chapter  4
16 Pages

Iconoclastic Breaks with the Past

ByAntoon De Baets

Within a framework of crimes against history, the notion of a “break with the past” requires closer inspection. Political scientists and historians studying the dynamics of contemporary armed conflict and dictatorship frequently but inattentively use the term to mark a more or less profound change in time. But ruptures with the past differ widely. Indeed, two contrasting types can be distinguished: transitional and iconoclastic breaks. Transitional breaks are organized by regimes that recently acquired a democratic political system and they are usually backed by large parts of civil society. Truth commissions, tribunals, vetting mechanisms, and reparation schemes were devised as instruments to cope with the painful past before the break. Transitional breaks constitute an attempt to deal with the injustices of the immediately preceding period—typically a dictatorship or an armed conflict—but usually leave the scars of the more remote past untouched. They have captured most of the attention during the last decades.