Tutu discusses ‘echoes’ in Taiwan’s truth movement

Celebrated South African cleric, activist and 1984 Nobel Peace prize-winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu visiting Taiwan in 2007 on the invitation of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.
By Trista di Genova / Originally published in The China Post in April 2007

[Ed. This is being republished because Desmond Tutu’s 2007 visit to Taiwan was such a momentous occasion, and this article was the only coverage to quote him at length; the lessons therein still ring true.]

Celebrated South African cleric, activist and 1984 Nobel Peace prize-winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu was visiting Taiwan on the invitation of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. He has been sailing around the world with a semester-at-sea program, making port calls to lend the voice of experience to truth and reconciliation movements worldwide.

This week in Taiwan (2007), he is meeting with families of victims of Taiwan’s 2-28 Incident, and Taiwan’s religious and political leaders. He granted one interview with the press yesterday at the Grand Hotel in Taipei. Here are some excerpts:

Desmond Tutu: This is my second visit to Taiwan. I was very impressed with today’s visits (Machangting Memorial Park, 2-28 Memorial Park and Memorial Hall) for the simplicity of the memorials — simple but dignified, no clutter. I was shaken by the mound that was the execution spot … It’s a very silent but very powerful image.

I was also impressed that people in this country seem to want to take account of their past. That’s very impressive, because people don’t usually want to do that.

We have a particular experience in South Africa (to offer), in that we’re making the transition to a democracy. We hope maybe this will be useful for Taiwan.

(With Taiwan) I’m reminded of the case of Germany; people come from the same ethnic group, have the same language, look the same. You’d be surprised at how difficult (transition) can be. You have the same race, language, ethnic background. Can you imagine what it’s like in South Africa, with 11 official languages, and you have been separated from each other for 300 years? We have high crime rates, high unemployment (in SA). So it is amazing the level of stability we have in South Africa. We have been spared hell.

As we say in South Africa: “We need to look at the beast in the eye.” Then we’ll have opportunity and power to move on from that past. If we don’t deal with the past adequately and honestly, it will return to haunt us.

We were deeply touched (with meeting with 228 family members), and in many ways it echoed the kind of things we used to hear in (SA’s) truth and reconciliation commission. Recently, I was part of the BBC series “Facing the Truth” in Northern Ireland. Again, (the echo) was very noticeable. For instance, the victims seem to remember the precise details.

Someone told us (today) that his father was picked up by the security police at 6 o’clock on March 10, when they were just about to eat something. So on the anniversary of this event, they eat that particular dish that they were going to prepare for their father.

The other thing which again echoes is how the victims are people that you’d expect to be angry, or filled with bitterness. But the people we met — and even the people we encountered in South Africa, and Northern Ireland — were amazing in their gentleness. When you look in their faces, it’s not someone who’s nursing a grudge, nor someone who’s waiting to pounce on their perpetrator. Our experience is that victims surprisingly have a remarkable capacity for magnanimity; they’re generous and willing to move on.

We heard (today) much the same kind of thing we heard in South Africa: We want to know what happened. Why did it happen? And we want to know what happened to the bodies of our loved ones. This is exactly the same kind of feeling we saw expressed in (SA’s) reconciliation committee. But I think most important of all, it’s the dignity of these people.

People want to know what happened, and it’s important…that we acknowledge the things that happened to them and what happened to their loved ones. (Taiwan) is very fortunate in that they have been doing that. And people will be surprised with how generous victims and survivors really are, how few people are actually hungry for revenge. They might say they aren’t ready to forgive, but they don’t say that they want to payback.

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