Grand national narratives and the project of truth commissions: a comparative analysis

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Andrews, Molly (2003)

This article will compare the narrative projects of nation building and dismantling as represented in the truth commissions of South Africa and East Germany. One of the most important aspects of truth commissions is that personal suffering on a wide scale is publicly acknowledged and written into the national fabric. The relationship between individual and collective memory is a powerful one; through the testimonies that it has documented, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has created the possibility for South African citizens to participate in the writing of a new official version of their country’s recent history. It has helped to establish a break with the past, so that the country as a whole can move forward. In contrast, the truth commission set up in East Germany was important in the dismantling of that country. While most truth commissions cover a relatively limited period of time, the truth commission of East Germany was unusual, if not unique, in that it covered the whole of that country’s history. And unlike South Africa, and other countries, where truth commissions function as a pivotal bridge between past and future, in East Germany, the truth commission marked the completion of the national narrative.
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