Memory Laws: Criminalizing Historical Narrative

Friday, October 27, 2017 - Saturday, October 28, 2017  1:30pm International Affairs Building, Room 1219 (Friday), & Second Floor Common Room, Heyman Center (Saturday)

Memory Laws: Criminalizing Historical Narrative

October 27-28, 2017

Since the 1980s, interest in politically and legally shaping public memory regarding the Holocaust and other crimes perpetrated during the Second World War has been evident in a wide variety of arenas. One manifestation of the trend has been the increasing demand for the right to truth, which is purportedly a precondition to conflict resolution and policies of redress.  At the same time, however, there is an increased recognition of the propensity for conflicting narratives about the past, particularly instrumentalized narratives about group identity and violent pasts, to escalate hostilities among nations, ethnicities and/or religions. These hostilities, anchored as they are in the collective memory and history of conflict, have become subject to extensive legislation, with the criminalization of statements about history and violent pasts becoming more commonplace. 

This workshop will explore narratives that engage the memory of past violence in contemporary policies and the politics surrounding the legislation of historical memory. Given the central role that the Holocaust and other mass atrocities have played with regard to human rights concepts today, the memory laws that address these topics, as well as the role of history in conflict resolution, are also of interest. Finally, the workshop will pay particular attention to censorship and punitive measures that aim to constrain counter-narratives to established national identities and to freedom of expression.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Location: 1219 International Affairs Building

1:30pm-1:45pm, Welcome, Elazar Barkan, Columbia University

1:45pm-4:00pm, The Politics of History: Eastern Europe and the “Duty to Remember”
Chair: Agi Legutko, Columbia University
“Memory Laws and the Landscape in Poland Today,” Jan Gross, Princeton University
“Understanding ‘Memory Legislation’ in East Central Europe,” Eva Clarita Pettai, University of Jena
“Memory Laws in Eastern Europe,” Nikolay Koposov, Emory University
“A Certain Spirit of the Laws: Ukraine’s Nationalist Decommunization Laws of April 2015,” Tarik Amar, Columbia University

4:15pm-5:45pm, Memory Laws and Freedom of Expression: Comparative Legal Perspectives
Chair: Horst Fischer, Leiden University and Columbia University
“Memory Laws in One Country? Denial, Social Media and Dealing with Unease,” Robert Kahn, University of St. Thomas School of Law
“Some Observations on the Law, Historical Memory, and Mass Trauma,” Jonathan Bush, Columbia Law School

6:15pm, Reception at the Harriman Institute Atrium (12th floor, IAB)

Saturday, October 28, 2017 (second floor of The Heyman Center):

9:00am-11:00am, Criminalizing History in Rwanda, Latin America, and Japan
Chair: Andy Nathan, Columbia University
“Victors’ Memory: Criminalizing Remembrance in Rwanda and Sri Lanka,” Lars Waldorf, York Law School, University of York “Propaganda and the Criminalization of Truth in Guatemala,” Victoria Sanford, CUNY Graduate Center
“’Law’s Imperial Amnesia’,” Yukiko Koga, Hunter College

11:15am-1:15pm, History and Denialism in the Middle East
Chair: Khatchig Mouradian, Columbia University
“The Perils and Limits of Memory Laws: The Case of Israel’s ‘Nakba Law’ (2011),” Yifat Gutman, Ben Gurion University
“Historical Memory and Criminality in Contemporary Turkey,” Müge Göçek, University of Michigan
“Criminalizing Denial as a Form of Erasure: The Polish-Ukrainian-Israeli Triangle,” Omer Bartov, Brown University

1:15pm-2:15pm, Lunch

2:15pm-4:15pm, Present Pasts: Historical Violence and Contemporary Legal Narratives
Chair: Daniel Levy, Stony Brook University
“(De) Criminalizing the Past: Spain’s Memory Wars via its Memory Laws,” Stephanie Golob, Baruch College-CUNY Graduate Center
“French Memory Laws and the Crisis of the Republican model,” Henry Rousso, French National Center for Scientific Research
“History – the Continuation of War by Other Means,” Dubravka Stojanović, University of Belgrade

4:15-4:30-Concluding Remarks, Elazar Barkan, Columbia University



  • Participant

    Tarik Amar

    Assistant Professor of History

    Columbia University

  • Participant

    Omer Bartov

    John P. Birkelund Distinguished Professor of European History, Professor of German Studies

    Brown University

  • Participant

    Fatma Müge Göçek

    Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies

    University of Michigan

  • Participant

    Stephanie Golob

    Professor of International Relations and Comparative Politics

    The Graduate Center, CUNY

  • Participant

    Jan Tomasz Gross

    Norman B. Tomlinson '16 and '48 Professor of War and Society, emeritus; Professor of History, emeritus

    Princeton University

  • Participant

    Yifat Gutman

    Senior Lecturer

    Ben-Gurion University

  • Participant

    Robert Kahn

    Professor of Law

    University of St. Thomas

  • Participant

    Yukiko Koga

    Assistant Professor of Anthropology

    Hunter College

  • Participant

    Nikolay Koposov

    Visiting Professor, Russian

    Emory University

  • Participant

    Eva-Clarita Pettai

    Senior Researcher at the Institute of Government and Politics

    University of Tartu

  • Participant

    Henry Rousso

    Research Director

    French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS)

  • Participant

    Victoria Sanford

    Professor of Anthropology

    The Graduate Center, CUNY

  • Participant

    Dubravka Stojanovic

    Professor of Philosophy

    University of Belgrade

  • Participant

    Lars Waldorf

    Senior Lecturer, Centre for Applied Human Rights

    York Law School


By Semester