Monday, 19 October 2015

Will we finally set Barabbas free?

Last week marked the 21st Anniversary of the Ceasefire declared by the Combined Loyalist Military Command.  It was heralded as an end to decades of Loyalist violence.  Earlier that year I met a handful of their colleagues who entered my home one evening and proceeded to empty the contents of a sub-machine gun into my body: all because I was a defenceless ‘innocent’ Taig.  I emphasise the word innocent because that was the point: the more innocent and defenceless the better; Loyalism wanted to instil fear and terror into my community.  This left me paralysed from the waist down: a cripple; burning with pain; plagued with illness.

I got my apology from Gusty Spence that crisp October day: abject and true remorse.  I can’t remember if I accepted it at the time but, in a way, in later years, I did.  I say in a way because it was not an apology from the individuals who were in my home but from the Loyalism as a collective.  I accepted it because I had to make peace with myself in order to make peace with those who harmed me. 

I wanted peace.  That is why I and the majority voted ‘Yes’ in the Referendum.  On Good Friday 1998 we agreed to set Barabbas free; all of the prisoners would be released from the H-Blocks.  This still sticks in the craw of some people but I believe it was a necessary concession to help cement the peace process.  Paramilitary organisations would do well to reflect on the magnanimity of this gesture by the public at large.

There was a relative peace between the traditional enemies after Good Friday but the men of war continued to wreak havoc on their own communities.  They found it difficult to give up their Brigadier status and lifestyle.  Demobilisation and disbandment was not on the radar.  The weapons of choice were intimidation, extortion, drug peddling, knee-capping and murder.  The working class communities against whom they waged their war never stood a chance against such muscle-men.

The Ceasefire Generation is now twenty-one: will they get the key to the door?  A key to open the door of the cage: a cage which houses the hawk, which can only whistle to the tune of ‘The Billy Boys’, or to release the doves of peace.  That is the test for the new Loyalist Community Council.  Have they called a new ceasefire, ended their war and will they display abject and true remorse to their community?  Will they finally demobilise and disband?  Will they be able to reintegrate this time?

They are going to need help to reintegrate.  They are going to need the communities that they intimidated to show some magnanimity.  They need to give something back to these communities.  They shouldn’t expect to retain their status by virtue of their hard-man past but instead need to earn the respect of their people.  Any funding opportunities coming into these communities should not be sewn up as ‘Jobs for the Boys’ but should instead be used to create jobs for the boys: the boys of the Shankill, Ballybeen and beyond.  Disband the Young Citizen Volunteers and replace them with young citizen volunteers who will work for the betterment of their community.

If the jackboot is finally lifted from the throats of Loyalist working class communities the people themselves need to begin to reclaim a stake in this society; they need to find their voice.  They are only disenfranchised by virtue of their own apathy.  They need to use the only legitimate weapon they have: the vote.  They need to come out and vote for people who have their loyalist working class interests at heart.  They need to waken up and realise that Big House Unionism couldn’t care less about the Two-up/Two-down loyalists in the Village.  They need to find new Dawns; to elect more Julie-Annes over the Jolenes; and to forget about the Humphrey-Dumptys of this world.  To maybe look at those who would put People Before Profit.  Don’t just use your vote to keep ‘themmuns’ out but instead get ‘yousens’ in.

I hope that the loyalist working class begin to realise their core identity: their innate humanity.  Strip it all away and that’s all we have.  Stop worrying about whether the big dome is adorned with a perpetual flag or the Northern Ireland football shirt can hang from the big wheel at Funderland.  Stop listening to the dog whistle politics that has led so many onto the streets, filling the jails and cemeteries.

I call on all paramilitaries to be more sensitive when honouring their fallen.  To take a moment to reflect on their victims as they observe a minutes silence every Easter or Remembrance Sunday.  When they reminisce about the heroic operations carried out by their brave volunteers don’t forget to include the stories about their attacks on defenceless people like me and the operations I went through to fix my body (the latest one was only last week!).

It is time for the Loyalist Community Council to prove the doubters and the cynics wrong.  I stand beside those who welcomed this new initiative on the airwaves last week.  People like Jude Whyte, John Allen and Mark Rodgers: people who were so badly affected by loyalist violence.  It’s time to reintegrate and we as a society need to let them.  We need to put aside the labelling.  We need to let the ‘perpetrators’, the ‘victim-makers’ and the ‘terrorists’ re-join society.  We need to let them apply for all jobs on an equal basis whether that be as a landscape gardener or a SPAD in Stormont.  We agreed to set Barabbas free in 1998 but yet they are still fettered in 2015.  We need to and we should give you another chance.  Please don’t blow it again.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Stormont: a theatre of bitter disappointments

In one instant in January 1994 my life was changed forever.  Up until that moment I had lived relatively unscathed by the violence that had consumed our society for centuries.   Many before me were not so lucky: now my time had come to join them.  UFF gunmen entered my family home in the expectation of assassinating my next door neighbours: tired of waiting they decided that I would do just fine.  ‘Yabba dabba doo, any taig will do’.  I woke up two days later.  The volley of shots had ripped my body apart.  I was going to have to get used to the disappointment that my new wheelchair could not take me to places where I could previously go without a moment’s thought. 

