Haunting pasts: time and historicity as constructed by the Argentine Madres de Plaza de Mayo and radical Flemish nationalists

By focusing on the cases of the Madres de Plaza de Mayo and the radical Flemish nationalists, this article raises the question of how minorities succeed in keeping 'alive' painful fragments of the past, despite being pressured to 'let the wounds heal' or 'bury' the past. To answer this question, we borrow the concept of the 'regime of historicity' from the French historian Francois Hartog. We formulate the thesis that both groups succeeded in keeping their burdened pasts an 'actuality' by contesting the dominant regime of historicity and by developing a competing regime of historicity of their own, in which 'being past' cannot be equated with 'being absent' or 'being passed'. To describe how this is done, we focus on rituals of mourning and commemorations of the dead. After discussing the lugubrious ritual staging of the dead by Flemish nationalists and the Madres' radical denial of death as manifested in the ghostly figure of the desaparecidos, we take on a meta-historical perspective and claim that these attitudes should be interpreted as part of a highly instrumental 'politics of time', instead of being a psychopathology. Moreover, we argue that the alternative chronosophies of these groups challenge the very core of modern academic historiography.