly pertinent in the region of Central and Eastern Europe in parallel to the widely discussed decline in the rule of law.   

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Memory Politics in Hungary: Political Justice without Rule of Law

After the 1989-90 democratic transition, Poland and Hungary were the first to introduce the institutional framework of constitutional democracy and of transitional justice. For a number of reasons, including a lack of democratic traditions and constitutional culture, after the 2010 parliamentary elections, liberal constitutionalism became a victim of the authoritarian efforts of Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party. In April 2013, the government as part of the Fourth Amendment to the Fundamental Law adopted Article U, which supplements detailed provisions on the country’s communist past and the statute of limitations in the body text of the constitution.

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Decommunization in Times of War: Ukraine’s Militant Democracy Problem  

The Ukrainian parliament Verkhovna Rada adopted four ‘memory laws’ shortly after the Maidan revolution in the spring of 2015: One contains a legislation criminalizing both Nazi and Communist totalitarian regimes, prohibiting the propaganda of their symbols; two laws commemorating, respectively, Ukraine’s fighters for twentieth-century independence movement and the victory over Nazism during the Second World War, and a law guaranteeing access to archives of repressive Soviet-era organs. These laws raise fundamental questions about the legitimate defense of democracy in times of political transformation and war.

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Memory Laws: Historical Evidence in Support of the “Slippery Slope” Argument

The notion of memory laws emerged as recently as the 2000s, and it can be used in a narrow sense of denoting enactments criminalizing certain statements about the past (such as Holocaust denial) and in a broad sense as including any legal regulations of historical memory and commemorative practices. Such regulations are by no means a recent phenomenon.

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Law and Historical Memory: Theorising the Discipline

Recent years have witnessed a surge of studies on law and historical memory, often authored by comparative constitutional scholars. Such scholarship frequently takes ‘particularist’ forms, through studies of dramatic events within specific states or regions. As part of the T.M.C. Asser Institute – Verfassungsblog symposium on memory laws, however, this essay asks: Can the discipline be characterised as a whole? If so, in what ways and with what aims? 

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The Right to the Truth for the Families of Victims of the Katyń Massacre

Recently, Uladzislau Belavusau with his post about a de-communization law in Poland launched a joint ASSER-Verfassungsblog symposium on what he has coined “mnemonic constitutionalism”. Aleksandra Gliszczyńska-Grabias followed up on this topic by mapping the landscape of various memory laws in the recent years and unfolding the ongoing challenges to fundamental rights, joined by Anna Wójcik with an exploration of how memory laws affect state security. With this contribution, I would like to discuss how the European Court of Human Rights has failed to offer redress to the families of the victims of the Katyń massacres seeking to receive information about their loved ones. I will compare the Polish case-study with the Spanish and South-American practice concerning the “right to the truth”, thus adding this concept to the array of topics discussed under the umbrella of “memory laws” and mnemonic constitutionalism.

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