2014 | 13 | 3-18
Article title

The Year Zero: Iconoclastic breaks with the past

Title variants
Languages of publication
Some regimes try to force a complete break with the past and even to start from the year zero. Throughout history, such iconoclastic breaks were meant to erase, once and for all, the entire past or to destroy as many of its relics and symbols as possible, and either to reach or regain some faraway golden age. Iconoclastic breaks have thus far enjoyed less systematic attention than the breaks commonly indicated by the phrase “transitional justice,” although their legacy usually leaves deeper scars. My goal, then, is to explore these iconoclastic breaks with the past. I conclude that there are three main types: communist, nationalist and Islamic. The central iconoclastic idea is “historical law” for the first type, “homogenization” for the second and “purity” for the last. Each has its own vision of history: the first is predominantly future-oriented, the second present-oriented, and the third past-oriented.
  • University of Groningen
  • Albada, Joan van, “‘Memory of the World’: Report on Destroyed and Damaged Archives,”Archivum (1996 no. 42), 11–110.
  • Auer, Leopold, “Archival Losses and Their Impact on the Work of Archivists and Historians,” Archivum (1996 no. 42), 1–10.
  • BBC News (30 June & 17 July & 23 December 2012, 30 January & 2 February 2013): reports about Mali.
  • Bevan, Robert, The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War (London: Reaktion Books, 2006).
  • Brass, Paul R., The New Cambridge History of India, volume 4–1, The Politics of India since Independence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
  • “Bulk of Timbuktu Manuscripts Survived Occupation by Rebels,” Today’s Zaman (31 January 2013).
  • Chandler, David, “Seeing Red: Perceptions of Cambodian History in Democratic Kampuchea,” in David Chandler & Ben Kiernan, eds., Revolution and Its Aftermath in Kampuchea: Eight Essays (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983), 34–56.
  • —, Voices from S–21: Terror and History in Pol Pot’s Secret Prison (Berkeley / Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999).
  • Charan, Anubha, “Ayodhya: Digging Up India’s Holy Places,” History Today, 54 no. 1 (January 2004), 4–6.
  • Clayton, Thomas, “Building the New Cambodia: Educational Destruction and Construction under the Khmer Rouge, 1975–1979,” History of Education Quarterly (Spring 1998), 1–16.
  • Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide: The Secretariat and ECOSOC Ad Hoc Committee Drafts (May 1947 [UN Doc. E/447] and May 1948 [UN Doc. E/AC.25/SR.1 to 28 ]) ( drafts).
  • Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954).
  • “Damnatio memoriae,” in Hubert Cancick & Helmut Schneider, eds., Der Neue Pauly: Enzyklopädie der Antike, volume 3 (Stuttgart / Weimar: Metzler, 1997), 299–300.
  • Daniel, John & others, Academic Freedom 3: Education and Human Rights (London: World University Service / Zedbooks, 1995).
  • Daniel, Serge, “Timbuktu Shrine Destruction a ‘War Crime’: ICC” (AFP; 1 July 2012).
  • Davis, Eric, Memories of State: Politics, History, and Collective Identity in Modern Iraq (Berkeley, etc.: University of California Press, 2005).
  • De Baets, Antoon, Censorship of Historical Thought: A World Guide 1945–2000 (Westport CT / London: Greenwood Press, 2002).
  • —, Censorship of History, 1945–Present (forthcoming).
  • —, Responsible History (New York / Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2009).
  • Denselow, Robin, “Mali Music Ban by Islamists ‘Crushing Culture To Impose Rule’,” Guardian (15 January 2013).
  • Durant, Sam, Defaced Monuments (
  • Fourth Hague Convention (1907).
  • Gamboni, Dario, The Destruction of Art: Iconoclasm and Vandalism since the French Revolution (London: Reaktion Books, 1997).
  • Giurescu, Dinu, “More Protests against Demolitions in Bucharest,” RFE Research (2 October 1986), IV, 33–36.
  • —, The Razing of Romania’s Past (International Preservation Report; Washington: US / ICOMOS, 1989).
  • —, “An Underground Essay on Urban and Rural Redevelopment,” RFE Research (14 February 1986), I, 9–13.
  • Hodder, Harbour F., “Bibliocide,” Harvard Magazine (November–December 1996).
  • Holland, Glen, “War Damage to Art Works and Monuments in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia,” Common Knowledge (Fall 1995), 9–23.
  • Howden, Daniel, “The Destruction of Mecca: Saudi Hardliners Are Wiping Out Their Own Heritage,” Independent (6 August 2005).
  • Human Rights Council, Report of the Independent Expert in the Field of Cultural Rights, Farida Shaheed [Cultural Heritage] (A/HRC/17/38; 21 March 2011).
