Sunday, June 19, 2005

Europe 2005 - "What If" Thoughts

Part of the reason that I was so interested in touring Ireland was to see kind of the what if the civil war was successful. Would the US and the south be having the same problems that Ireland and England are having? It was really weird touring Dublin and seeing the history still there since they only became a separate country in the 1920's. (the bullet holes in the granite pillars are still there at the post office where it all started.) Their version of the Declaration of Independence was typed and printed and posted all over town. All the people who signed it got executed as traitors.

Besides our cheapest flight being out of Ireland I wanted to come to Belfast to see both sides of the whole terrorism thing. I was curious on how to put everything into a culture I could better understand (Catholics and Protestants), and all the tour books swore that it was safe to come here. Touring the "troubled" area even with the cease fire in effect was still quite shocking. While in Dublin taking the tour of the jail the guide gave the impression that England had swindled Ireland in the treaty and the current fighting was the natural progression of things working themselves out. Here in Belfast we ended up taking the tour bus twice through the divided area because of where our hostel was located. the first tour guide I get the impression was Protestant and the second catholic just by the areas they knew more about. Both were more then willing to refer to both sides as terrorists that were fighting a gang warfare type battle for their own power and nothing political or religious. Belfast is just at that point where the peace has lasted long enough that the rebuilding has started-literally. In the time between our 2 tours they had ripped out about a 10 foot section of wall to make way for a new museum. There are still plenty of bombed out buildings with plants growing up through them though that were part of the tour we went on. The army barracks are slated to be demolished in 3 months, and most of the sites on the tour were introduced as "this building was torn down a month ago and in a couple of years this pile of rubble is slated to be a shopping mall, apartments, or museum". The tour guides were proud of the fact that all the police cars were painted white just 2 weeks ago instead of military gray (calling them ice cream trucks). The problem is that all of them are still armor plated with machine gun mounts. The area being patrolled is full of fresh murals of telling of all the bad things the other side did or recruiting new people so there is still a lot that needs to be worked out.
It felt very weird taking a tour bus through these areas. Kids were playing on pallets that were planned to be burned in a celebration/demonstration. When we drove by they stopped and stared as people took pictures of them. I hate tour busses but this is not a place I would have wanted to drive through so I did not pull out my camera around them in hopes that I was doing my part so they would not think they were the ones on display. I guess my take on this is that if this is what is possible 20 years after the treaty and 10 years after the last bombing over property disputes that only go back 200 years and everyone being optimistic then I'm not even going to try predicting anything for what is going on with the rest of the world.

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