Posts Tagged ‘memory’

Remembering Duke Street

October 2, 2008

October 5th sees the fortieth anniversary of the second march sponsored by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. The march was held in Derry on October 5th 1968, and before it could get going, it was brutally attacked by the RUC from both ends to prevent it marching in the city centre. There are some who regard it as the ‘real’ start of the Troubles, wrongly in my opinion. In the next while, I’ll put up a piece on NICRA and the civil rights movement more generally. The history of NICRA has always been a disputed one (NICRA’s own version from 1978 is available here), with claim and counter-claim as to who was the prime movers in the organisation, what its goals were, was it a front for the Republican Movement under Cathal Goulding seeking to overthrow the state, etc. The fortieth anniversary is seeing the emergence of a reactionary new narrative, one which seeks to blame the civil rights marchers, especially the ultra-left elements, for the violent reaction the civil rights protests garnered from the state, and for the Troubles. I’ll come back to that in the next piece, but my criticism of part of a recent article of one of those making this argument, Simon Prince of Oxford University, can be found over at Cedar Lounge Revolution, here. Today, I mainly want to note some of the activities taking place, and encourage people to attend them where possible.

In Derry itself, the SDLP-dominated but broad-based Civil Rights Commemoration Committee is sponsoring a two day event, the details of which can be found here. The opening event actually takes place the night before, and is the screening of a documentary The Day the Troubles Began which seems to be linked to the BBC and the historian Simon Prince, criticised at Cedar Lounge Revolution. The event itself takes place in the Guildhall in Derry, and includes on October 4th as speakers John Hume, some of the participants in the march, and Mark Durkan, Martin Mc Guinness, and a prseumably very off-message Gregory Campbell. It also includes Mary Mc Aleese. Incidentally, she used to work in a bar frequented by republicans, and one Workers’ Party member once told me how on returning from a NICRA march he had been stewarding and was discussing it with others. She had asked them what they knew about it only to be told they were the stewards. Clearly the republican movement’s desire not to be seen to be dominant in NICRA was working rather too well, and has done so since. I’m not really sure what she has to add, but hopefully it won’t be anything about the Nazis and unionism. On October 5th, the conference takes a perspective on civil rights today with trade union and voluntary scetor speakers, as well as international activists.

Also on October 4th, The Workers’ Party is holding its annual northern regional conference in The Wellington Park hotel. The northern regional conference is a discussion day open to the public, so feel free to come along. The morning will focus on the prospect for socialist politics ten years after the Good Friday Agreement, with speakers from The WP, Socialist Party and British Labour in Northern Ireland. The afternoon will be dedicated to the civil rights movement, with a panel discussion involving Professor Patrick Murphy, Des O’Hagan of The WP, and Edwina Stewart of the CPI. All three were prominent in NICRA, and Murphy wrote the history referred to above. There will also be a talk on the role of republicans in NICRA, and presentations to republicans involved in civil rights, including Eugene Little who was involved in the Caledon protests that led to the first civil rights march, and Eamon Melaugh, one of the two main organisers of the Duke Street march.

All this matters. It was not violence that destroyed the bigoted Stormont regime, but the mass peaceful protests organised by NICRA. In the current climate of political apathy, as governments across the world rush to give taxpayers’ money to bail out corporations while destroying what is left of the welfare state, the strength of a mobilised and organised popular movement is a lesson worth remembering.


The Spike Lee School of the Falsification of History?

September 30, 2008

I’ve just been reading this story in the Times, about the reaction of Italian partisans to Spike Lee’s forthcoming film Miracle at St Anna. The partisans are outraged about the representation of events at Sant’ Anna di Stazzema, where 560 men, women and children were masacred in August 1944 by SS troops. According to the story, the film seems to blame the partisans for bringing the Nazis to the village, then abandoning the villagers to their fate, and shows one partisan as a collaborator. This is in direct contrast to the accepted Italian version, where the presence of the partisans served as a mere excuse.

The film is Spike Lee’s attempt to tell the neglected tale of black soldiers during the Second World War. His interest in this subject has recently led to a squabble between him and Clint Eastwood over the absence of Black soldiers in Clint’s Flags of our Fathers, so it is perhaps ironic that the Italian veterans are now accusing him of failing to accurately reflect history. The Italian criticism has raised the question of the memory of World War II, and the received Italian version that the partisans redeemed the sins of fascism. Although the author of the novel Lee’s story is based on, a black veteran of the war, has been conciliatory, Lee has not:
“I am not apologising for anything”. “I think these questions are evidence that there is still a lot about your history during the war that you [the Italians] have got to come to grips with.

It seems to me – at a time when Italy has neo-fascists in government, Rome has a fascist mayor, and leading footballers are declaring themselves fascists – that Lee has inadvertently raised some important questions about Italy’s relationship with its fascist past. The decline of the PCI from one of the major political, intellectual and cultural forces in Italian society has weakened the defences against the falsification of the fascist past. Berlusconi’s government has red-baited judges, praised Italians who fought with the Nazis, and there is a real danger that the horrors of the past are not only being ignored but glorified. The rise in immigration has led to a great deal of racist agitation and violence, as well as the growing neo-fascist vote all point to this. Whatever about the rights and wrongs of the massacre, it seems to me a good thing that young Italians will be reminded of the true nature of fascism and the need to combat it by any means necessary.