As explained in the introduction, the motivation for this issue was born in the north of Ireland, where the most visible forms of solidarity between Irish people and other people fighting against colonialism in the world are ubiquitous. In this text, Sara Greavu reflects on what constitutes actual solidarity, using stories from Ireland and beyond to both promote and problematize its practices.
Living in Derry, in the contested part of the north of Ireland, we are accustomed to seeing visible expressions of solidarity all around: on the street, in the pub, in local community centers, and in people’s homes. In the fifty or so years since the start of the most recent phase of the conflict in Ireland (and throughout some part of the 800 years prior), an internationalist understanding of the forces of colonization, of imperialism, of resistance, and of liberation—and a sense of circulating solidarities with others who have suffered similar losses and indignities—has had an important role in sustaining and inspiring those struggling for equality, justice, suffrage, and self-determination.
In the relative peace of the present time, activists and political tourists come to the north from across Europe, North America, and beyond. Some come in delegations representing other liberation struggles, from the Basque Country or Palestine for example, or from groups formed around campaign issues, seeking justice for the victims of state killing, for instance, or, more recently, from groups organizing against the ravages of extraction. They stand for photographs in front of Free Derry Wall, which once signaled the demarcation line of the “no go” area, when citizens barricaded off a section of the city from the state police and British army between 1969 and 1972.
As these visitors walk through the republican/nationalist working-class neighborhoods that saw the most intense repression and the fiercest resistance during the hot phase of the conflict, they are likely to encounter a variety of other markers of transnational and transtemporal solidarity, flowing outward, that might include Palestinian flags, murals referring to the Cuban revolution, to Thomas Sakara, to Black Lives Matter, to Indigenous sovereignty and Landback…
In loyalist/unionist (pro-British-state) neighborhoods, they might see the Israeli flag flying alongside the flag of the British Army’s Parachute Regiment, displayed in support of the soldiers who killed fourteen unarmed civilians in Derry in the 1972 massacre known as Bloody Sunday, the same regiment having killed at least nine people in a series of incidents in Ballymurphy, Belfast, prior to that. These flags are also markers of some kind of solidarity, though they don’t find their roots in a shared internationalist political imaginary of liberation. These solidarities are, perhaps, mobilized through the law of opposites, a pinched, straight form: if you are like A, I am like B.