The Expression and Reception of Political Apologies across Cultures

Over the past years, there has been considerable debate about the role of political apologies in reconciliation processes. Although some have heralded such gestures as a meaningful step, others have described them as political rituals that may be appropriate in some (cultural) contexts but not in others, as people may have different notions about what they mean, what purpose they serve, or how they should be expressed. What has been lacking, however, is a systematic analysis of how political apologies are expressed and received across the world. In this subproject, we aim to fill this gap by mapping and comparing the political apologies that have been made across the world, and by analyzing whether there are universals in how they are valued, expressed, and interpreted or whether this varies as a function of cross-cultural differences in key values (collectivism and individualism) and norms (face and honor). For this, we rely on a broad range of methods, varying from content analyses and in-depth interviews to (experimental) surveys. Data have been collected using community samples (incl. people aged 18 and above from both urban and rural regions with mixed educational backgrounds) across 32 countries. The Political Apologies Database is available on this website under the Database page. 

Using extensive search procedures, we created the Political Apologies Database which contains political apologies that have been offered for human rights violations by states or state representatives across the world. We coded the apologies on a number of key characteristics and we cross-nationally mapped and compared these apologies, and conducted text analyses. The Political Apologies Database will be made available on this website for public use in the near future.

Related outputs:

Zoodsma, M. & Schaafsma, J. (2021). Examining the ‘Age of Apology’: Insights from the Political Apologies Database. Journal of Peace Research. DOI:

Zoodsma, M., Schaafsma, J., Sagherian-Dickey, T. & Friedrich, J. (2021). These are not just words. A cross-national comparative study of the content of political apologies. International Review of Social Psychology, 34(1), 15. DOI:

Schaafsma, J., Zoodsma, M., & Sagherian-Dickey, T. (2021). Closing chapters of the past? Rhetorical strategies in political apologies for human rights violations across the world. Journal of Human Rights, 20(5), 582-597. DOI:

Sagherian-Dickey, T. (2020, July 14). Reckoning with the past, looking to the future: Analysis of political apologetic discourse in a cross-national sample. [Paper Presentation]. Annual Scientific Meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology, virtual.

Schaafsma, J. (2019, December 13). Examining the ‘Age of Apology’: A Cross-National Analyses of Political Apologies since WWII. [Paper presentation]. 8th Annual Conference Historical Dialogues, Justice and Memory Network, New York, USA.

Sagherian-Dickey, T. (2019, December 13). Prevention activism discourse in political apologies across cultures. [Paper presentation]. 8th Annual Conference Historical Dialogues, Justice and Memory Network, New York, USA.

Zoodsma, M. (2018, August 23) Is it too late now to say sorry? A cross-national analysis of political apologies [Paper presentation]. European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR), Hamburg, Germany.

Zoodsma, M. (2018, May 11) Political Apologies [Paper presentation]. Workshop on Practices of Memorialization & the Process of Social Reconstruction after large-scale Human Rights Abuses and Violations, International Institute for the Sociology of Law, Onati, Spain.

Zoodsma, M. (2018, December 14). De kunst van het sorry zeggen. [Radio interview]. Dutch Radio 1, the Netherlands.

Zoodsma, M. & Schaafsma, J. (2017, October 9). Politieke excuses: Holle frases of oprechte verzoening? [Presentation & discussion]. De Avond van de Wetenschap en Maatschappij, formal dinner at the Ridderzaal, the Hague, the Netherlands.

Countries: El Salvador, Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom.

In this part of the project, we examine how people (victims as well as non-victims) evaluate apologies that have been offered by a head of state for past human rights violations. For this, we conducted research across three different settings: El Savador (focusing on the apology by president Funes for the El Mozote massacre), Republic of Korea (focusing on the apology by president Roh Moo-hyun for the massacres during the Jeju uprising), and the United Kingdom (focusing on the apology by Prime Minister Cameron for Bloody Sunday). In each of these countries, we conducted in-depth interviews with victims as well as non-victims of these human rights violations about the meaning, value, form, and impact of the apology that was offered (N= 127). We also conducted a survey (N = 1011), in which we asked victims as well as non-victims to evaluate the apology on these various dimensions.

Related outputs:

Sagherian-Dickey, T. M., Schaafsma, J., Zoodsma, M., Cho, H., Dinnick, I., Kim, J. Noor, M., Turner, R. N. & Yanez, M.S. (Manuscript in preparation). Victims’ and non-victims’ evaluation of political apologies in three national contexts.

Zoodsma, M., Sagherian-Dickey, T. M., Schaafsma, J., Cho, H., Dinnick, I., Kim, J. Noor, M., Turner, R.N. & Yanez, M.S. (Manuscript in preparation). On the value and meaning of political apologies for victims and non-victims: A cross-country analysis.

Sagherian-Dickey, T., (2021, July 11-13). Victims’ and non-victims’ evaluation of political apologies: A cross-country analysis. [Paper presentation]. International Society of Political Psychology Annual Meeting.

Zoodsma, M. (2020). Erkenning als essentieel onderdeel van politieke excuses. [Essay].  Impact Magazine, 4, 25-28.

Zoodsma, M. & Schaafsma, J. (2020). Excuses op het wereldtoneel [Essay].  RektoVerso. Tijdschrift voor Cultuur & Kritiek, 88, 26-30.

Zoodsma, M. (2019, December 13). The value of political apologies for prevention activism: A preliminary case study analysis of three cultural contexts. [Paper presentation]. 8th Annual Conference Historical Dialogues, Justice and Memory Network, New York, USA.


Countries: Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Uganda, UK, USA.

In this survey experiment (N>9,600), we aim to gain a better understanding of how people across the world evaluate different types of political apologies that contain different apology elements (e.g., acknowledgment of wrongdoing or acknowledgment of suffering). We analyze whether their evaluation depends on the perspective they take (victim or perpetrator) and we examine whether any cross-country variation in this regard can be linked to the cultural context, controlling for relevant factors at the country and individual level.

Related outputs:

Zoodsma, M., Schaafsma, J., & Sagherian-Dickey, T. (Manuscript in preparation).  People’s understanding and evaluation of political apologies across the world: Toward a more culture specific or more culture general approach?

Zoodsma, M. (2021, July 11-13) [Upcoming paper presentation]. International Society of Political Psychology Annual Meeting, virtual.