Linda Kinstler ’13 emphasizes the power of personal storytelling

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Kinstler’s signatures appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Atlantic, The Economistand Jewish Currents. His latest book, Come to This Court and Weep: How the Holocaust Ends, published by Public Affairs, is being translated into five languages. She is currently a doctoral candidate in rhetoric at UC Berkeley and previously studied as a Marshall Scholar at the University of Cambridge.

The Russian department has invited Kinstler to give a talk on November 17 to discuss Ukraine and possible legal and journalistic responses to the war and its trauma.

“This conference is going to go back and forth in time to try to share some of the questions my colleagues and I have been asking,” Kinstler said at the start of his conference. “What does justice look like in Ukraine? Will the courts undertake the necessary investigations and trials? And, most importantly, what can we do with all that they don’t recognize – what are the testimonies, evidence and bodies that will inevitably be left out of the story?

Throughout his presentation, Kinstler fused the historical contexts of post-war justice – and lack thereof – into the context of Ukraine’s present. She argued that these historical patterns are essential tools for analyzing the current moment.

“The avenues currently being discussed as to how we might judge what is happening in Ukraine … all refer to old concepts and are based on historical examples,” she said.

A key tenet of the conference was how censorship and the institutional practice of rewriting history will affect the image of justice in Ukraine.

“Much of my work deals with legal fiction and the relationship between literature and law. Indeed, the legal system of many countries is making room and producing its own fictions,” Kistler said. “Unfortunately, as much as the law produces its own fictions, it is also very bad at undoing those presented to it.”

Kinstler believes that the role of journalists, both foreign and domestic, cannot be underestimated in the effort to preserve history and ensure justice. In her lecture, she spoke about the importance of collecting testimonies in order to avoid a generalized “legal fiction”.

“Local journalists [will be] on the ground to collect testimony as required by law, to document the atrocities they witness before they are quickly erased,” Kinstler said. “The first one [step] is to collect testimonies for use in legal proceedings, and the second is to publicly broadcast the accounts they collect.

Not only did Kinstler stress the importance of legal and interpersonal avenues for disseminating information, but she argued that both are necessary for the advancement of justice for Ukraine.

“In logic [of this plan for journalists] is an acknowledgment that none of them is enough – that you will fail if you only go to court, and you will fail if you take another approach,” she said. “You really have to do both, and you have to do them all the time.”

Throughout his speech, Kinstler shared anecdotes from his book, Come to this court and weep, to illustrate some of the challenges that accompany these efforts to preserve history.

“I’ve met many people who actively refused to participate in legal proceedings, unwilling to play the role of ‘survivor,’ and unwilling to have their testimonies instrumentalized,” Kinstler said. “These moments bring out the shared paradoxical feelings that legal proceedings produce.”

Whether highlighting these first-hand accounts or bringing historical accounts, Kinstler’s conference highlighted the tensions between advancing justice for Ukraine while honoring the stories of those most affected by the country’s conflicts.

“Let’s train journalists not to do damage and, in a more optimistic way, to do something constructive,” she said at the end of her conference. “They are bound by an obligation to share the stories and to secure the narratives so that they can be less easily undermined, but they also have to ensure that any trials that occur in the future can take place.”

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