Holocaust and Genocide Memorialization Policies in the Western Balkans and Israel/Palestine

In a recent article the journal Peacebuilding, Professor Lea David, for the Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa, discusses the consequences of human rights-based Holocaust and genocide memorialization policies on conflict and post-conflict situations. She examines the effects of such policies on specifically Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovnia after the 1990s Balkans conflict, and on Israel/Palestine.

David acknowledges the importance of memorialization after a conflict, but notes that memory can transition from a sense of ‘duty to mourn’ for those lost to an externally-imposed and internationally-supported ‘proper way to remember’. Human rights’ policies have elevated the importance of memorialization in strengthening human rights values after a conflict. In fact, she argues, enshrining memorialization in a ‘proper way to remember’ can reinforce ethnic boundaries and nationalism as it causes competitive victimhood over who is the ultimate victim and thus perpetuates the very conflict that it intended to soothe.

David references the recent demand for ‘transitional justice’. In lieu of punishment, countries that have committed mass human rights violations are required to face their past by expressing broader accountability and responsibility as well as accepting criminal prosecutions and reparations. Since the 1980s, she notes, there has been a rise in the belief that ”by compelling the act of honouring the memory of those who died, the ‘duty to remember’ would be an insurance policy against the repetition of such crimes.” This viewpoint became enshrined as part of international human rights policy by the UN.

David cites the establishment of International Holocaust Memorial Day, which enforces memorialization of the Holocaust in Western formats even for countries far beyond the original genocide. Mandatory Western-style Holocaust education in EU member states further reinforces the Holocaust as the ultimate genocide and Jews as the ultimate victim group. While this was intended to prevent a recurrence, the unintended consequence has been to create a jostling for position as victims among other peoples. David conjectures that the Holocaust has been unintentionally established as the paradigm through which other genocides are perceived; thus, even Palestinians have accepted Holocaust education to some extent. By memorializing the Holocaust, Palestinians, Serbians, Croatians and others assume a platform of morality that allows them to push their own claims for victim status, and for similar reparations and memorialization of their own genocides.

In the Balkan states in particular, the unintended consequences of enforced memorialization have been high and are still evolving. The Srebrenica massacre was recognised as genocide by the EU and the 11th of July was established as an official European Day of Remembrance. For Bosniaks, this was an important conferral of victim status upon their people, bringing with it permanent claim to moral rectitude and evasion from guilt for future or past actions. But to Serbians, the recognition of Srebrenica as genocide rubs salt into the wound of the deliberate sidelining of the massacre of Serbians by the Croatian Ustasa in the Jasenovac concentration camp in World War Two. Thus the attempt at reducing human rights abuses by enforcing memorialization of the Srebrenica genocide only fuels local ethnic conflict by exacerbating the Serbian struggle for victim status.

Based on her examination of events in the Balkans and in Israel/Palestine, David concludes that the transition from an internally-motivated, natural ‘duty to remember’ to an external and out-of-context mandatory ‘proper way of remembrance’ is not just ineffective in preventing a repeat of genocide. It is instead actively harmful to the restoration of peace in the conflict region. Obligatory memorialization brings justice for some, but also renders them sanctified victims and ignores other victim groups. This instigates competing hierarchies of suffering laid out across ethnic lines, thus reinforcing the very tensions that first provoked the conflict. While we should acknowledge human suffering, David writes, we must also be aware of the unintended consequences of mandatory memorialization.

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website


Our faculty member wins prestigious award: Dr. Lea David Receives a Marie Curie Fellowship

To best announce this news, we thought we would interview Dr. Lea David about her experience.

leaQ: How did you find out about this award?

A: Well, to be honest, whoever is in this research “business” dreams of getting Marie Curie fellowship – the Europe’s most competitive and prestigious award funded by the European Commission. I don’t know when I heard about it for the first time, but it was on my “wish list” since I started developing my identity as a researcher.

Q: What was the application process like?

A: The application process is extremely unfriendly, long and tiring – it takes great amount of nerves and patience to apply for the fellowship! It is even more complicated for the  people coming out of the EU that are not familiar with the application format and the jargon one needs to use to get the application ready.  

Q: What will you be directing your studies toward?

Both Holocaust and genocide historiographies are heavily shaped and influenced by human rights infrastructures, resulting in discourses, practices and recently also memorialization policies that impact back on nationalist ideologies. During my two-year long Marie Curie fellowship, I will investigate the ways in which the human rights understanding of memorialization processes advocates, understands, promotes and mandates supposedly universal memorialization standards, asking whether in so doing it weakens or by contrast, often strengthens ethnic nationalism. Five case studies will be comparatively analyzed: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Israel and Palestine. Hopefully, my research will provide a new perspective on the impact that mandating human rights memorialization standards has on the perception of the “self” and “other” and nationalist ideologies.

A: Who is Prof. Sinisa Malesevic, and what made you want to work with him?

Prof. Sinisa Malesevic is a world leading expert on the comparative-historical and theoretical study of ethnicity, nationalism, ideology, war, violence, genocide and sociological theory and author of six books, five edited volumes and over 70 peer-reviewed articles. Not only Prof. Malesevic is a brilliant scholar but he is an excellent and dedicated mentor and most importantly very nice person with great sense of humor, which is, frankly, of enormous importance for me.

Q: Will you be studying in Dublin?

A: Staring from September 2017, I will be hosted by the School of Sociology, at University College Dublin (UCD), the largest and the best department for sociological research in Ireland. I will receive their additional training and conduct my research. I will have there my own office space with all the necessary utilities, so writing a full-length manuscript is my ultimate goal.

Q: Any other comments you would like add?

A: With the cutting-edge research on Holocaust and genocide related issues, I am positive that once I am back in Israel, the “Marie Curie experience” will make my involvement with the MA Holocaust program in Haifa even more significant and substantial as, needless to say, those issues affect thousands of lives around the globe in many unpredictable ways and are in the very heart of the current political and policy making trends.

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website