– By Will Glendinning, Coordinator, Diversity Challenges (Ireland)

 What connections can there be between the air-raid bombing of Gernika in 1937 and the 31-year long conflict in and about Northern Ireland that ended in 2000? On the face of it, these two histories may seem disparate. Gernika was the bombing of a city by the German airforce, Luftwaffe. In Ireland, the conflict resulted in over 3,500 deaths. But there were no air raids and no single event  on the scale of Gernika. It is when we consider questions of what we should remember, why, and how, that the connections start to emerge.

 The bombing of Gernika is now recognised as a key event in the lead up to World War II – and yet its very existence has been denied by Franco and his followers.

 In the Irish conflict there are many examples of events that are remembered by one group and forgotten by others. For example, in 1916, Republicans led the Easter Rising against British rule while Irish soldiers died at the Battle of the Somme in World War I. Both of these iconic events in the history of Ireland are commemorated every year – but without reference to each other. Only now, with the 100th anniversary of these events coming up, there are active discussions on how commemorations can be more inclusive.

 The remembering of events is important. What may be even more important is why we remember them: Do we desire as complete a record as possible of what happened? Or are we only remembering those events where we, or our community, are the victims? Are we blocking out or excusing those events where the memory is uncomfortable, where we, or our community, may be complicit in the perpetration?

 Do we ignore events where we were actively complicit but also those events where we were the bystanders? Did we do as much as possible to try to reduce tension, to stand up for the human rights of all – or did we follow the crowd and allow the voices calling for action to go unchallenged? These are the uncomfortable questions that arise from examination of the selective process of what we remember and what we choose to forget.

 When considering how we remember it is important that the ‘how’ is inclusive, that it covers all events no matter whether the victims come from ‘our’ community/tradition or from ‘other’ communities/traditions.

 It is essential that we discover and listen to the uncomfortable memories. These memories challenge us and challenge our perceptions of the nature of the conflict. If we include all memories of events, no matter how uncomfortable we find them, then we have created the opportunity of learning from what happened and building a more peaceful future. If we are selective and not inclusive, then we remain in our comfort zone. Then memory and remembering fuels resentment and lays the foundation for future conflict. 

 At Diversity Challenges, we bring stories and storytellers from differing perspectives into the same safe place so that those from differing backgrounds can hear and reflect on the similarities and differences and learn. This is not forgive and forget. This is not “remember, justify, and repeat”. True reconciliation is to remember and change.[1] And this challenge is what connects us –  whether 30 years or 75 years or 100 years after the events and whether in Gernika or Ireland or elsewhere.

[1] John Paul Lederach Beyond Violence Community Relations Council and Centre for Voluntary Studies 1995 University of Ulster ISBN 1-898276-09-9


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