One Hundred Years of Solitude: Memories and Genocide

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM/ROME, Jan 9 2019 (IPS)

Denis Villeneuve´s film Blade Runner 2049 depicts a future where “bioengineered replicants” are used as slaves and killed if they misbehave. Replicants are manufactured and individualized as if they were real humans. They are even implanted with artificial memories, a measure intended to make them more “mental stable”, able to cope with their wretch existence as slave labourers. Dr. Ana Stelline, a character in the movie, explains how she manufactures memories:

– They all think it’s about more detail. But that’s not how memory works. We recall with our feelings. Anything real should be a mess.

The movie implies that memories often are fictional, created by ourselves, based on our immediate environment and thus influenced by views and manipulations of others. The author Gabriel García Márquez, was like the movie´s Dr. Stelline, a creator of dreams and memories. In all his writing remembering and forgetting are prevalent themes. His most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, portrays a fictitious village called Macondo. In reality a description of García Márquez’s memories of his childhood village it becomes an archetype of all Latin American villages. He retells dreams and stories stored in the minds of Macondo´s inhabitants. García Márquez declared:

– Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers in order to recount it.

One Hundred Years of Solitude shows that memories are not only individual, they are collective as well, shared with an entire community. In 1983, the historian Eric Hobsbawm edited a book called The Invention of Traditions, which described how concepts of ethnicity and nationality create shared identities by endorsing, and even inventing, cultural traits that underscore the uniqueness of certain groups of people. Invented traditions and memories tend to minimize communal crimes committed by flag-waving bigots. They may even serve as a motive for genocide, i.e. “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”1

Genocides are generally blamed on fanatic individuals, thus covering up the fact that horrendous crimes of such magnitude cannot be committed without logistic support and massive propaganda from powerful organisations, mostly national governments, which foster xenophobia to strengthen their own power. Such is the case of each and every one of the genocides committed during the past century. Atrocities like German mass killings of Herero and Namaqua in Namibia, 1904-1908 (between 34,000 to 110,000 civilians were slaughtered),2 mass killings of Armenians in Turkey, 1914-1922 (700,000 to 1,800,000 dead, at the same time an estimated 500,000 to 900,000 Greeks and 200,000 to 750,000 Assyrians were killed), Italian mass killings in Libya, 1923-1932 (leaving 80,000 to 125,000 dead), mass killings committed by Croatian Ustaše, 1941-1945 (350,000 to 600,000 dead, while Serbian Chetniks killed 47,000 to 65,000 Croats and Bosnians), Indonesian mass killings, 1965–66 (500,000 to one million dead), Bangladesh mass killings, 1971 (300,000 to 3 million dead), Burundian mass killings, 1972-1983 (80,000 to 210,000 dead), mass killings in East Timor, 1975-1999 (85,000 to 196,000 dead), mass killings in Cambodia, 1975-1979 (14,000 to 3 million dead), mass killings of Somalian Isaaqs, 1988-1991 (50,000 to 200,000 dead), mass killings of Bosnians, 1992-1995 (8,000 to 39,000 dead), Rwandan mass killings, 1994 (500,000 to one million dead), mass killings of Iraqi Kurds, 1986-1989 (50,000 to 200,000 dead), mass killings of Congolese Bambutis, 2002-2003 (60,000 to 70,000 dead).

State sponsored killings were extreme when it comes to crimes committed in the name of National Socialism and Bolshevism (particularily in its Stalinist shape), two political systems based on control and exclusion not only of human beings, but of history and memories as well. Nazi Germany caused the death of 5 to 6 million Jews, 3 million USSR prisoners of war, more than 12 million civilians in occupied territories, and between 130,000 and 500,000 Romani people. Leaders of Stalinist Soviet Union were guilty of the Holdomor, a man-made famine killing between 2 and 7 million Ukrainians and 1,5 million dead in Kazakhstan under similar circumstances, 200,000 deaths during forced migration of Chechens, 110,000 deaths during NKVD operations in Poland and between 100,000 and 300,000 Poles killed in Volhynia and Galicia.

Few Governments like to be reminded of such atrocities. Some are even forgotten by the general public, or furiously denied by populist nationalists. For them massacred people are as worth- and featureless as out-of-order replicants were to their owners in Blade Runner 2049.

The climax of García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is based on a true event not far from the author´s birthplace. In 1928, Colombian military opened fire on striking plantation workers, killing an unknown number. In the novel, the company’s director summons up a whirlwind washing away not only Macondo, but any recollection of the massacre. In the novel´s final scene we learn that it is a tale based on a manuscript that a mysterious visitor had left with an ancestor of one of the main characters: “Melquíades had not put events in the order of man´s conventional time, but had concentrated a century of daily episodes in such a way they coexisted in one instant.”

A beautiful picture of how our memories work. They erase some episodes, while amplifying others. The novel finishes on a tragic note. The manuscript declares that what is lost, is lost forever. The past century has left us with the weight of millions of dead. They did not learn from history. “Races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.” We will probably experience the same fate. We erect monuments over wars and heroes, but prefer to forget, or minimize, horrendous crimes committed in the name of distorted memories, a falsified history glorifying a past that never existed.

1The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html
2These and other figures are based on the lowest and highest estimates found in relevant literature.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

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