Disappointment changed to hope.  My crippled body was not going to paralyse my mind or my spirit.  It was the same outside.  There was a new hope of peace; a hope for change.  A new hope that the politics of dialogue and cooperation would fill the crippling political void.  A hope that our politicians would be able to represent us, to hear us, to work for us.  Where is that hope now?

The current situation at Stormont is just another example of the long history of disappointments that the inhabitants of this part of the world have had to endure.  Has it ever delivered anything for the ordinary Joe since it was first built in the 1930s?  The building itself is now just a glorified vaudeville theatre which plays host to a perpetual hokey-cokey pantomime.  One party rule, nationalist abstentions, discrimination, internment, Sunningdale, ‘Workers’ strikes, shutdown, Good Friday, Stormontgate, decommissioning, letters from America and vengeful bloodlust are all part of the in/out saga.

The shaky foundations upon which Stormont was first built are now held up with ugly scaffolding.  The edifice is crumbling.  The leaking roof needed fixing.  In-house saboteurs are throwing spanners in the works; some are downing tools; whilst apprentices jump up and down and throw their toys out of the pram.  The interim stand in First Minister cum purse holder guards against rogue renegades whilst the boss calls a wildcat strike.

We are told that there will be no more business as usual: that is, unless that business involves the ‘business’ of the DUP.  The full contingent of the DUP clocked in on time last month to discuss ‘business’ matters at the Committee for Finance and Personnel.  They couldn’t possibly throw a sickie that morning; the boss would be watching closely on CCTV.  Business as usual that day.

The petty stuff can wait we are told.  Petty stuff like legislating.  Legislation that will mean something to the ordinary Joe.  One example would be the long awaited Private Members Bill that would enable people who were seriously and permanently injured during the troubles to receive reparations in recognition of their suffering and ongoing hardship.  We are told that the DUP Bill is all ready to go but alas we must wait until the shop steward of the Unionist Union of Democratic Party Workers gives the nod and lifts the farcical and absurd work to rule strategy that has brought about this Autumn of Discontent.  This Workers Union will fight long and hard to secure their pay rises and pensions but the rest of us can wait.  “We need to look after the Union first and foremost” is the campaign slogan.

Time runs out for people like me.  I would qualify for the proposed Special Pension as would hundreds of other ordinary Joes who got caught up in the violence which filled previous political vacuums.  As a member of the WAVE Injured Group which lobbied the MLAs at Stormont for the past four years to bring this proposal to the fore there is a sense that the pension will disappear into the current political vacuum.  The Bill needs to hit the floor of the assembly now or it will not pass in time.  Time that many of the injured don’t have.  ‘Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting’.  This ageing population of blinded, paralysed, limbless cripples can no longer wait on this macabre pantomime to come back from this lengthy intermission.  We need to see all of the actors back on stage, reading from the same script and singing the same song: a song that we ordinary Joes can understand, ‘We can work it out’. 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Changing the Definition of our Victims: who for and why?

Yesterday (1st September) marked the first full day in the job for the new Victims Commissioner, Judith Thompson.  There is no doubt that she will have an overflowing inbox on her desk as it has been well over a year since her predecessor, Kathryn Stone, moved on.  I suspect one of the first requests she will have to deal with is the annual call to change the actual definition of a victim as set out in Westminster statute.

Ever since The Victims and Survivors (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 (which defined victimhood as a result of ‘The Troubles’) was established there have been calls to scrap it.  This is due to the fact that some see the current definition as ‘politically expedient and morally defunct’.  DUP MPs have attempted to amend the legislation every year since it was set and now there are calls from the umbrella group Innocent Victims United (IVU) for a Public Referendum on the issue claiming that this is the only way for the supposed widespread 'swathes' of public support to be demonstrated: ‘to let the people’s voices be heard’.  

The current definition is as follows: 

(a) someone who is or has been physically or psychologically injured as a result of or in consequence of a conflict related incident; 

(b) someone who provides a substantial amount of care on a regular basis for an individual mentioned in paragraph (a);

or (c) someone who has been bereaved as a result of in consequence of a conflict related incident.

There is no mention in the definition of the background or perceived morality of said individuals: only that they have been harmed in some way as a result of or in consequence of a conflict related incident.  Those who propose a change demand that the background and the perceived morality of said individuals becomes a determinant factor in such individuals and their carers receiving official recognition as victims. 

IVU is asking for this referendum in the hope of generating a debate where we can have a ‘genuine examination of the fundamental issue which cripples this society from moving forward’.  This may be so but what is the short punchy referendum question going to look like and who will decide the wording?  We will need a plain straightforward question to which the answer must be: yes or no?  Realistically I cannot see this happening.  The questions around victimhood are more complex than yes or no and black or white.

