I got a taster of the rivalry to come at Euro 2012 on Tuesday at peace process talks in Dublin between negotiators from Transnistria and Moldova. The backstory: In 1990, when the USSR disintegrated and Moldova moved towards independence, the community of Transnistria (population 550,000) broke away and formed their own independent region. A brief but bloody war followed – claiming about 500 lives – until a ceasefire was brokered in 1992.
Since then, Transnistria has been a virtual no-man’s-land, recognised by no other country, boasting no international embassies or sports teams and bolstered only by the presence of the Russian Army. Moldova would like to subsume the territory but the Transnistrians aren’t for going back into the fold, fearful, among other matters, that the Romanian-speaking Moldovans – all 3.3 million of them – will force their language, culture and indentity on the Russian and Ukranian speaking Transnistrians.
There’s more too it than that, of course, and the nature of the deliberations must remain confidential but suffice to say that the two teams of negotiators were at (polite) daggers drawn.
It probably won’t be a diplomatic hanging offence to disclose that when Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister Carpov suggested comparisons with our own conflict weren’t legitimate because there were no identity, religious or cultural differences between the people of Moldova and the people of Transnistria, the latter delegation laughed.
I have no idea where ‘right’ lies in this conflict, if indeed it can be said to lie more with one side than the other. However, here’s the good news: the two sides aren’t shooting at each other. Perhaps from this dialogue will come a modus vivendi which allows their people to prosper and be reconciled in the time ahead.
After all, as the Irish proverb has it: ‘’Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine’ (‘We all live in each other’s shelter’). And surely the estranged neighbours of Transnistria and Moldova should live more in each other’s shelter than most.
MARCHING up the Falls Road on Sunday to demand the release of Marian Price from internment brought me back to the days when no Sunday was complete without a rights march up – or down – the road. The biggest march I can remember wasn’t during the hunger strikes but after the assassination of Máire Drumm back in 1976. A republican leader, Máire was shot in her bed in the Mater Hospital. We trooped along the road at one point to be allowed the right to walk to City Hall. And when we finally won that battle in August 1993, loyalists were dispatched by faceless men to attack the home of Sinn Féin Councillor Bobby Lavery, shooting dead his son Seán.
I mention those milestones to recall the high price paid for the better society we have forged out of the pain of the conflict and also to serve notice to British consul Owen Paterson that we won’t easily let him roll back the gains of the peace process.
Perhaps to remind ourselves (and Mr Paterson) of what was gained by those marching feet, we should erect a statue on the Falls Road to mark the thousands, indeed the hundreds of thousands, who stepped out for civil rights over the past four decades.
Next Tuesday, I hope you will join me at the Belfast Film Festival for the premiere of a new documentary made by the Belfast Media Group for TG4. ‘Cathair Ghonta’ (‘Wounded City’) tells the story of Belfast, its tears, trials and tribulations, over the past 100 years and is presented by young Andersonstown man Ainle Ó Cairealláin. The most poignant parts of the one-hour film deal with the terrible loss suffered by all our people during the 30-year war. And perhaps the most telling moment is when peace process hero Fr Gerry Reynolds describes how peace starts in the heart and with “communion” between people. The Moldovans and Transnistrians are travelling to Belfast this week for the second leg of their fact-finding visit; hopefully they’ll get to Clonard to hear that vital peace message first-hand.