Some countries seem trapped by their history and not exactly in a positive way. It seems that they fear that recognizing the horrors of the past will condition their present and affect the vision that citizens have of themselves. The Polish Government refuses to recognize anti-Semitism before, during and after World War II; an increasingly significant part of the Spanish right smiles while the far right explains that there was no coup in 1936 - or even worse, that it was justified - and calls for "delving into the past" to give a dignified burial to thousands of reprisals who they are still buried in mass graves; while Turkey makes an affront against the State the recognition of the Armenian genocide or Putin's Russia whitewash the crimes of Stalinism without complex.
In all cases, there is a consensus among serious historians about what happened, millions of documents that prove it, thousands of indisputable books of witnesses and investigators ... But it does not matter: blindness to history responds to the old phrase of Groucho Marx: “Who is he going to believe?
Me or what your eyes see?
This tendency to distort the past has been installed in the US, where five states have passed laws that make it difficult to teach slavery or the discriminatory treatment that black citizens have received throughout history.
"The only surprising thing is that it took so long."
by Susan Neiman
"Without memory there is no democracy."
By Géraldine Schwarz
The arguments used, as the researcher Timothy Snyder pointed out in an article entitled 'The war against history is a war against democracy', are that these teachings can cause discomfort among students. "History is not therapy and discomfort is part of the process of growing up," writes Snyder. The difficulty in admitting slavery and segregationist past by American society is one of the themes of the book by Susan Neiman entitled
Learning from the Germans
), in which he compared the way in which Germany faced the Nazi past and the United States faced the traces of slavery, which persist in the form of institutionalized racism in many aspects of civil life. Neiman, an American based in Berlin, argued that in English there is no word similar to the
, which means something like "make peace with the past." In Spanish, in fact, no similar expression has flourished.
Evil is what other people do.
Our people are always very good people, ”Neiman writes to illustrate how difficult it is to deal with the past. And that is precisely the problem: behind all these efforts to falsify history - at bottom it is not something else - hides in an undisguised way the will to divide society between them and us, between citizens of good and the others, between patriots and traitors. In the end, only the truth, the sincere investigation of history and the recognition of past crimes and their repercussions in the present is the only thing that can unite a society. All of these forgeries are not just a lie, they are, as Snyder argues, an attack on democracy.
Join EL PAÍS now to follow all the news and read without limits