Proposals have been put forward by IVU as to who would be excluded from victim recognition in the event that a referendum demands change.  One such proposal is if someone was or ever has been a member of a proscribed organisation.  Would this happen to include members of the UDA?  According to IVU the answer is yes; UDA membership would warrant exclusion. However, the UDA only became a proscribed organisation in 1992 even though it had been involved in violence and paramilitarism for decades.  It was perfectly legal to have been a member of the UDA up to 1992.  So if a UDA member had been killed before the 10th of August 1992 the IVU could maybe count you in as an 'innocent' victim.

IVU and similar victims groups along with various politicians have been calling for a change for years now but my question is who benefits and who loses; and why?  What is the real reason for this call?  Is the demand for a change simply borne out of an abhorrence of moral equivalence?  Or is it something more cynical?

We are told that the definition was first devised out of expediency.  This is true.  The whole peace process has been politically expedient.  It had to be.  We needed practical solutions to complex problems.  We were coming out of decades of conflict with many people killed and injured by many different actors.  It was a stalemate that could only be resolved through political dialogue and compromise.  There was no decisive victory so there was no chance for one side to decide the terms of the peace.  What we were left with was a society marred by the violence.  We needed to look at the harms inflicted upon each other: not who did it.

The main thrust of the argument from IVU is that it was all the fault of the ‘terrorists’ and the handful of individuals who brought shame on the military and police by ‘dishonouring the code’.  These are the people who cannot be considered victims in the same way that the 'innocent' victims are.  I can understand this notion but I disagree with it.  

Those convicted of being ‘terrorists’ are easy to pinpoint; they have criminal convictions.  However, there have been and will continue to be an avalanche of cases where such convictions have been quashed due to violations by those in the security forces who presumably ‘dishonoured the code’.  There are also those who were said to have been 'involved' but were never convicted of any offence.

Recent revelations surrounding allegations of collusion between the security forces and various paramilitary groups have cast doubts on whether such a ‘code’ even existed here in the first place.  Recent comments from the former head of Special Branch, Raymond White, indicated that when he requested clarifications, at a meeting with Margaret Thatcher, for legal guidelines on agents involved paramilitary activity he was told to ‘carry on with what you are doing, just don’t get caught’.  If we follow this logic there was no code.  The few rotten apples theory does not hold water anymore; it was the barrel itself that was rotten.

The problem with black and white definitions and punitive exclusions are that the situation here was too complex and messy.  I think that this is understood by some in IVU.  Recent press releases from IVU acknowledgethat perpetrators and their families live among us (as has always been the case) and if such individuals require support via psychological or welfare-based services enabling them to deal with the aftermath effects of actions they inflicted upon their fellow neighbour then this State has an obligation to provide such support to them as citizens of this Nation’.  This recognises the need to look after those who have been harmed or affected by violent conflict and follows the thinking of Gandhi who said: "The measure of a country's greatness should be based on how well it cares for its most vulnerable populations".  Ironically this sentiment fits with the current definition which they seek to change.

I sense that the demand to change the definition is more around the historical narrative and political dimensions of victimhood.  To recognise paramilitaries as victims would be seen as legitimising their campaigns and that would not do.  As I said above certain sections of the community want to pin the blame for all of our ills on the paramilitary groups and onto them alone. 

It may also be a way of shutting down calls from those who demand that certain killings be investigated.  Removing victimhood status from certain people would demonise and delegitimise them: labelling them as ‘undeserving perpetrators’ who brought their demise upon themselves.  Why should we look into those killings?

By pinning all of the blame for the Troubles onto the paramilitary groups, any other actors in the conflict would be viewed as clean, innocent and blameless: apart from the few bad apples who ‘dishonoured the code’.  They would sit at the top of this victim hierarchy.  They are to be reified above all other victims and should be left untouched.

Changing the definition for such political ends would be unjust and morally defunct.  It does no service to people suffering on the ground today.  The battle over the definition of victimhood is just another in the ‘battle a day’ mentality of our political discourse.  The war on the streets may be relatively quiet but the conflict remains alive and well in the minds and egos of some sections of our community.  There is a debate to be had on the issues that have crippled our society for years but we cannot let it descend into one with a yes or no answer: it’s not all black and white.

Some may attempt to label me with being an apologist for terrorists for holding such views but I tend to look beyond such sweeping judgements.  I know full well the impact of violence on our people and I would not justify it.  However I do try to understand it; to look into the motivations for violence and to make sure I do all that I can to make sure it is never repeated.  Violence is wrong and should not be used in place of dialogue.  That goes for the State too.  The State should not have a divine right to utilise violence to further its political ends.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Ceasefire: 21 years on - The key to the door?

31st August was marked again yesterday in the Belfast Telegraph with a welcome piece about a group of young people who have turned 21 this year and how they now view our country 21 years on from the first IRA ceasefire which marked the beginning of the Peace Process.

I am now going to publish a piece that I wrote last year which marked the 20th anniversary of that day in August 1994:

31st August 1994 should have been a day that we all should have been happy about.  The IRA called a ceasefire that would eventually lead to our ‘peace’.  The killing and bloodshed would be coming to an end.  There would be no more people, like me, put into wheelchairs. 

