Memory Laws: An Escalation in Minority Exclusion or a Testimony to the Limits of State Power?

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Abstract

The article addresses the tension between nation-state memory and the law through “memory laws.” In contrast to laws that ban genocide denial or a positive perception of a violent past, I focus on laws that ban a negative perception of a violent past. As I will show, these laws were utilized for a non-democratic purpose in the last decade or more: They were proposed in order to limit public debate on the national past by banning oppositional or minority views, in contrast to the principles of free speech and deliberative democracy. Their legislation in such cases also stands in opposition to truth-telling efforts in the international arena. I compare two cases of memory legislation, in contemporary Russia and Israel, and evaluate their different impacts on democratic public debates in practice. A third case of “failed legislation” in France compliments the analysis by demonstrating not only the capacity but also the limitation of state power to silence or control public debate using the law. Although national laws often reflect majority culture and memory, I propose that memory laws in Russia, Israel, and France present an escalating degree of minority exclusion—from omission to active banning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)575-607
Number of pages33
JournalLaw and Society Review
Volume50
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law

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