Monday, July 16, 2007

Recipe for peace

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, June 17, 2007

WAR always makes it to the front pages of newspapers. Peace also does,
when there is a political agreement and warring groups come together.
But once the fact of peace is established, the story is over, at least
for the media. Unless, of course, the peace breaks down. But what
preceded the peace and what is needed to sustain it, is not the stuff
of which headlines, or even lead stories are made.

Amazing turnaround
On May 8, 2007, newspapers around the world carried an amazing
photograph, that of two men who led the decades old conflict between
Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland sitting together and
smiling. Leaders of the Sinn Fein and the Unionists Party are now in
government, together. This has happened less than a decade after the
Good Friday agreement of 1998 for power sharing that went through many
hiccups and often appeared on the verge of breaking down. Yet, a
political solution for the virtually intractable problem of Northern
Ireland has been found. It is the result not just of political
negotiations at the top but because of pressure from below, a demand
for peace from civil society groups on both sides of the sectarian
divide led by very ordinary women. The agreement, and the run-up to
it, sets out an encouraging precedent and example for dozens of other
such conflicts around the world, not least on our subcontinent.

In 2003, on a brief visit to Northern Ireland I saw first-hand how the
memory of history works against efforts to build peace. In Belfast,
high walls, ironically called "peace" lines, still separate Catholics
and Protestants. During "the Troubles", as the years of bloody
sectarian wars are called, these walls were a challenge to youth on
either side to hurl fire bombs at their "enemy". Yet even as the first
tentative steps towards peace were being taken, these walls remained,
as did the suspicion and hatred nurtured over decades of conflict. It
will take some time before real "peace" lines substitute these brick
and mortar walls. But an important step has been taken in that direction.

To read the rest of the article, click on the link.

No comments: