In 1998 I visited Belfast, in full IRA truce. I had the task of reporting on the peace process and to do so I toured a good part of the capital of northern Ireland, on whose docks the ‘Titanic’ was built.
I remember walking down the Falls Road, the main thoroughfare of West Belfast, the great Catholic quarter, Republican stronghold. Notice to boaters. Two helmets of British soldiers hung from some lampposts, like pots, and below, in the middle of the street, they had scattered viscera.
Few people walked through those streets patrolled by Army tanks with a shooter pointing at passers-by. On this avenue of terraced houses, they were all the same. And without any number to identify them. I asked how the correspondence arrived, for example. And they told me it was for hamper Army records and the feared police units of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). But mostly for prevent attacks by unionist paramilitaries. The same ones who in 1993 broke into the house of Alex Maskey, Sinn Fein councillor. The stocky Maskey, revered boxer and worker in those shipyards that built the largest known passenger ship, saved his life by chance. A close friend had less luck, he fell, shot to death after a modest family dinner at the Maskey’s house, washed down with that beer that in the worst moments was a fundamental part of the caloric diet in the neighborhood. It was his last drink.
All the services -including the postal one- were in charge of people from the community, never by people from outside the neighbourhood.
Maskey received me in his office at City Hall, which was more like a bunker because of the cameras and the armored door. He told me his story, adrenaline-pumping anecdotes from the years of lead and their hope in the peace process.
He was very kind. I was driven all over Belfast (including Loyalist stronghold Shankill Road) and even introduced to an IRA volunteer fresh out of jail after 16 years behind bars. Of course, the meeting was in a pub, belonging to the Catholic Celtics in Glasgow, tasting a tasty Guinness that I sipped while listening to the volunteer’s story.
It had many references from the Basque Country and few from Catalonia. To empathize I told him that I was in jail too. It was for insubordinate but I didn’t tell him. Of course, he asked me how long. And I answered that a summer to which he replied with a smirk “but you were a chicken thief!?” We laugh together. Of course, in those streets for stealing a chicken, if you were a repeat offender, they would still shoot you in the knee. And if the crime was serious, drug trafficking or rape, volunteers from the Irish Republican Army gave you last rites. The police didn’t solve neighborhood problems, the community regulated itself. No one thought of calling the RUC.
I lost track of the IRA express. But Maskey became Mayor of Belfast four years later, not because of any IRA military victory but because of the popular support that was on the rise in parallel to the peace process.
Sinn Fein has continued to be successful after leaving behind the armed struggle, a true civil war. Gradually it has managed to increase the number of votes, election after election. Until he is in a position to achieve a historic milestone, with the possibility of winning the elections in Northern Ireland this Thursday for the first time. Which is, without a doubt, a reward for his a clear commitment to peaceful and democratic paths, for the end of a violence embedded in the small Northern Irish society that took the lives of more than 3,500 people ahead. Among them, many colleagues of Mayor Maskey. In addition to tens of thousands of wounded, like the same Maskey who miraculously saved his life in another attack but lost half his stomach. to understand what 3,500 corpses mean In those counties in the north of the island, we must bear in mind that the population was just over a million and a half people, less than the city of Barcelona.
what happened in ireland it is not unusual. Not much less. in Euskadi, Bildu has reaped its best results in recent years. The end of ETA has given wings to Bildu, in the last electoral cycle. On the contrary, it has left the PP at historical lows. Bildu is clearly the second force in the Basque Parliament, it continues to grow in the cities and aspires to unseat the PNV.
But not only in Europe The end of the violence has meant greater support for the formations that, without giving up their objectives, have opted to overcome a terrible stage. Also in South America, without a doubt.
Colombia can be a new demonstration that what an armed insurrection did not achieve is possible through the ballot box. The former FARC guerrilla and candidate of the left, Gustavo Pietro, He leads all the polls for the presidential elections at the end of May. Although less, the violence continues, with an active split from the FARC, with the ENL alive and with the paramilitary drug traffickers sowing their law. In addition to the Colombian Army, reinforced by the American, fighting each other.
If Pietro manages to beat history, he will also be sending a clear message. Weapons do not give power, the ballot box does.
Fortunately, Catalonia is not Ireland, nor Euskadi nor Colombia. Not even remotely. But there are also strategic debates within the independence movement that raise romantic fallacies and sterile radicalization and those who flirt with him ‘the worse, the better’. That is, by a Government of PP and Vox. And that path not only does not lead to any self-determination referendum, but also feeds a reactionary impulse that gains ground as the conflict worsens. Comparative experiences show that moderation adds more complicity than patriotic flashes, as the SNP in Scotland also demonstrates.
Running ahead only leads to frustration and collective failure. What should be a life lesson that every neighbor’s son should take good note of.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.