by Noel Rieder
René Lemarchand believes that if the environment where genocide occurs were better understood, the international community might be able to anticipate future massacres.
The political scientist from the University of Florida and Brown University spoke at Concordia on November 8 about his comparative study of three recent cases. While they differ in significant ways, all three leaders used ideology to legitimize their killing and mobilize support within their countries.
Cambodia's Pol Pot murdered in the name of Marxism, Slobodan Milosevic touted Serb nationalism, and Hutu prime minister Jean Kambanda slaughtered Tutsis to preserve majority rule.
"Perhaps the most striking common denominator of these genocides," Lemarchand said, "is that they were all rationalized in terms of ideologies that contributed in no small way towards giving legitimacy to their crimes."
Lemarchand added that genocide is never spontaneous. "No matter how real the potential for violence, genocides are never happenstance phenomena," he explained. "They are directed from above, and could not happen unless a killing machine was in place."
Lemarchand said that all three genocides reveal centralized planning. Even the Rwandan slaughter, seen internationally as a sudden eruption of violence, was orchestrated through layers of authority.
"In the case of Rwanda, you had the organizers, the brain trust of the genocide, built around prime minister Jean Kambanda, then a second echelon of mayors and councillors, and then the willing militia."
Most importantly, genocide cannot be understood without examining the history of the people and country. With the exception of the Holocaust, he said, genocide is often a terrible vengeance for historical wrongs, where "victims of victims" seek retribution.
"[These three genocides] show how neatly intertwined the roots of good and evil have been, and how wide of the mark the good-guy-bad-guy dichotomy really is in post-genocide reality."
Hutus killed Tutsis, a race that once oppressed them. Pol Pot murdered the bourgeois elite for the same reason, and Muslims were killed by Serbs who associated them with the Turks who had tyrannized them in past centuries.
"Justice and factual truth have always been elusive in the wake of genocide," Lemarchand concluded. However, he hopes to understand its cause, and anticipate its bloodshed.
Lemarchand is a professor emeritus at the University of Florida, and currently, visiting professor of international studies at the Thomas Watson Institute, Brown University, R.I. He taught at Smith College in the spring of 1998 as the first holder of the Gwendolyn Carter distinguished visiting professorship in African studies.
As well as his public lecture, which was titled "Rwanda, Cambodia, and Bosnia: Perspectives on Genocide," Lemarchand gave a workshop earlier in the day on "Post-Genocide Rwanda: Coming to Terms with the Past." His appearance was sponsored by the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University.
The sixth annual History in the Making Conference, organized by Concordia graduate students in the History Department, will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the first genocide studies course taught in North America.
It was taught here at Concordia by Professor Frank Chalk, who is now president of the Association of Genocide Scholars. Fittingly, he has been invited to give the inaugural lecture at the conference, to be held in March on the theme of genocide, human rights, and cultural and intellectual history.
The closing lecture will be given by Payam Akhavan, Legal Advisor to the Office of the Prosecutor, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
Proposals for papers to be given at the conference are being
invited from graduate and senior-level undergraduate students.
For more information, please contact Delores LaPratt Houseman, firstname.lastname@example.org