Memories of Violence, Dreams of Development: Memorialisation Initiatives in the Peruvian Andes

Grantee Information

Name: Markus Weissert
Project duration: December 2009 – November 2012 (Dissertation 2016)

Markus completed his PhD studies in 2016 by successfully defending his thesis on 28 January at the Free University Berlin.

After leaving the Berghof Foundation Markus has worked with the German Development Cooperation (GIZ) in Peru for two years, and for the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict at Ruhr University Bochum. Currently, he is working for terre des hommes.

PhD Project Description

Places of memory – museums, monuments or the performances surrounding them – have become a ubiquitous feature of transitional justice processes across the globe. They are believed to make a significant contribution to such important transitional justice aims as justice, truth, reparation, acknowledgement, healing, and even development. However, there is still little understanding of the exact role and impact of places of memory in transitional justice processes, especially at the local level. Thus, this dissertation focuses on how one specific transitional justice mechanism, namely memorialisation, plays out at the local level, and gives important insights on which role places of memory can and cannot play as a transitional justice tool in general, and specifically at the local level. The aim of this work, then, is to highlight the ‘glocal’ politics of memory that become visible in the creation of local places of memory. By analysing three different memorialisation initiatives in communities in the highlands of Ayacucho, the region most affected by the Peruvian civil war, it shows how local memorialisation initiatives are created and used by different social agents from within and outside of the community in an ongoing process of adjustment, transformation and resistance in order to deal with the past and represent themselves for the future. This is done by an agency-centred approach that emphasises the complex negotiation processes between different agents that produce politics of memory and representation from differing power positions.

The dissertation shows that Peruvian human rights organisations and foreign development agencies have introduced highly standardised and globalised forms of representations to even remote communities of the Andes. Museums and memorials in Peru convey messages of the acknowledgement of victimhood, the re-construction of the social fabric and an awareness of the danger of the re-occurrence of past crimes. But they also portray the local population as being innocently caught between the lines of the guerrilla and the armed forces. The local population partially embrace the messages the places of memory carry, but also use them to emphasise their victimisation and to present themselves as passive and deserving victims in need of constant development projects. They thereby counter the envisaged goals of the places of memory meant to contribute to a sense of active citizenship by instead trying to achieve their dreams of development via clientelistic relationships with the state, NGOs or development agencies. All memorialisation projects analysed also demonstrate a lack of ownership, visible in the rapid decay of the museums and monuments constructed. This also shows the dangers of applying globalised forms and representations to an affected local population without adequate processes of consultation. While memorialisation initiatives can be promising vehicles for achieving transitional justice goals such as acknowledgement, truth, justice, reparation, healing and development, this dissertation calls for carefully and more openly designed and grounded processes that engage the local population in a more active fashion.

Free University Dissertation Archive: "Memories of Violence, Dreams of Development: Memorialisation Initiatives in the Peruvian Andes"