«Abstract This article argues that institutional apologies are rituals that can be conceived from a neo-Durkheimian viewpoint as external social tools ...»
Official or political apologies and
improvement of intergroup relations: A neo-
Durkheimian approach to official apologies
University of the Basque Country, Spain
This article argues that institutional apologies are rituals that can be conceived from a neo-Durkheimian viewpoint
as external social tools of collective emotion, which allow people to assume collective guilt and shame, increase agreement
with reparatory behaviors, and reinforce social cohesion. The review of studies presented in this monograph shows that an apology reactivates and intensifies collective emotions, mainly of shame and guilt, above and beyond merely reminding people of past misdeeds, and increases support for reparation. Shame and sorrow fuel and support reparative tendencies.
Finally, salience of past collective violence together with an apology improves social climate to some extent, enhances intergroup reconciliation by decreasing prejudice and improving intergroup contact, and helps to reconstruct in-group collective memory in a more critical way. Changes in collective emotions and representations of the past mediate the positive effects of apologies on reparation and social cohesion.
Keywords: Public apologies, forgiveness, intergroup relations, rituals, Durkheim.
Peticiones de perdón públicas o disculpas
políticas y mejora de relaciones intergrupo:
un marco de análisis neo-Durkheimiano a las disculpas oficiales en tanto rituales Resumen Este articulo argumenta que las disculpas o peticiones de perdón institucionales son rituales que se pueden conceptuali- zar desde un marco teórico neo-durkheimiano como instrumentos sociales externos de emociones colectivas, que le sirven de andamiaje o infraestructura a las personas para asumir la vergüenza y culpa colectiva, incrementan el acuerdo con con- ductas de reparación y refuerzan la cohesión social. La revisión de los estudios de este monográfico muestran que las dis- culpas institucionales reactivan e intensifican las emociones colectivas, principalmente de vergüenza y culpa, teniendo un efecto superior al recuerdo simple de los errores del pasado, y ayudan además a apoyar medidas de reparación. La vergüen- za y culpa motivan y sirven de apoyo a las tendencias a la reparación. Finalmente, hace saliente o recordar las violencias colectivas pasadas, junto con las disculpas institucionales, mejoran en cierto grado el clima social y refuerzan la reconci- liación intergrupal, disminuyendo el prejuicio y mejorando el contacto inter grupo, y ayudan a reconstruir de manera más autocrítica la memoria colectiva del endo grupo. Los cambios en las emociones colectivas y las representaciones del pasado median y explican los efectos positivos de las disculpas públicas en la cohesión social y las tendencias de reparación.
Palabras clave: Disculpas publicas, perdón, relaciones intergrupo, rituales, Durkheim.
Author’s Address: Department of Social Psychology and Methodology, University of the Basque Country, Av. de Tolosa, 70, 20018 San Sebastian, Spain. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2010 by Fundación Infancia y Aprendizaje, ISSN: 0213-4748 Revista de Psicología Social, 2010, 25 (1), 101-115 102 Revista de Psicología Social, 2010, 25 (1), pp. 101-115 With the aim of reinforcing peace processes and reconciliation, coping with negative collective past events and constructing an integrative collective memory, it is important to understand how apology can function at an intergroup level. Thus, the main objective of this paper is to study the apology process at such a level. Official or intergroup apology goes beyond the recognition of responsibility and the adhesion to moral norms as individual phenomena. Morality, responsibility, guilt and shame become collective in character. We will try to analyze these collective processes.
Apology as self-critical remembering as opposed to dominant positivistic collective memory Recently, nations and institutions, reversing the classical self-enhancement tendency to “never apologize, never explain”, have offered many official apologies (Marrus, 2006). However “never apologize, never explain” is a preferred response when confronting an ugly past, at least among the dominant elites. Examples are numerous;
for instance, the Russians refuse to acknowledge and apologize for the Katyn massacre and Red Army crimes of war, etc. (Baumesteir & Hastings, 1997; Nytagodien & Neal, 2004). Following Lind (2008), States and nations usually glorify past collective violence: they might admit that violent acts occurred in the past, but at the same time they might actually praise them as a just and necessary war, a cause for pride, like the US and British admission of casualties and lack of apology for the atrocities of bombings in Germany and Japan. They may also justify acts of collective violence, accepting that atrocities occurred but were necessary in the context – even if not glorious, as in the case of Japanese minimization of the brutality of the Imperial Army.
Moreover, States and nations may deny that collective violence took place or that the State committed crimes, as in the case of the Turkish denial of the Armenian Genocide.
They may also not deny but simply “forget” the past, with history books glossing over past crimes and commemorating neither victims nor perpetrators, as in the case of the French “amnesia” of massacres and tortures in Vietnam and Algeria. Admission of past
collective violence may also be a cold neutral acknowledgement with no moral judgment:
an example of neutral accounts are historical textbooks describing the atomic bombing of Japan and presenting a balanced vision of justification (bombing was necessary to end the war) and criticism (it was unnecessary, Japan was defeated and the bombing was merely an expression of military force to act as a warning to Stalin) (Lind, 2008;
Páez & Liu, in press). Finally, admission of past violence by States and nations may be a form of admitting past misdeeds and communicating a self-critical negative moral judgment, which can be labelled apology or self-critical remembering. Forms of remembering are important because social representations of the past or ways of remembering it have consequences for the definition of heroes and villains or good and bad behaviors, and delineate acceptable policies and chart the future of nations, influencing the way they relate to other nations. Denial and glorification of past collective violence defines national collective behavior, usually reinforcing proactive attitudes in the case of high status and “winning” nations (Páez et al., 2008), but also inhibiting international reconciliation and fueling collective fear, anger and distrust (Lind, 2008). Even if apologies are not a necessary condition for reconciliation, as show the examples of the UK and USA that established friendly relations with Japan and Germany, and Germany with France, without apologizing for bombings and past violence, in some circumstances apologies appear to be a way of improving intergroup relationships.