I was not happy that day.  I felt so sad, my stomach churned.  Why could the war not have ended a year sooner?  I would still be walking about.  I would not be sitting watching the news on TV showing the ‘celebrations’ outside Connolly House.  Listening to the cavalcades of black taxis and cars beeping their horns, playing rebel music from the Sinn Fein election megaphones, waving their Tricolours.

It was a real bittersweet moment for me.  People were outside revelling in the street on the way home from the pub.  The mood was jovial.  You could hear the singing and shouting.  Somebody knocked the front door.  A woman asked to use our toilet on her way home.  She was in good form, a few drinks on her.  She asked us what we thought of the ceasefire.  We quietly responded that it was good news but inside we had mixed feelings.

There was an eerie quiet about the ceasefire in our house that day.  None of us really spoke about it.  We were all feeling sorry for ourselves.  We had a right to be.  My family had been held hostage and witnessed UFF gunmen pump a volley of bullets into me just a matter of months ago.  I nearly died in front of them.  Now it seemed that peace had arrived – just a bit too late though.   I went to bed that night and cried myself to sleep.

I am sure that this was a feeling that was felt all over our country.  I am sure that there were people looking at empty seats and at their loved ones in wheelchairs and thinking why could this day not have come sooner.  C’est la vie.

I look back now and see the two 1994 ceasefires as significant. As things to celebrate. As seeds of hope in a time of despair.  The ceasefires led to the peace process.  People are walking our streets today may have been dead if the ceasefires had not been called.  That is something to be thankful for.

Milestones are there to be marked but I hope that this one and the many historical events that happened here can be commemorated with dignity and respect.  I understand where the joy and celebration came from that August day but people need to think about the legacy of the conflict for those who were bereaved and injured.  There is no celebration in this.

Friday, 24 July 2015

A warm welcome to our new Victims Commissioner: You can't always get what you want... but you might get what you need.

I would like to thank the oFM/dFM for finally agreeing on a new Commissioner for Victims and Survivors.  It has been over a year since Kathryn Stone stood down from this position: a position which is an integral cog in the structures set up to deal with the needs of those of us most affected by the years of political conflict. 

The Victims Commission was hamstrung by the absence of a figurehead, as was the Victims Forum.  Both bodies could formulate policies, bring forward ideas and take soundings from individual victims and victims groups but they could not present them to those with the power to put any of it into effect.  This was only in the gift of the Commissioner.

I wish our incoming Commissioner well.  Judith Thompson is taking on a challenging job.  She will be met with many demands from all quarters of the community.  Victims and survivors have many different needs and wants.  I would suggest that she focuses her attention on the needs rather than the wants. 

There are too many wants that, in reality, may never be satisfied.  The new Commissioner needs to be honest about the capabilities of this fractured post conflict society to deal with the wants of individual victims and survivors.  Their wants are varied, complex and mostly filled with an highly emotional sense of injustice.  Such high emotion is understandable: the harms inflicted upon this group of people have been atrocious. 

We see this harm manifest itself everywhere in our society.  Countless documentaries, newspaper articles, talk radio shows highlight the legacy of pain and loss.  Most of the discourse is negative and is focused on the extremes.  Victims are put up against other victims while many of our politicians indulge in the circular arguments of whataboutery, pointing to the pie charts of who killed the most: while an increasingly apathetic general public looks on in dismay.  Who could blame them?  Some of the arguments have even descended into the semantics of what we actually call the ‘Troubles’.

The incoming Commissioner needs to recognise this emotion but she also needs to look at the reality of what can be realised.  She needs to stay clear of the philosophical cul-de-sacs of defining who is a terrorist and who is a victim

Not all victims will get what they want but they should get what they need.  This is where the Commission comes in.  The previous Commissioner rightly shone a light on the problems faced by the Victims and Survivors Service and the Department of the oFM/dFM in delivering for a sizeable number of victims and survivors.  Our new champion will need the same tenacity if she is to keep check on a slow moving bureaucracy which tries to address individual and societal need.

The so-called victims and survivors sector could also do with an introspective examination.  It is often said that the thoughts and feelings of the victims are paramount and should come first when trying to deal with the past but I feel that this puts too much pressure on those who have to implement the proposed mechanisms.  We victims and survivors need to realise that we should not be put on pedestals and revered; we are not precious and without faults.  We are just normal members of society like everyone else.  We are natural stakeholders with valid opinions but we should not have a veto over any of the structures put forward in the Stormont House Agreement (SHA).  Our emotional responses, no matter how loud, should not be allowed to hold the rest of society back from dealing with the past.  There is too much disagreement and politicking.  The new Commissioner needs to find a way of implementing what can be agreed upon and she needs to do this quickly before it is too late.