  • Human Rights Watch, “Mali: Islamist Armed Groups Spread Fear in North” (25 September 2012).
  • ICOMOS, Heritage At Risk: World Report on Monuments and Sites in Danger 2002–2003 (Munich: K. G. Saur, 2003).
  • International Commission of Jurists, Tibet: Human Rights and the Rule of Law (Geneva: International Commission of Jurists, 1997).
  • International Court of Justice, Bosnia-Herzegovina versus Serbia-Montenegro (http://; 2007).
  • International Criminal Court, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998).
  • International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, The Prosecutor of the Tribunal against Momčilo Krajišnik and Biljana Plavšić (Case no. IT-00–39 & 40-PT): Amended
  • Consolidated Indictment (; The Hague, 7 March 2002), Schedule D.
  • —, Prosecutor v. Momčilo Krajišnik; Case no. IT-00–39-T: Judgement (; 2006).
  • Jones, Derek, ed., Censorship: A World Encyclopedia (London / Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001).
  • Kiernan, Ben, Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (New Haven / London: Yale University Press, 2007).
  • Knuth, Rebecca, Libricide: The Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century (Westport CT / London: Praeger, 2003).
  • Kolanović, Josip, “Archives en temps de guerre: l’expérience de la Croatie,” Archivum (1996 no. 42), 173–180.
  • Kottoor, Naveena, “How Timbuktu’s Manuscripts Were Smuggled to Safety,” BBC News (3 June 2013).
  • Kovačevič, Matko, “War Damage Suffered by the State Archive of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Archivum, (1996 no. 42), 181–186.
  • Kozar, Azem, “War Destruction of Archival Materials,” Janus (1999 no. 1), 92–95.
  • “Law Report: War, Cultural Cleansing and the Courts” [Interview with archivist Andras Riedlmayer on ABC Radio National]
  • (; 17 October 2006).
  • Leys, Simon, “L’Attitude des Chinois à l’égard du passé,” in idem, L’Humeur, l’honneur, l’horreur: essais sur la culture et la politique chinoises (Paris: Laffont, 1991), 9–48.
  • Meyer, Karl E., The Plundered Past (London: Arts Book Society / Readers Union Group, 1974).
  • “Mythifying History: A Symposium on the Making of Myths Claiming to Be Historical,” Seminar, no. 364 (December 1989) (special issue).
  • Nandy, Ashis, “History’s Forgotten Doubles,” History and Theory, 34 no. 2 (1995), 44–66.
  • Network of Concerned Historians, Annual Reports 1995–2014 (
  • Ponchaud, François, Cambodge: année zéro–—document (Paris: Julliard, 1977).
  • Schoenhals, Michael, “Unofficial and Official Histories of the Cultural Revolution—A Review
  • Article,” Journal of Asian Studies, 48 no. 3 (August 1989), 563–572.
  • Sharma, Ram Sharan, M. Athar Ali, Dwijendra Narayan Jha & Suraj Bhan, Ramjanmabhumi–Baburi Masjid: A Historians’ Report to the Nation (New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1991).
  • Smrekar, Andrej & Stane Bernik, “The Endangered Monuments of Croatia,” New York Review of Books (21 November 1991).
  • Tharoor, Ishaan, “Mali’s Crisis: Terror Stalks the Historic Treasures of Timbuktu,” Time Magazine (5 April 2012).
  • —, “Timbuktu’s Destruction: Why Islamists Are Wrecking Mali’s Cultural Heritage,” Time Magazine (2 July 2012).
  • “The Threat to World Heritage in Iraq: Heritage Destroyed” (Oxford March–April 2003).
  • Treaty on the Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments (Roerich Pact; 1935).
  • UNESCO, Conventions and Recommendations of UNESCO Concerning the Protection of the
  • —, Declaration Concerning the Intentional Destruction of Cultural Heritage (Paris: UNESCO 2003).
  • —, International Petition to Safeguard Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage (Paris: UNESCO 2001).
  • United Nations (Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities), Revised and Updated Report on the Question of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (“Whitaker Report”) (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1985/6;; 2 July 1985).
  • Wood, Nicholas, “A Multicultural Remnant Closes in Sarajevo,” International Herald Tribune (16–17 October 2004), 2.
  • York, Geoffrey, “The Secret Race To Save Timbuktu’s Manuscripts,” Globe and Mail (27 December 2012).
Historia i myśl polityczna
Note: all websites mentioned were last visited on 6 March 2014.
Document Type
Publication order reference
YADDA identifier
JavaScript is turned off in your web browser. Turn it on to take full advantage of this site, then refresh the page.