apology in response to past atrocities and violation of moral standards has become a universal norm. The politics of memory has changed from a collective memory of pride, based on past heroic golden ages, to a politics of the memory of regret. Due to the more critical view of the future and the erosion of past heroic narratives, the past that weighs the heaviest in many nations today is more the negative past, a self-reflexive collective memory that is focused more on learning a moral lesson from a shameful, undesired and regretted past (Olick and Robbins, 1998). Even if it is not a universal norm, Judt (2005) proposed that an apologetic view of the negative past is a norm in Europe: to become a member of the current European cultural region, a nation should apologize for its role in the Holocaust and past collective violence. For instance, several European countries have called for a Turkish acknowledgment of and apology for the Armenian genocide as a prerequisite for Turkey’s membership of the EU.
As another example of a classical dogmatic institution that is reversing the “never explain, never apologize” doctrine, the Catholic Church is developing a theology of apology. During John Paul II’s papacy, he apologized 94 times until 1997 for the past actions of Church authorities, the Inquisition, wars of religion, and wrongdoings to indigenous peoples, Muslims, Africans and the Jewish community (Accatoli, 1997, quoted in Marrus, 2006, p. 6).
Official apologies between nations have become important. Japan has regularly issued apologies since the nineties – to be precise, 36 since 1973, including admissions of misdeeds and remorse. For instance, Prime Minister Koizumo stated: “In the past, Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to people of many countries, particularly those of Asian nations. Japan squarely faces these facts of history with humility and feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology always engraved in the mind.” (Marrus, 2006, p. 6). Other apologies include remorse and reparatory measures, like Murayama’s 1995 apology to the sex slaves of the Imperial Army, accompanied by material compensation and the establishment of an educational foundation (Lind, 2008). In Europe, the French government has apologized for the role of Vichy in the Holocaust, and Belgium for their role in the Lumumba killing and for limitations in their intervention in Rwanda.
Apologies are also relevant within nations. The Nigerian and Chilean governments apologize to former political prisoners and victims. Apologies are sometimes included in restorative or transitional judicial processes (Collins, 2004). For instance, in 1991, Aylwin, the Chilean President, presented to the nation the Rettig or Truth Commission Report acknowledging 3000 persons “missing” or killed by the Chilean army and police, in a televised broadcast from the presidential palace in Santiago. Being the first democratic elected president after Pinochet’s dictatorship, he insisted that the
Chilean State should be responsible for the crimes of the past:
The agents of the State caused so much suffering and the responsible bodies of the State could not or did not know how to preclude or punish it, while the society failed to react properly. The State and society as a whole are responsible for action or omission…This is why I dare, in my position as President of the Republic, to assume the representation of the nation and, in its name, to beg forgiveness from the relatives of the victims. This is why I also solemnly ask the army and security forces who participated in the excesses committed to make gestures of acknowledgment of the pain they caused with the aim of contributing to the lessening of that pain. (Marrus, 2006, p. 14).
The Irish IRA and the Argentinian Montoneros, as well as some Argentinian and Chilean army generals, have apologized to their former targets and reject past violent actions against civilians as indefensible. Only in limited cases are apologies rejected, as was the case, for instance, of a local leader who did not accept Giscard’s apology for French repression in 1947 in Madagascar. Usually, they are welcome, though they may also be criticized as limited (too few), delayed (too late), or insincere (Cairns, Tam, Hewstone and Niens, 2005; Staub, 2005). Apologies are also being included in 104 Revista de Psicología Social, 2010, 25 (1), pp. 101-115 restorative justice programs and transitional justice procedures or peace processes (Collins, 2004). In all these cases, official apologies are conceived as a prerequisite to improve intergroup relationships, promote forgiveness and restore social cohesion. As Judt (2005) suggests, one objection is that it may only be a cultural belief that “apology is a necessary aspect of healing”, unrelated to reality and only shared in some cultures.
Apology and cultural beliefs At the interpersonal level, an apology is an integrative device for maintaining ingroup cohesion. Apologies in general try to restore the relationship with the offended party, to ask forgiveness and to maintain harmony and social cohesion. An apology offers the hope that social harmony can be restored and the deviant or perpetrator may regain a place in the society (Tavuchis, 1991). Certain differences related to culture and values have been pointed out, suggesting that apology is embedded in Christian and Western values but fits worse in the case of other traditions, like the Islamic and Asian cultures. However, studies in different parts of the world have discovered among lay people a similar script that includes apology as a phenomenon conducive to forgiveness (Azar & Mullet, 2001; 2002; Sandage & Williamson, 2005). Other differences refer to frequency: in cultures such as the hierarchical collectivist China, which emphasizes saving face or maintaining one’s reputation, apologies are weighty acts that are rarely offered and accepted, because they erode social harmony. Cultures that differentiate strongly between the in- and out-group are reluctant to apologize to out-group members because the latter are considered unworthy of receiving an apology. The explanation for the reluctance of the Japanese to give complete apologies for war crimes in World War II is also a matter of cultural background (Stamato, 2008). However, a study in Lebanon, a supposed collectivist culture emphasizing in-group versus outgroup behavioral differences, did not find that the effects of apology were different when coming from in-group or out-group offenders – at least not with a hypothetical scenario opposing Muslim and Druze, Catholic and Meronite Christians (Sandage & Williamson, 2005).