Archives for posts with tag: apology

From today’s NYT: Irish Premier’s Apology Fails to Appease Workhouse Survivors

Magdalene laundries

The official 1000-page report has landed. Its finding: The Irish state is responsible for having forced thousands of young women to labour in Catholic workhouses (“Laundries”), the last of which closed in 1996.

The existence of the so-called Magdalene Laundries is not, itself, news. We’ve long known that beginning in the 1760s, Irish women and girls who were deemed “fallen” (think: unwed mothers, prostitutes, or alleged ‘loose’ ladies) or “socially dysfunctional” were forced to toil as slave labourers in a variety of asylums.

It’s true that these asylums popped up across Europe and North America, but they were particularly numerous in Ireland, where they were known as “Magdalene laundries”–after Mary Magdalene, a prostitute who was redeemed by Christ. The asylums were often Church-run, and housed either Protestants or Catholics.

Sometimes women entered the laundries on their own accord. But many were coerced. For others, the line between free choice and coercion was blurred; women of faith were under immense pressure to atone for their perceived sins. Many women were admitted for petty offenses.

And conditions were abysmal. Women–the majority under 23–were left open to all sorts of abuse. And they were not paid for their labours. The women washed linen and clothing from major hotels, the armed forces, etc.

 

But here’s the rub: The Irish state has long insisted that it played no hand in these institutions. This has left compensation-seeking women in the lurch.
The new report stresses that indeed about a quarter of the 10,012 “Maggies” who were detained in laundries between 1922-96 were sent by state authorities.

What’s more: state officials inspected the laundries under the Factories Act. in doing so, the new report argues, the state illegally helped to oversee the system of forced and unpaid labour.

What’s MORE: The state gave laundry contracts to the asylums, in violation of fair wage clauses.

And to top it all off: Irish police officers  helped to track down escaped Maggies.

 

So, cue: state apology.

Or not. At a press conference Tuesday, Irish prime minister Edna Kenny failed to formally apologize for Ireland’s role in the abuse. Surviving Maggies have demanded an official apology and financial compensation.

What Kenny did muster was: “I’m sorry that this release of pressure and understanding for so many of those women was not done before this.”

Sort of the state equivalent of: “I’m sorry you’re upset”–when what you want is, “I’m sorry for what I did.”

 

Advertisements

From the Guardian: ‘Barcelona pursues Italy over 1938 bombing.’

A Spanish court wants Italy to apologise for the war crime of mass bombardment during the civil war, in support of General Franco…

In 1938 Savoia bombers from Benito Mussolini‘s Italian air force rained bombs on the Spanish city as they broke non-intervention treaties to support General Francisco Franco’s rightwing rebels in the Spanish civil war. The use of attacks from the air was designed to provoke panic, kill civilians and destroy morale. Within a few years, the technique would spread through war-torn Europe as cities such as Coventry, Hamburg and Dresden were subjected to blanket bombing…

Since the second world war, Italians have seen former Nazi officials pursued in their courts for war crimes, but have rarely debated Italy’s role in the Spanish civil war, when Mussolini deployed 60,000 soldiers and 750 aircraft.

We’ve got the usual conclusion: Survivor wants truth to come to the fore. And he wants an apology.

Barcelona after the 1938 bombings

Progress on the former front is promising. Trials can have enormous impact on the shaping of public memory. Take the ongoing case in London, involving three elderly Kenyans suing the British government for long-forgotten colonial crimes. (Caution: self-promotional hyper-linking!)

Though it should be warn that news stories covering these ‘historical trials’ often pit themselves against  a strawman: an episode of history that is alleged to have been woefully forgotten (historians speak of ‘historical amnesia‘) or furtively swept away. I’m not convinced that Italy’s role supporting General Franco in 1938 has been entirely forgotten in Rome.

But the effort to wring an apology out of modern-day Italy might prove elusive.

I’m sorry

I wrote an article many moons ago in The Huffington Post, on the subject of apologies for historical crimes/wrongs. In it, I summarized the state of affairs:

In the last fifteen years or so, we’ve said sorry to aboriginal groups forced into residential schools (Canada) or split apart from their families (Australia). We’ve said sorry to countries invaded during war (Japan to South-East Asia, Serbia to Bosnia, Germany to…a lot of states). We’ve apologized for slavery (US, EU), for Apartheid (South Africa), for Colonialism (Japan), for the Holocaust (Germany), and for collaborating in the Holocaust (France). We’ve said sorry for revolutions gone awry (Russia), for genocide and for looking away while genocide was taking place (US, Canada). Our apologies are for isolated incidents (wars, murders, genocides) and for long-term, sustained systems of oppression (slavery, racial discrimination, oppressive political regimes). We’re sorry to Jews (Germany, Vatican, Switzerland), to migrant children (Australia, Britain), to Aboriginals (Canada, Australia), to political protesters (Britain), to and to homosexuals (Cuba, Germany).

And I considered reasons why  historical apologies are usually not forthcoming: namely, the fear that an apology will inspire costly litigation. (One solution would be to borrow from the field of medical malpractice law–creating legislation that would make it possible to apology for a past wrong without that apology being taken as an admission of legal responsibility.)

I also considered the purpose of apologizing, and whether a state apology can ever be more than a token act.

Intellectually, I’m still ambivalent. But my non-gradschool-appropriate shrug-it-off tendencies dominate here: if the victims want it, the state should provide it. I’m sorry.

Extra! Extra! At an inter-faith prayer meeting in Italy, Pope Benedict acknowledged “with great shame” that Christians have committed violence in God’s name.

pope_benedict

From Reuters:

“As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith,” [the Pope] said in his address to the delegations in an Assisi basilica…

It was one of the few times that a pope has apologised for events such as the Crusades or the use of force to spread the faith in the New World. The late Pope John Paul apologised in 2000 for Christianity’s historical failures.”

Interesting fact #1: Pope Benedict refused to attend the same inter-faith meeting in 1986, when he was a cardinal. He later criticised the gathering for implying that all religions are equal.

Interesting fact #2: This famous inter-faith gathering reserves spots for “representative[s] of African traditional religions.” (I can only imagine the process by which these spots are filled…)

 

sorry-in-the-sand

I’ve long been interested in the idea of official apologies for historical wrongs. In 2011, I wrote an article on the subject for The Huffington Post: ‘Sorry, Ladies.’ 

I gave a decent summary of ‘historical apologies’ issued recently:

In the last fifteen years or so, we’ve said sorry to aboriginal groups forced into residential schools (Canada) or split apart from their families (Australia). We’ve said sorry to countries invaded during war (Japan to South-East Asia, Serbia to Bosnia, Germany to…a lot of states). We’ve apologized for slavery (US, EU), for Apartheid (South Africa), for Colonialism (Japan), for the Holocaust (Germany), and for collaborating in the Holocaust (France). We’ve said sorry for revolutions gone awry (Russia), for genocide and for looking away while genocide was taking place (US, Canada). Our apologies are for isolated incidents (wars, murders, genocides) and for long-term, sustained systems of oppression (slavery, racial discrimination, oppressive political regimes). We’re sorry to Jews (Germany, Vatican, Switzerland), to migrant children (Australia, Britain), to Aboriginals (Canada, Australia), to political protesters (Britain), to and to homosexuals (Cuba, Germany).

Before coming to this conclusion:

And still, most states have failed to eek out a single ‘I’m sorry’ for women.

Are apologies like the Pope’s necessary acts of atonement? important components of any historical record? empty token? symbolic gestures?