Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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David RATNER, Tel Aviv University, Isreal

In recent years there seems to be a growing interest in the Ethiopian public in what is widely known as the revolutionary period – the turbulent and eventful period that started in the mid 60's with the student movement that got radicalized over time, followed by the 1974 revolution and ended by the late 70's with the crushing of the revolutionary parties (EPRP and MEISON in particular) by the derg. The interest in the revolutionary period is evident in a plethora of publications – memoires, academic works, fiction, films, debates on social media and more. Interestingly, this tide of publications and discussions takes place on the background of voices that try to diminish the importance of the revolutionary period, to portray the revolutionary generation of the 60's-70's as prone only to dogmatism and to thoughtless application of imported ideas, or to suggest that the Ethiopian society should let go of that period and concentrate on the future and namely on economic development. But it doesn’t seem that these attempts work, and the intrest in this period is not diminishing, definitely not among members of the revolutionary generation, but also not among younger generations. Much of the discussion and debate concerning the revolutionary period is focused on factual matters (what exactly happened? Who came first with such and such idea or slogan? etc.) Or on conjectural aspects of the historical events (e.g. was a certain decision made by the EPRP or MEISON a tactical or strategical mistake?). However, very little has been written on the subject from the perspective of memory studies (or the sociology of memory), and such questions as the following are rarely adressed: "To what degree and how does contemporary Ethiopian society remember this period?"; "To what degree (and how) it is being represented in the Ethiopian landscape? In personal biographies?"; "Which parts are remembered, emphasized and which are generally disregarded or underemphasized?"; "What are the effects of memory (and forgetting) of the period on contemporary political discourse?". The current study suggests an analysis of the discourse(s) concerning the revolutionary period, in contemporary Ethiopian society. The study will look into the official historical narrative concerning the revolutionary period, as well as into alternative narratives as they are produced and communicated by individuals and organizations both in Ethiopia and in the Ethiopian diaspora. The study will also strive to describe and analyze the ways through which memory of the revolutionary period informs and shapes the identities of contemporary Ethiopians as well as contemporary political discourse in general. At this stage, the lion’s share of data comes from in-depth interviews with Ethiopians from two generations: members of the "revolutionary generation", particularly those who were active in the events mentioned above (mostly people in their late 50's - 60's), and younger people who grew up and matured during the derg's rule and did not have an active part in these events (mostly people in their 40's). So far, approximately 40 in-depth interviews were conducted, and they indeed suggest an unequivocal prominence of memory(ies) of the revolutionary period in the interviewees' formation of (ideological/political) identities, in the issues that are being discussed and debated, in the vocabulary that is being used to discuss contemporary politics, and more. These interviews will serve as the backbone of the proposed presentation.