This is a fine piece by Lyra McKee from 2016. It is a reminder of the importance of the voice we have lost. She wrote about suicides amongst …
… the generation nicknamed the Ceasefire Babies—those of us too young to remember the worst of the terror. We were the Good Friday Agreement generation, spared from the horrors of war. But still, the after effects of those horrors seemed to follow us.It’s a theme picked up by Sinéad O’Shea in her tribute to McKee and in writing on her own film about dissident paramilitaries.
A post-conflict society is messy. There are no winners. Everyone has lost. It’s nuanced and precarious and doesn’t work well for news headlines or political soundbites. However, this is exactly where Northern Ireland has found itself in recent times, in a row between politicians, the stumbling block to Theresa May’s Brexit deal, and the UK’s departure from the EU. As local councillor and another of the film’s participants, Darren O’Reilly, told me: “Nobody is paying attention until it suits them.”Wars don’t just end. There are long and lingering effects. The utter complacency of Brexiters on the few occasions that they thought about Northern Ireland was based on an assumption that peace was a permanent fixed state, brought about by the Belfast Agreement, not that it was a fragile settlement, the beginning of a long process of de-escalation and reconciliation.
It seems also as if the increased scrutiny over the backstop has energised the dissident Republican community and served as a recruitment tool. Since the start of February, dissident Republicans have shot four men “by appointment”. They claimed responsibility last month for three “suspicious” devices sent to UK addresses. Now the tragedy of McKee’s killing.
It was my generation that voted for Brexit. And Leave voters keep harping on about the Second World War. They are mocked. They never knew war, so they must have got their information from the movies. This is unfair and untrue. The effects of war were all around us when we grew up. We were surrounded by those who had fought, who had lost people they loved, who had seen things that people shouldn’t have done. The war was there in the stories and the silences. It was in the bravado, the hatreds, and the memories. It was there in the moments of distress, when something triggered a loss of control. And we, the post-war baby boomers, saw it all.
It was worse still for Germans, who had to come to terms with the Nazi past of their country. Their revulsion turned a small section of West Germans to terrorism, their own generation’s attempt to resist Nazism in the way their parents hadn’t. But then, their violence was based on as an absurd misreading of their own society as the Brexiters’ misunderstanding of the European Union.
Think too of the countries emerging from the collapse of Communism. Our war ended in 1945, their nightmare only ended in 1989. We shouldn’t be surprised by the revival of authoritarianism in the East. Thirty years is no time at all for a society to recover.
I’m in Greece now. On the bus from Thessaloniki airport through the city centre, I sat and listened to an excited young Greek woman speaking in English to her Spanish boyfriend, pointing out all the landmarks of her home city. A young Dutch family got on, and then as we passed the University, students of many different nationalities piled on. This is Europe. Europe as it should be. Diverse and shared.
Yet Greeks too have only recently emerged from their own national catastrophe – Nazi occupation, a bloody fratricidal civil war, and a military dictatorship that only ended in 1974. It still echoes through Greek society and politics, especially in the wake of the Euro crisis. Still, this is a pro-European country. Most think that we are mad to leave.
It takes time. I am one of those of my generation who responded by becoming ardently pro-European and never ever questioned our place in the European Union. Others did not. Nationalism and isolationism offered an escape from the recent past into a fantasy world of nostalgic heroism. After all, it was the world that surrounded us when we were children.
Young people don’t think like this. They are two generations removed from the war. They are overwhelmingly in favour of keeping our EU membership – some 70-80% wanting to remain if the polls are right. They are comfortable travelling on a multi-national bus. Europe is their natural environment, their hope, their birthright, and their future. They feel that my generation has stolen it from them. They hate us for it.
It’s the young who give me hope. They are the ones who will lead us back into the EU if we make the mistake of leaving. And they are the ones on the frontline against the new European authoritarianism.
It isn’t all about time and generational change. Peace is not therapy. Instead, we cannot recover unless we build institutions that allow that recovery to take place. This is the underlying importance of the European Union. It established a democratic framework for post-war renewal and development. It is the settlement that allows nations emerging from their Stalinist or fascist pasts to establish their democracies. It is what was built to overcome the trauma of Europe’s terrible twentieth century. It matters and it has worked.
Brexit is a terrible mistake. Revoke article fifty and remain. Do it now.