Memory Politics and Academic Freedom: Some Recent Controversies in Greece

An important area where law and historical memory intersect is the use of memory laws to express collective disapproval of crimes against humanity. These laws, although based on a compelling need to use the symbolic dimension of the law in order to condemn the lowest points of history, can have dangerous unintended consequences for freedom of speech. This category includes legislation which commemorates a genocide, whether or not such a commemoration is accompanied by the denial of this genocide being criminalised. According to the Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA on Racism and Xenophobia, the Member States of the European Union “should consider” criminalising “publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivializing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes” (Article 1(1)(d)). In a number of EU Member States, similar legislation precedes this decision. Legislation of this kind expresses our collective malaise towards atrocities committed by mankind. Nevertheless, it inevitably leads to imposing an official version of the truth that is dictated by our collective consciousness either at the level of the nation state, or at the level of the emerging European collective consciousness. Thus, it can impoverish our public debate by limiting critical contributions by historians and intellectuals more broadly that are imperative for our collective self-understanding within national communities, the community of the EU and the community of humanity as a whole.

I have already written elsewhere about how similar legislation can be used to consolidate memory in favour of one version of historical truth that fits a dominant narrative of national identity ...

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