Just over a decade after the attacks of 9-11, we are in the midst of a global war on terror. In Syria, Sudan and many other countries, citizens are under attack. In Europe, xenophobia and discrimination is on the rise and the United States is facing divisive battles around immigration and inequity. In this bleak picture, where is the possibility for change? For a new, just, and peaceful future?

For us, the answer lies in the past.

From April 27-30, we 17 Sites of Conscience from across Europe are gathering at the Gernika Peace Museum to join in the commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Gernika. It seems like an ideal occasion to ask “What should we remember? Why?».

For us, whose institutions commemorate a wide range of histories – from the conflict in Northern Ireland to the Holocaust – asking such questions is not only academic. It is central to our practice. As Sites of Conscience we not only believe that all communities must have the space and opportunity to remember their histories, but we also ask how these memories can engage new generations with no personal connection to these histories, and how we can move from memory to action.

Events like the bombing of Gernika shaped history; they became markers of the times, attracting massive public attention and outcry; inspiring art; and engendering social movements. But how can such events be harnessed in the quest for ‘never again’?

It is true that our global memories of horrors like the Holocaust or genocides have not served as deterrents against the repetition of such acts. We only need scan the news to know this. But as Sites of Conscience we know that simply remembering does not lead to positive action. To know what happened in the past is not enough. For the past to become an active catalyst for change requires that each of us put ourselves in the shoes of those who came before, reflect on what we would have done then, in those particular circumstances, and then draw out what we might do today as we navigate our worlds and the choices – large and small – ahead of us.

«Activating» the past in this way is far from easy. Nor is it simply a matter of individual choice. In Spain, more than 40 years after Franco’s dictatorship ended, individuals, families, communities, society, and the State are grappling with what to remember and how. At the Gernika Peace Museum too, these questions remain. As they do for us all — whether in Derry or Krakow or Srebenica or Terezin. But whether the histories we remember are recent or in the distant past, what unites us is why we remember: our commitment to make the past relevant for the future.

This is why remembering the bombing of Gernika matters to us. Through this history we can understand that the 1937 bombing was an early act of terrorism and explore terrorism today; we can analyze the different roles that our nations played in this event and their roles in the war on terror today; and we can identify with the stories of multiple actors – victims, survivors, perpetrators, bystanders. Through such journeys, we come to understand the magnitude of war and the value of peace. And then, we are sparked to action.

It is this spark that we seek to ignite. This is why we, as Sites of Conscience, return to the questions of what to remember and how. Because we must continue to find new ways to ignite the sparks of tens of millions of people all around the world. So that one day the wars, conflicts, and tragedies that many of our Sites remember, will indeed be in the past.

Signatories Names and Institutions

  1. Jordi Font Agulló, Director, Museo Memorial de l’Exil, España
  2. Monika Bednarek, History Museum of the City of Krakow, Polland
  3. Maja Cecen, Director of Fundation de B92 Museum of Tolerance, Serbia
  4. Discovery Center, Kosovo
  5. Jean-Louis Delaet, Director de Le Bois du Cazier, Belgium
  6. Adrian Kerr, Director, Museum of Free Derry, Northern Ireland
  7. Will Glendinning, Coordinator, Diversity Challenges, Northern Ireland
  8. Alma Masic, Directora, Youth Initiative for Human Rights– (YIHR BH), Bosnia -Herzegovina
  9. Iratxe Momoitio, Director Gernika Peace Museum
  10. María Oianguren Idígoras, Director,  Gernika Gogoratuz Peace Research Center
  11. Jordi Palou-Loverdos, Director, Memorial Democràtic,Catalunya
  12. Peace School Foundation Monte Sole, Italia
  13. Maria Paola Profumo, president of  Galata / Mu.MA Istituzione Musei del Mare e delle Migrazioni, Italia
  14. Elizabeth Silkes, Director, lnternational Coallition of Sites of Conscience, United States




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