I ask our new Commissioner to oversee the implementation of the relevant legacy sections of the SHA and to make sure that the current impasse over Welfare and the Budget is disentangled from outstanding legacy issues.  Legacy issues should be and should always have been standalone issues regardless of who holds power in Stormont or Westminster.  This is where our new Commissioner should shine a light and advocate: focus on what can be done now.  All of the research and policy formulation is done: what we need now is action.  Good luck Judith, you will need it.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Road to Srebrenica: The West's (Non)Response

It has been 20 years since the Srebrenica Massacre and the cheerleaders of the West's intervention were everywhere to be seen during the recent commemorations.  But where were they when it was all happening?  I hope that this piece will shed some light on their non-response to the slaughter in the Balkans during the 1990s:

The region of Yugoslavia that is now constituted as Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) was once the epicentre of a war that has had ramifications for how the world now looks at ‘intervention’ in conflict.  This essay will focus on the period leading up to the violent conflict, the war itself and the years following on from the peace.  The activities of actors external to BiH will be at the centre of this essay.

The creation of the state of BiH came out of the disintegration of Yugoslavia.  During the Cold War Yugoslavia was viewed as a somewhat modern, viable communist country with a growing economy which was almost entirely publicly owned. The population enjoyed many benefits including a one month paid holiday every year, free education, free healthcare, a guaranteed right to employment and a decent standard of living (Parenti, 1999).  Parenti (1999) puts forward the notion that the capitalistic West embarked on a ‘concerted’ mission to ‘dismember’ and ‘mutilate’ Yugoslavia in order to install a neo-liberal free market economy more conducive to the predatory form of capitalism that had flourished in the aftermath of the West’s victory in the Cold War.

During the 1970s, in an attempt to expand its industrial base and to increase consumer goods the Yugoslav government borrowed heavily from the West which led to a crippling debt crisis, exacerbated by hyperinflation (Lampe, Prickett, & Adamovic, 1996; Wight, 2014).  Yugoslavia, argues Parenti (1999) and Mansouri (2000), was to be the subject of some considerable ‘restructuring’and austerity programmes. To do this the country would require a dose of economic shock therapy utilising international institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF (Klein, 2008).  The public sector services and social programmes that had kept Tito’s Yugoslav Republic, with its underlying ethno-nationalist rivalries, united would have to be abolished.  The standard of living decreased. Stability eroded.  With reference to Maslow’s (1943) Hierarchy of Needs the basic human necessities such as food, shelter, safety and security that had long been provided in this socialist society began to vanish leading to a deterioration in the self-esteem and self-actualisation of the population with future devastating results.

The ‘ultimate goal’ of this treatment, according to Parenti (1999), would be ‘the privatization and Third Worldization of Yugoslavia’ in which this once unified country would be balkanised into a ‘cluster of weak right-wing principalities’; primarily pointing to the 1991 Foreign Operations Appropriation Act as evidence of the conscious attempt by the US to ‘dismember’ Yugoslavia.  This Act of Public Law provided that any part of Yugoslavia which failed to declare independence within six months would lose US financial supportand that any future aid would only be directed to the separate republics, on condition that they elected democratic parties, approved by the US State Department.  Economic sanctions on Belgrade were used as another weapon in the West’s intervention. Yugoslavia was doomed to disintegration.

The argument that external economic intervention led to the subsequent war is compelling.  With this in mind, any future interventions that followed should be viewed with caution.  Can the subsequent ‘humanitarian’ intervention by the West be categorised as a benign and altruistic undertaking?

The causes and context of the war in Yugoslavia are important.  As above, economic instability may be one factor.  Ancient ethnic hatreds were put forward as another reason (Blagojevic, 2009).  Gagnon (1994) disputes the notion that ethnic nationalist hatreds are the essential, primary cause of the conflict by pointing the finger at the ruling elites, within the ethnic groups themselves, manipulating ethnicity, culture and religion to solidify their own domestic power bases.

The West responded to the conflict engulfing Yugoslavia in various ways; not all being viewed as a success. Samantha Power (2003) argues that the West sat on its hands during the bloodiest period of the war in Yugoslavia.  Some believed that this was the correct course.  ‘We got no dog in this fight’ was a typical response (James Baker).  On the other hand, interventionists were intent on ripping up the Realist rulebook by claiming that the West was morally bound to intervene in the affairs of this sovereign nation to protect the Bosnian people.  The intention should be ‘… [T]o help the helpless’, in the words of Anthony Lake (in Mandelbaum, 1996), Clinton’s National Security Adviser.  The discourse that ensued in the new 24 hour news cycle on news networks may have played a part in how the US would respond to the conflict, a term that has become known as the ‘CNN effect’ (Robinson, 1999).  It has been argued that the reporting of events such as the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995 led to a sea change in US public opinion on the war in BiH and thus a change in US foreign policy.  ‘After Srebrenica, nothing would ever be the same’, (Silber and Little, in Rozen, 2002, p.1063).  Previously, there had been little appetite to expend US blood and treasure to aid the war torn region. 

The West is viewed, especially in the mainstream Western media, as being the saviours of the Bosnian people from ‘unrelenting Serb expansionism’ (Boyd, in Parenti, 1999).  However any meaningful intervention to stop the killing stalled.  Candidate Clinton had earlier pledged to intervene in Yugoslavia to stop the fighting: President Clinton was more reticent (Mandelbaum, 1996; Smith, 1994).  Power (2003, p.307) alludes to the moral ambiguity of the Clinton Administration who chose to ‘blame the victim’ by promoting the story that there were atrocities on ‘all sides’ which led to equivocation.  However, the reporting, which blamed the Serbs aggressors, could be viewed as ‘consistently one-sided’ argues Parenti(1999). There is no argument that multiple atrocities and gross violations of human rights were carried out during the course of the conflict (Tabeau, 2009). 

