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Heritage as a political tool
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Heritage as a political tool
Heritage can be a means to remember the past and identity of a community, it however can also be used as a political tool to intentionally forget or leave out certain aspects of the past. Social exclusion or social amnesia is used as a tool to leave out or alter parts of the past which are embarrassing or uncomfortable. (Timothy and Boyd, 2003 as cited in Timothy and Prideaux, 2004). Sometimes non-powerful groups are written out of history for political reasons a phenomenon which is called ‘disinheritence’ (Ashworth, 1995 as cited in Timothy and Prideaux, 2004). History and heritage are contested between different groups of stakeholders and various heritages, there is no such thing as a single history and heritage has been the root of many conflicts (Timothy and Boyd, 2006).
Social/ collective amnesia refers to the selective memory in regards to certain events and people. This has been an issue with several non-powerful ethnic groups such as the aboriginals, the Native and African Americans and the indigenous Africans in South Africa (Boniface & Fowler, 1993; Goudie et al., 1996; Jones, 1997; Leong, 1989 as cited in Timothy and Boyd, 2006). These ethnic groups have been oppressed by more powerful groups and at some point their history has been de-emphasised or written out completely. Many countries are ashamed of the cruelties they have performed against racial minorities and therefore it is sometimes easier for them to simply “forget” . Heritage is also used as a tool to build patriotism at domestic level or spread propaganda to international visitors. Heritage can for example be used to highlight political ideologies. In state-socialist countries for example villages have been designed where often actors live an idealised communist lifestyle (Timothy and Boyd, 2006).
In Romania for example attempts have been made to “forget” the communist past of the country. The National History Museum along with many others in the country closed immediately after the communist leader Ceausescu was defeated. When the museums opened again it was clear that there was the desire to erase the memory of the communist period. The presentation of the Romanian history stops abruptly when the communist period of the country starts. During guided tours the guides are silent about the origin of Palatul Parliamentului; the parliament palace and the role Ceausescu played in its development (Light, 2000). In North Korea efforts are made to convince the visitors of the wisdom of its political stance and acumen of its leaders. All itineraries are determined by authorities and the aim is to tell a story of national success. The many cruelties performed by the regime are turned into success stories to make the visitors believe that the government and army are protectors of the people without whom the country would be overwhelmed by the capitalist imperialist threat. Many visitors however know the history of North Korea and are not fooled, they find the propaganda displayed by North Korea entertaining (Henderson, 2007). The fact that heritage can be manipulated to portray a desired past is something one has to keep in mind when looking at heritage. If not visitors might be tricked into believing this is the actual past of a nation. Another risk is that overtime the “portrayed past” might be viewed as authentic and the actual past.
Written by Antonia Broeders
Timothy and Boyd (2006) Heritage Tourism in the 21st Century: Valued Traditions and New Perspectives. Journal of Heritage Tourism, vol. 1, no. 1, 1-16
Timothy and Prideaux (2004) Issues in heritage and culture in the Asia pacific region. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, vol. 9, no. 3, 213-223
Light (2000) An Unwanted Past: contemporary tourism and the heritage of communism in Romania. International Journal of Heritage Studies, vol. 6 no. 2, P. 145-160
Henderson (2007) Communism, Heritage and Tourism in East Asia. International Journal of Heritage Studies, vol. 13, no. 3, 240-254,
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