Commissioned by BMZ, the Global Leadership Academy organises international dialogue processes for people in positions of responsibility who have important issues to address. These processes, which run for several months, include the Mandela Dialogues on Memory Work, which the Academy has been running in co-operation with the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Since late 2013, the Mandela Dialogues have tackled the question of how we can shape the debates that surround our social memory: how, in the wake of upheaval, can victims of oppression be integrated in efforts to reappraise the past? And how can the multi-voiced culture of memory, which derives from society and archive materials, help build a strong state for the future?
Some 26 participants from 10 countries were involved. They ranged from a high-ranking Kenyan lawyer and an Argentinean federal judge, to the director of a South African human rights centre and a media activist from Canada.
Following an introductory meeting in November 2013 in South Africa, and a study trip to Cambodia in March 2014, the participants gathered for the final time as a group, from 28-30 July, in the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Here, they continued to develop initiatives that they will pursue in their home environments.
The planned measures include media-based memory work projects and a mobile "Center of Memory" for the Inuit of Canada; projects to involve perpetrators in the process of dealing with the past in Cambodia; an international book project on the Mandela Dialogues; a regional dialogue on memory work in Latin America; and the development of discussion events for Bosnia that will involve the younger generations in reappraising the past.
The significance of memory work
There were plenty of concrete proposals to discuss following the final module of the Mandela Dialogues in Berlin. The Jewish Museum, which had generously provided its space to support the dialogue process, then also hosted the Berlin Forum for Dialogue and Exchange.
Taking part in this event were, among others, State Secretary Thomas Silberhorn of BMZ, the South African ambassador to Berlin, Rev. Makhenkesi Arnold Stofile and, representing GIZ, Vice-Chair of the Management Board Christoph Beier. After hearing contributions from the participants, Christoph Beier responded enthusiastically: "There are many examples of how ideas developed during the dialogue process are already being introduced into the debates in the participants’ home countries."
"The culture of memory is important for us all," said Thomas Silberhorn. "It helps us to deal with things we’ve experienced, to talk about our memories and to learn for the future. This makes it possible for us, as societies, to avoid repeating the same mistakes in future that have occurred elsewhere in the world."
One of the participants from Serbia also highlighted the significance of memory work for the present and future. "Spending time reflecting on the past," he said, "means, above all, taking care of the future." After all, the purpose of many of the participants’ work is to open up new opportunities for future generations.
While the forum event may have marked the official close of the year-long Mandela Dialogues, this doesn’t mean the activities have come to an end. On the contrary, considering the many projects launched in the last few months, Wiebke Koenig, director of the Global Leadership Academy, maintains that "for the 26 participants, this is a new beginning".