Clinton came into his presidency in a world that was trying to come to terms with various new paradigms.  What was the role of the preeminent, predominant USA in a unipolar world and should the US become the world’s policeman?  Is there a need for NATO in a post-Cold War Europe?  Is the United Nations (UN) efficacious in conflict prevention?

Realists such as Mandelbaum (1996) have poured scorn on Clinton’s attempts to ‘help the helpless’ in that, the Clintons policies ‘made things worse’.  He cynically characterises the Clinton administration’s response as an attempt to ‘bolster [their own] political standing’ which was suffering from a failure to resolve the problem in BiH.  Clinton threatened military intervention early on but failed to carry out such attacks.  In a realist sense this inaction is detrimental to the US as it displays an air of weakness thus bolstering potential US challengers.Proponents of Realpolitik did not advise a humanitarian intervention in the Balkans.  National sovereignty, the primary tenet of realism, was one block to this.  It was also viewed that an intervention was not in the US national interest.  In contrast, Ramet (1992, p.98) predicted that the 1991 view of the war as a ‘Yugoslav affair’ soon transformed into a ‘European affair’ and would become ‘one that would affect U.S. interests as well’. 

A policy directive from the Clinton administration in May 1994 (Sciolino, 1994) suggested that the UN was ill-equipped to deal with conflicts such as BiH in the future.  Strict conditions were laid down as to when the US would consider involving troops in international operations under the auspices of the UN such as the ‘advancement of [US] interests … the presence of clear objectives … [and a clear exit strategy’ (Sciolino, 1994).  Presidential Decision Directive 25 attempts to absolve the US of the responsibility of ‘world policeman’ while also undermining the UN as an effective peacekeeping institution (Sciolino, 1994).

The UN’s role in BiH demands scrutiny.  Did the UN have a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ the victims (R2P, 2014)?  Why were the ‘safe havens’, as set out by a number of UN resolutions, not safe (White, 1997, p.126).  Kaldor (2007, p.125) points to the ‘inadequacy of the mandate’ as a possible reason for some failures in BiH.  White (1997) says that the UN peacekeepers were forced to concentrate on delivering humanitarian assistance to civilians while avoiding any confrontations with the warring parties due to vulnerability.  Diehl, Reifschneider and Hensel (1996) are critical of the UN as effective peacekeepers, peacemakers and peace-builders.  They (ibid., p.697 & p.685) find that the short-term goals of the UN’s efforts to stop fighting are ‘not enough to promote long-term conflict resolution’ and that ‘[it may be] … counterproductive in some instances’.

This begs the question, how can any intervention work in a conflict like that in BiH?  Does external intervention do more harm than good (Anderson, 1999)?  There are many arguments in favour of the notion that the war should have been left to play itself out (Luttwak, 1999; Boyd, 1995).  Luttwak, (1999) also accuses the Dutch UN troops of collaboration in the fall of Srebrenica by helping to separate the men from the rest of the population.   Should the West have just let the stronger party claim a decisive victory and shorten the conflict or to keep the arms embargo in place (Boyd, 1995); ‘… [t]here are enough arms there already’, proclaimed G.H. Bush (in Power, 2003). 

Then came the reports of genocide, ethnic cleansing and concentration camps.  Power (2003) talks of the analogies made to the Holocaust in WW2. The Western powers were also compared to the appeasers of 1938 Munich.  Lewis (in Power, 2003 p.278) called Bush ‘a veritable Neville Chamberlain’.  Dissenters to non-intervention such as Congressman McCloskey recounted the stories of the ghastly brutality visited upon the survivors and witnesses of so many atrocities (Power, 2003).  There were arguments as to whether what was happening in BiH could be classed as genocide made clear by Clinton’s Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, (in Power, 2003, p.300) when he questioned whether these ‘… atrocious set of acts ... [met] the legal definition of genocide’.  McCloskey (in Power, 2003) argued that the threshold was set too high in that Nazi levels of killing should not be the marker for calling out genocide.  Power (2003, p.305) talks about the use of wording to downplay events by choosing phrases such as ‘tragedy’ over ‘terror’.

Liberal interventionists reject this theory of non-intervention. They advocate the use of military intervention to protect the weaker victims against the strong oppressors (Kaldor, 2013; Smith, 1994).  They rejected realpolitik terms like nations, interests and sovereignty; describing such terminology as dehumanising.  Machiavellian amorality should be set aside for a new moralpolitik (Russell-Johnston, 2001).  Liberal interventionists find themselves aligned with unlikely allies in the guise of the Neo-conservatives.  The neo-cons promote Manichean principles of good and evil when it comes to international politics and see the USA as the preeminent force for good in the world (The Phantom Victory, 2004; Boyd, 1995).  They also reject balance of power theories in favour of using the brute power of the US military industrial complex to change the world. 

