Thousand of people took to the streets for the March of Truth event marking the British Army’s slaughter of unarmed civilians from the Ballymurphy area , West Belfast, Ireland in August 1971. The killings and the introduction of internment without trial that year of hundreds of Irish people by the British government led to a direct escalation of the Irish Republican Army’s resistance to British occupation. The March of Truth event called for support for the families of those killed to be treated justly to advance the peace process and was one of hundreds of political, cultural, arts and music events organised by community activists and local people as part of Feile an Phobail ( People’s Festival).
The Féile has now gained a world-wide reputation as a facilitator for dialogue between rival political views and cultures which has significantly contributed to a deeper understandings among those from nationalist and unionist/loyalist traditions.. Speaking at Féile’s public launch the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, a founding member reminded participants that Féile was born in the midst of violent political conflict and at a time when the nationalist people were subjected to brutality, imprisonment and poverty. Féile provided them with a positive and creative outlet which allowed them to rise up and show the world that they had talent, they were valuable human beings, not second-class citizens. Féile allowed them through creative expression and public engagement with their adversaries to have their voices heard through their music, culture, prose and art .
Gerry Adams also celebrated the spirit and courage of the people who stood strong in unity in those early, dark years of Féile’s existence and commended those who have continued to work tirelessly to turn Féile today into one of Europe’s largest community festivals.
In Venice I had the good fortune to attend the opening of the thought provoking Planet Kurdistan exhibition as part of this year’s Bienalle. As I met with people at this event it struck me that very little is heard in Ireland, or indeed in Europe generally about the Kurdish struggle or what efforts the Turkish government is making to resolve this long-running conflict. Obviously, there are always direct parallels and clear differences of circumstances involved in any struggle for liberation yet on speaking to the people from Kurdistan who had experienced so much hardship and pain in their lives I was mostly struck by the similarity of how, in spite of all they have experienced, these cadre had a smile on their faces which I could completely identify with. It is the same smile of the oppressed everywhere and it is generated through hearts filled with human compassion and wisdom. It is the same smile I have seen on Irish faces, on South African and Afro-American faces. It is the smile of the poor in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia where I spent time last year trying to know how these people survived the horrors of war and genocide. That smile is a smile saying to us that they will survive and they will be patient because deep down in their souls they cherish the hope of a democratic resolution more dearly than those who are currently in power.