only search

This week’s front page editor

Clare Sambrook

Clare Sambrook, investigative journalist, co-edits Shine a Light.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Is 'apology' today's new political enthusiasm? Marina Warner, renowned novelist and critic, takes us on a tour of literature, history and opera, to illuminate its background, and warns of the need for 'apology' to stay close to the events it relates to. Gillian Slovo, who lost her mother to apartheid state terrorism, brilliantly reflects on the moral complexity of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. George Lawson, who closely observed TRCs in the Czech Republic, Chile, and South Africa, surveys a global phenomenon which is postmodern, precarious, yet somehow heroic.

Turkey and Armenia: genocide? what genocide?

April 1915 saw the start of the genocide against Armenians and other minorities in the former Ottoman Empire. Erdoğan hopes he can ignore the anniversary and it will go away—while Armenian politics is stuck in victim mode.

Russia-Poland: a history too terrible

The plane crash at Smolensk which Poland’s president has provoked an outpouring of Russian sympathy, from Putin down. It has helped many Russians identify their country’s responsibility for the Katyn massacre in 1940. But it has left many others unmoved, even cynical. ‘Re-setting’ Russian-Polish relations is not going to be easy.

Saying sorry is not enough

The anniversary of Kevin Rudd's apology to Australia's aboriginal community has come and gone. What difference has it made?

Australia’s apology: the shadow on the sun

The new prime minister's official apology to the "stolen generations" of indigenous Australians may find itself trapped in the legacy of his predecessor, says Tim Rowse.

South Africa and Iraq: the missing example

The successful transition to democracy in South Africa could be an inspiration to Iraqis struggling with their own legacy of violence and dictatorship, says David Mikhail.

Australia's troubled reconciliation project

The language and politics of “reconciliation” have begun to stall the search for justice and rights for Australia’s indigenous people, says Mark Byrne.

The afterlife of bodies: a reply to Tiffany Jenkins

Respect for the interred human body is shared across human cultures from prehistoric time. It involves not just attachment to the consolations of memory, but responsibility across generations. This, says Ken Worpole is “the ethical politics of ‘the long now’”.

Who owns human remains?

The return of human remains by museums and cultural institutions to the indigenous communities who claim them represents not just an assault on scientific research, but a faltering belief in human progress itself.

But war hurts more

Sierra Leone, torn apart by a decade of brutal civil war, desperately needs the catharsis that truth and reconciliation can bring. But the attempt to establish this process has encountered problems - confusion about the role of the two different commissions, a lack of public engagement and the non-compliance of critical witnesses.

South Africa: no justice without reparation

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa has been widely praised as a crucial mechanism of reconciliation in the post-apartheid era. But has its reputation been gained at the cost of a collective evasion?

The entrepreneurs of memory

Does the worldwide concern with public apology represent a turning of society’s face towards the past, one that closes the possibility of imagining a better future?

The art of reconciliation

South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission inspired the artist Madelaine Georgette to embark on her own creative journey of redemption.


The townships represent one major element of the context in which the War of Liberation occurred. The vast majority of black South Africans have lived in townships that grew up haphazardly around the major cities.

Making history: South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Can society’s need for healing override the search for justice? The apartheid system that murdered Gillian Slovo’s mother faced its crimes not in a courtroom, but in a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearing. In making her experience part of South Africa’s search for the truth of its past, she explains how the country’s innovative TRC helped reconcile it to its devastating wounds.

Leaving aside the huge policy issues involved for any nation emerging from dictatorship, emotional barriers also have to be overcome.

From history to moral fable: truth and reconciliation in South Africa

In the transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa, the country’s pioneering Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a key medium of national catharsis. Did it allow the society to face honestly, and thus move beyond, its violent past? The ambiguous story of Mkleyi Henry Khanliye, an ANC political activist and convicted child-killer, suggests that the answer lies in the process as much as the outcome.

South Africa’s first general elections were successfully completed in April 1994.

Truth or dare? Truth commissions between old and new nations

Truth and reconciliation commissions are one of the innovative institutions that have emerged in the search for social healing after violent conflict. In Chile, South Africa and the Czech Republic, three very different stories and styles of truth-telling have unfolded. How have they helped to bring social justice, national reconciliation, and to repair damaged lives?

‘There was a time when we thought that by now we would be cutting necks and putting people on the firing line.

Sorry: the present state of apology

The theme of ‘apology’ is in the air: governments are saying it to former colonial subjects, or to political prisoners in post-dictatorships; former terrorists to their targets; banks and businesses to looted or polluted clients; churches and cults to victims of abuse. Why are they doing it? In her approach to today’s latest ‘political enthusiasm’, we accompany Marina Warner – novelist, critic, and subversive anatomist of myth and the collective subconscious – on a sparkling tour of the literature of apology over twenty-five centuries. This article is the first in a series of six published on openDemocracy.

Scene One: Io

In which the archetypal figure of human heroic suffering meets the persecuted eternal feminine. Before history invented public apology, was there any solace?

Io guarded by ArgosThe heifer Io guarded by Argos, on an Athenian Red Figure pitcher, c.

Scene Two: St Augustine's Confessions

In which, in the moment of confession, two figures emerge: the apologist and human self-portraiture. From the very beginning self-scrutiny is a danger zone.

St AugustineSt Augustine by Sandro Botticelli

In his Confessions, the bishop of Hippo invokes the God he loves, calling him unceasingly in the vocative: Tu – Thou or You.

Scene Three: The Marriage of Figaro

In which forgiveness, and human recognition work their magic. But how well, and for how long? Maybe, nothing short of revolution will do?

Again, we skip on several centuries – from Augustine writing in what is present day Algeria, to Lorenzo Da Ponte and Mozart in Vienna in 1786, and The Marriage of Figaro.

Scene Four: Red Dust by Gillian Slovo

In which many kinds of truth…and reconciliation, are investigated. Sometimes only a deep pychic process can effect healing. Where does the personal end and the political begin?

Red Dust by Gillian SlovoRed Dust by Gillian Slovo

Sorry: the conclusion

In which apology comes to play a necessary part in our modern world, contributing to the revisioning of national history and the shaping of group identities. But do we fully understand what we have done?

Syndicate content