The war ended with the Dayton peace Accords in 1995 however the legacy of the international response is ongoing.  BiH remains a country that remains in conflict. There may have been a peace process, which stopped the bloodshed, but the political process is incomplete.  The international community still has a say in the internal politics of BiH.  The Office of the High Representative (OHR) from the European Union acts as a proconsul overseeing the democratic process.  Mladen Ivanic (2005, p.275), a former Foreign Minister of BiH, characterised the international intervention as ‘successful’ but questioned the ‘paradoxically problematic role’ of the OHR into the future.  Manning (2006, p.724) expands on this continuing interference in the domestic politics of BiH by questioning the efforts of external state-builders who give primacy to getting the ‘right’ elites into power.  Nationalist parties would be sidelined, moderates encouraged, legislation removed, individuals ejected from office (Manning, 2006).  This interference mirrors the above 1991 US Foreign Appropriations Act which provided that the US would vet the results of free elections in the separate republics.  This display of arrogance by the international community portrays the population of BiH as being incapable of governing themselves and could further the seeds of resentment.  Ethno-nationalist ambitions are still evident in BiH most notably in Republika Sprska. 

In conclusion, the intervention in the Bosnian conflict could easily be described as messy.  Were the origins of the conflict born in the backrooms of Foggy Bottom, the White House, the Pentagon or Wall Street?  The lack of any early meaningful intervention to protect the population of BiH could be viewed as an indirect intervention in its own right.  Did the international community just leave this war to resolve itself?  Did the fighting only really stop when the warring parties had reached their objectives of making their areas ethnically pure?  There are many theories floating around the academic journals and far reaches of the World Wide Web as to how this war unfolded.  There are more ideas of how to finally resolve the ongoing tensions.  It remains to be seen how successful they will be.


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Manning, C., (2006) 'Political Elites and Democratic State-building Efforts in Bosnia and Iraq', Democratization, 13(5), pp.724-738, Available at: (Accessed: 11 February 2014).

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Remembering: An individual recollection

When thinking about the themes of Remembering, Forgiving and Forgetting  I am drawn to my own story of what happened to me during our conflict.  About how I personally remember it.  My story is one of a physical attack on me in 1994.  An attempt to murder me.  To kill me.

I remember the attack well.  I am reminded of it every day.  I am now paralysed from the waist down.  I cannot walk. I am in constant chronic pain.  I remember it well.

I remember my home being taken over.  I remember my family being held hostage. I remember the fear.   I remember the relief when we thought they had left.  I remember them coming back.  I remember the shots being fired.  I remember the smell of gunpowder.  I remember sinking into the settee.  I remember floating off to my death.  I remember the panic and the pandemonium.  I remember my brother pulling me back.  I remember the ambulance.  I remember the hospital.  I remember waking up days later.  I remember being told I would never walk again.

This is all easy for me to remember.  I knew what happened.  I knew why it happened.  I was an easy target.  It was easy for those people to knock my door, wave their weapons and walk on in.  It was easy for them to pull the trigger.  I knew I was innocent.  But to them I was a Catholic, a Taig, a Fenian.  I would do.   That’s how I reconciled a very personal attack on me.  It was ‘nothing personal’.  That made sense to me.

I was able to accept this and live with it.  Until I read about how they remembered it.  It was a different account to my story, my truth, my account.  There was a passage in a book about Johnny Adair and C Company of the UFF which referred to the incident.  ‘Davy’ gave his account. I could not believe what I was reading.  It put across the notion that I was an IRA man.  This should not have shocked me.  Dozens of the killings mentioned in this book that were carried out by the UFF were justified by the gunmen as being attacks on the IRA itself when in fact they were just attacks on random civilians.

I should not have let this distortion get to me but it did.  My truth was being questioned.  My identity was being attacked again.  My memory of events were being challenged.  The waters muddied.  No smoke without fire.  I was now stigmatised.  ‘He must have been a bad boy’.  He must have deserved it.  That is the impression that a cursory reader of such a book would get.  ‘It must be true, sure it’s in a book’.  This is also the case for many of those killed and injured during the conflict.  He was a nail bomber.  He had a gun.  He was a legitimate target.  So we shot him.  End of story.

However it is not the end of the story.  How we remember as individuals is important.  How we remember as a society is important.  We need to find a better way to help people to tell their story, their way.  To counter the counter narrative.  To challenge the official accounts.  To challenge the rumours and insinuations.  To challenge the lies of the men in balaclavas with convenient pseudonyms like ‘Davy’. 

Many families and individuals will be resigned to the reality that they will never have their day in court to see the faces of the triggermen and the godfathers.  They may also never hear the truth as to why they were injured or killed.  But they should be allowed to give their truth, their story, in the way they remember it and for it to be heard and hopefully believed.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Forgetting: Forget about it!

Following on from an earlier post on forgiveness, I now want to think about forgetting.  I feel that this is an exercise in futility on an individual level: that said, it is and should be much easier as a society to forget.

