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January 6, 2017 / Congau

Historical Reparations

There can be no compensation for historical injustice, for there is no such thing as collective guilt and also no collective pain. The descendants are not guilty of the atrocities of their ancestors, and if the fathers have suffered, nothing will be relieved by the prosperity of later generations. And how far back in history should we go to make such imaginary corrections? We are all descendants of both victims and offenders and the tribunal of history is endless.

It is about money; dirty money whose source can never be traced. How can money ever relieve pain, let alone pain that was suffered by victims who are no longer alive? There is something undignified about wanting to change your grandfather’s suffering into hard cash. Isn’t it greed in the name of justice?

But maybe it is only about money and there is no reference to ethics at all. The descendants are then to be given back the money they now would have had if their ancestors had not been robbed. To try to make such an estimate would be both impossible and absurd. We can never know what might have happened if history had been different.

If it is meant to be a compensation for mere legal breaches in the past, these may not be found because those terrible things that happened may have been legal in the past. If slavery was legal, it cannot be legally compensated.

No, it is of course an ethical argument, but by confusing it with law and money the ethical dimension is tainted. Victims should be remembered, not capitalized on.

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