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Wanting to act, but needing orientation: Using creative approaches to political symbols for democratisation in times of crisis

Swenja Granzow
Universität Hamburg
Swenja Granzow
Universität Hamburg
Saskia Mestern
Universität Hamburg
Open Panel

Abstract

People around the world are voicing their discontent with decisions made by political elites. They try to regain authorship in the decision-making process and to re-appropriate political symbols valuable to democracy. Because of the experiences with the Nazis’ politics and crimes against humanity the concentration camp memorials are important political symbols in Germany. The memorials’ educational programs facilitate the learning about history, but there remains the question if this approach can help to prevent future barbarism. Or is Rancière (2010) right in assuming that “between the good way of speaking about the past horror and the useful way of preventing the horror in future there is no necessary link”? Thus, we need to ask how learning can be connected to an “imperative to act” when an interpretation of a symbol is hegemonic. Currently, concentration camp memorials have to consider that there is a distance in time and experience. Few people can still testify about their experiences. Also, the make-up of German society has changed so that many families have no immediate connection to World War II. Therefore, the memorials need to go beyond the mere teaching of history. Creative projects are seen as an answer to this problem. Through analysing examples of projects we demonstrate that this kind of active involvement requires a personal response and thus facilitates the drawing of consequences. This then holds valuable lessons for the democratisation of society.