My own individual situation is hard to forget.  I was left paralysed after being shot six times.  I suffer chronic pain every day.  I have issues with my personal care.  I need a wheelchair to get around.  I can’t forget what happened to me.  It is impossible.  However, I can live with it.  I am not bitter about it.  This is just the way I am now and this is the way it is going to be.  I don’t dwell on it.  I try to tackle it but I cannot just forget about it.

I cannot consign it to oblivion.  Nor can those who have lost loved ones.  The bereaved find it hard to forget.  Bereavement and injury through trauma and violence are imprinted on the memory in a different way to other ‘normal’ memory creation.  The brain processes such events in a way that the memories don’t fade.  Such memories are relived over and over every day as though they are actually happening in the here and now.  The problem is in how we deal with those memories and learn how to cope with them.  One cannot undo the event but we can try to incorporate it into our life journey.  Suppression, burying and forcing people to forget only make matters worse.  It should be left to the individual to decide how to deal with the memories.

Societies tend to forget a lot easier but this too cannot be forced.  It takes time to forget.  People of my generation and further back remember the big epoch-making events such as Bloody Sunday and Bloody Friday.  They are remembered because they are imprinted in the memory as big traumatic events that were different from the humdrum of continuous bombings and killings in our low intensity conflict.  Everyone else forgets about the two minute news bulletins that brought us the news of another killing of a civilian, a soldier, a policeman or a paramilitary.  It didn’t really register; it was forgotten about.

What does register is being made to forget.  It does not work.  Attempts by governments and institutions to make us forget about the horrific events are counterproductive.  Whitewashes and cover ups do not work.  Trying to forget something will have the opposite effect.  Issues need to be dealt with and resolved.  People need to be honest with themselves and so do societies emerging from conflict.  We need to know everything.  Niggling doubts play on the mind of the individual as well as societies.  Individuals need closure.  This will hopefully give societies closure.  Only then can our communities really forget.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Examining our Myths: A Blood Sacrifice or Just Seeing the World?

One cannot escape the endless advertising campaigns to recruit young people to the Armed Forces of the UK.  The same thing happens across the world.  All nations recruit.  You will find them in schools, on Youtube, on TV, on the radio, on massive billboards and more recently at the Tall Ships event in Belfast.

Alongside the pay and the pensions, the chance to travel the world, and the access to free fitness training facilities, the main shtick that is employed is the promotion of the training and career opportunities that a life in the Forces will provide.  A life in the Forces will create bonds and friendships that will be lifelong.  The recruits will join up, get all the training, see a bit of action, retire, and enjoy the rest of their lives.

There is no mention of the high probability that you could be killed, maimed, or left with severe psychological problems due to the service that you will be ordered to give once you put on the uniform.  This is because the young people who join the Forces don’t think like that.  Most young people live in the moment.  Danger is attractive; it is all part of the adventure.  Besides, ‘it can’t happen to me’ is the mind-set.  There is no talk of the ultimate sacrifice for Queen and Country.  That only happens when it happens: up to then, it’s all just a big adventure.

This has always been the case.  Those who join up don’t think they are going to be harmed: it's just human nature; a defence mechanism.  This was probably the way it was during World War One too.  You only have to look at the recruiting posters from the time.  The initial thinking was that it will all be ‘over by Christmas’; Christmas 1914, that is.  It was not over by Christmas 1914 as we all know, in fact, it went on until the end of 1918 but the subsequent propaganda posters called for one ‘Final Push’ to defeat the Hun.  Just another few more recruits would do the trick.  The Hun was on his back and we just had to go over and stick the bayonet into his heart. Easy-peasy.  There was no talk of the ultimate blood sacrifice.

This myth came later.  The 99th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme has just passed and we all await the centenary commemorations next year.  A lot will be made of the blood sacrifice that was made by the men of the UVF who gave their all for the freedom of Ulster.  Had it not been for their personal sacrifice then Ulster would surely have been lost to Rome.  This is the myth that we have grown up with.  It is a myth that that Northern Ireland was built upon.  I would like to ask the question: is this true? 

Did all of the young men who left their Ulster homes think that they were going to France to die for the soul of Ulster?  Or did they think that they would be back home after a few months in sunny France?  Was it because of peer group pressure and the stigma of being branded a shirker?  

I have trouble believing that the many thousands who lost their lives on the first few days at the Somme thought that that was how they would die or did they believe the hype of an easy life in the trenches as portrayed in the posters at the time?  A sacrifice, in my eyes, is to give yourself up, in the face of a certain death, for a higher cause.  Did these young men think that certain death was inevitable?  Was it a conscious individual sacrifice?  Or did the blood sacrifice that we hear of today only occur when the mortars, bullets, bayonets and gas did their job on them?

I am open for challenge on my questions and I hope that there can be a wider debate around some of the myths that hold strong in our society.  I am not trying to denigrate the memories that people have of those who died in France and Belgium during WW1 but I am asking people to look beyond the myths and ask themselves what would you be thinking at the bottom of the ladder about to go over the top.  Would you have been thinking about the soul of Ulster or was it just an adventure gone wrong that looked far better on the 1914 billboards or on a stall at the Tall Ships?