Wednesday, March 09, 2005


"A dog worth more than a human being…"
This may be on the bitter lessons from the genocide in Rwanda. Two fictions about genocide were shown at the Berlin Film Festival last week. One is ‘Hotel Rwanda’ - about a brave hotel manager in Kigali who creates an oasis of safety amid the genocide, in which Hutu extremists killed minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates - and the other is ‘Sometimes in April’, an HBO production not yet released which takes a much more explicit approach.

Both fictions have been criticized by some of the survivors of Rwanda's 1994 genocide for keeping the slaughters in the background. The idea that fiction cannot capture horror is nothing new. It was recently one of the questions addressed by Nazi Camp survivors during the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz concentration camp liberation last January, and they all disagreed. Hotel Rwanda’s Irish director and screenwriter Terry George makes precisely this point:

"When I made this film I deliberately did not want to make a horror show," he said. "The elements of genocide, the savagery, are impossible to recreate. What I wanted was to recreate the psychological atmosphere of genocide."
One more debatable aspect the film is, however, that [according to Francois Ngarambe, president of an association of genocide survivors] it neglected to portray the element of planning, which is a key element if we even want to begin to understand the scope of what happened. What is certain is that the political aspect of the genocide, including the role of the French, the Belgians, the U.N., and the U.S. was almost completely ignored in either movie. Yet if there is a lesson to learn, it is there. The greatest advantage of these fictions is probably that it reaches a rather large audience of people who may be touched by what they see. They may also be more willing to listen to the survivors who are be given more of a voice in the media.
The true hero of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ for instance (Paul Rusesabagina) now called the ‘Schindler of Rwanda’ has some thrilling things to say:

"It was a shame," said Paul, quietly remembering. "The United Nations abandoned these people -- these refugees who came to them asking for help. When the United Nations soldiers were leaving, children begged to be taken them with them. Otherwise they would be killed. But instead of taking them, do you know what they did? They evacuated the dogs of foreigners in Kigali. Do you know what that says to me? The life of a European dog is worth more than a Rwandan human being."
And while we are dealing with the shame, more Africans are being quietly killed in Darfur, Sudan. Let us hope that it is not a fiction that will teach us another lesson about Darfur.

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