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Elvira Bonafacio

2018-12-03 18:25 — Belfast, Ireland

Good Relations’ week

Belfast has been hosting the Good Relations’ week for over 15 years. I must admit, that it took me more than a week to write about this week after all this is not my area of expertise. As soon as I was made aware of this ‘Good Relations’ Week’, several thoughts came to mind. I wondered why people should commemorate coexistence? Did something happen that conduced to this? To answer these questions, I had to do much more than only attend the related activities. I felt that it was important for me to talk to people, visit places, and participate in different cultural activities instead of only visiting the famous/notorious “Peace Walls”, in order to understand this.

According to the Irish people, the history of Ireland and its current situation is very complex. Their history and their colonial experience is still an open wound, for which not everybody is being treated for. Based on my observations, hunger, oppression, scarcity, inequality, struggle, and violence are keywords that dominate the history and reality of the Irish inhabitants. To date, the Irish community feels that they have to fight for equality, acceptance of their culture and more importantly acceptance of their language. Segmentation lies deep within this country, especially in the generation before me. “Here we speak Irish. If you please, you can speak any other language but English.” “Children were beaten and spit on, just because they were Catholic children passing through a Protestant neighborhood, on their way to school.” “I refuse to go there, hell no! My name and accent will give away who I am. Back in the days, I could not walk across the street with a jersey of my favorite sports team. Thank God, those days are over.”

These are a few of the expressions and events that happened less than 20 years ago. These expressions are not familiar for a Curacao native nor a person from the Caribbean, but very common to the Europeans. Name, religion, language, and sports are some aspects that create a person’s identity. However, it is remarkable how these same aspects are used to distinguish, divide and create segregation, which is what they would like to mitigate with the “Good Relations’ Week”

The purpose of the Good Relations’ week, is to bring ethnic groups together, to have a dialogue, in a neutral environment, and debate on themes regarding the education of a community who lives in harmony and peace; having a good relationship. This event, which was initially named Community Relations & Cultural Awareness Week, has been initiated a few years ago after the Good Friday Agreement Belfast has been signed. The Good Friday Agreement Belfast, is an agreement between the British government, Ireland and the majority of the Irish political parties, on how to govern the country. This agreement has led to the end of an era of conflict and violence in Northern Ireland.

This year, Northern Ireland should be proud of the success of the Good Relations’ week, this was clearly visible on Friday night, the cultural night. There were several activities and music, that brought the community together in the city, to celebrate and share (without any incidents). Something that the inhabitants of Belfast could have only dreamt of, 20 to 25 years ago. Fact is, that this is only the beginning. Wounds caused by battles and violence, that came to an end in 1988, are not healed within 20 years. Nevertheless, as the Dutch used to say: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” and they are walking towards it.

This Good Relations’ Week had me reflecting on my own identity and my decisions, as Northern Ireland is a solid proof of how identity can be used to categorize and divide, instead of celebrating and share. However, they are not the only ones in the world. It is a fact that we are confronted daily with this option and we voice our opinion loud and clear when we choose for our leaders.

This experience made me realize the importance of knowing your history and living consciously in the present, as the now will be the history of tomorrow. So, when tomorrow ask me what the foundation is for its history, I can reply: “A solid foundation, on which you can continue to build” instead of: “Let’s heal the wounds that I have caused you yesterday, together.”