The Ambiguousness of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is assumed to be the bedrock of reconciliation. One historical example that comes to mind is the pastoral letter sent by Polish Catholic bishops to their German counterparts, with its breathtaking line “We forgive and we ask for forgiveness.” Yet no similar gesture was made in post-WWII relations between Germany and France, and that reconciliation is no less deep. Consider another case: calls for forgiveness abound in the still bumpy relationships between Jews and various Christian European nations, though Jewish moral law does not permit Jews to forgive in the name of others, the dead in particular. Are the parties doomed to remain at an impasse? And, finally, what about the matter of free choice? Forgiveness must be freely chosen, as demonstrated by the failures of enforced forgiveness (the official doctrine of post-genocide Rwanda) and the obstinate refusal to acknowledge there is something to ask forgiveness for (the official doctrine of post-genocide Turkey). But what happens when the victims themselves refuse to forgive?
Konstanty Gebert was born in Warsaw in 1953. International reporter and columnist at Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s biggest daily, democratic opposition activist in the seventies, and underground journalist (pen name: Dawid Warszawski) in the eighties. He has covered the Polish Round Table negotiations in 1989, the wars in Bosnia, the Middle East, and the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda for his newspaper, and is a frequent contributor to other Polish and international media. Among other initiatives, Konstanty Gebert co-founded the Polish Council of Christians and Jews and the Media Development Loan Fund, an international financial organization which supports free media worldwide. He is also the founder of the Polish Jewish intellectual monthly Midrasz, and a board member of the Taube Centre for Jewish Cultural Renewal. Among his ten books, in Polish, are works on Poland’s round table negotiations of 1989, the Yugoslav wars, and Israeli history, as well as commentaries on the Torah and a panorama of the European 20th century. He has taught at, among other institutions, the University of California (Santa Cruz and Berkeley), Grinnell College, and Hebrew University. His essays have appeared in two dozen collective works in Poland, Japan, the U.S., U.K., Italy, France, and Belgium.
Claudia Weber studied political science, history, and Slavic languages and literatures at Leipzig University, Athens University (Ohio), Kliment Ochridski University in Sofia, and at the Pushkin Institute in Moscow. Her PhD dissertation (Leipzig 2003) is on Balkan history and nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries. She has taught East European history at Leipzig University and the University of Basel, and is currently a member of the research unit on the history and theory of violence at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research. She is the author of Auf der Suche nach der Nation. Erinnerungskultur in Bulgarien 1878-1944 (Lit-Verlag 2006) and has published a number of articles on war memory in the Balkans as well as on violence and Stalinism. Claudia Weber is currently writing a book on ideology and the communication of the Katyń Forest Massacre and Stalinist terror in Europe during the Cold War.