The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Ballot Papers and Elysium
Eamon Sweeney • 1.11.03

Johan Galtung, a Norwegian academic, is universally hailed as one of the most influential thinkers in the field of peace research and conflict resolution.

In 1981 he advanced a new theory on violence and it’s various manifestations in modern society. This theory articulated the difference between direct and structural violence.

At base level these distinctions are exemplified in the following ways.

If we say that a child has been murdered, this is as a consequence of direct violence. However if we say that children die as a result of poverty, then this is as a result of an inherent flaw in the societal structure. That is to say that children have died as a result of structural violence.

A third type of violence, he contended was that of cultural violence.

Cultural violence is a form of violence that leads us to be blinded to, or aids us in justifying the two previous forms of violence.

We end direct violence by changing conflict behaviours, structural violence by removing unjust structures and cultural violence by changing attitudes.

Galtung added to this a further distinction. That was a distinction between negative or positive peace. Negative peace is characterised simply by an absence of direct violence, which in itself does not indicate a full and lasting end to conflict.

Positive peace is present when structural and cultural violence have been overcome as well, so all three strands combine to create a permanent and lasting end to conflict.

Galtung envisaged peace research search extending beyond the boundaries of simply preventing future war. For him it needed to include the examination of the conditions required for truly peaceful relations between the dominant and the exploited, those who are ruled and those who rule, men and women, western and non western societies and humanity’s use of technology in relation to nature.

Central to all of Johan Galtung’s theory was the quest for positive peace using the tools of human empathy, solidarity and community, and the breaking down of structural violence, by exposing it in all it’s forms and transforming the dependency of structural violence on imperialism and oppression. Suggested alternatives to transform the nature of structural violence reached as far as the consideration of non-western cosmologies such as Buddhism.

Is all this starting to have any relevance yet?

The clarity and nobility of this theory as a utopian model or tool in the search for positive peace is more than admirable. Poor Johan however has obviously not spent many wet and dreary November evenings in the six counties, watching party political broadcasts, that are trying to persuade us to vote in an election to an assembly that does not actually exist. I would also venture to suggest that any of our Buddhist counterparts in their right minds would not touch this place with the imaginary barge pole that John Taylor said he would not touch the Belfast Agreement with on Good Friday 1998.

Viewing the various broadcasts, it is unfathomable to equate their sickly celluloid sheen and ever so “sincerely” spoken sycophantic commentary with the ignominy and recrimination that all these parties lustily indulged in, merely one week ago after the collapse of the choreographed re-ignition of the executive.

Since Margaret Thatcher was persuaded to use an advertising agency to full and unfortunately devastatingly successful effect for the first time in British politics in the 1980’s, public relations has inherited the mantle of spewing out catch phrases where once politicians debated things called policies.

You may remember policies. They were considered very popular at one time.

Briefly, the idea behind them was to place your (ill) considered thoughts on social advancement in the public arena and ask us poor plebs to vote on which ones we believed would at least go some way to enhancing our daily lot.

Public relations and the Good Friday accord have always been the best of friends.

Unionists have been made to believe that the political and economic link to Britain is secure, and Republicans after thirty years of conflict have come to the conclusion that the gateway to a reunified island is to share an assembly with people of a diametrically opposed belief. This is despite the fact that devolution for Northern Ireland, even if it were fully implemented would be little more than a token parliament with all the power of a set of dodgy market stall batteries.

In addition, throw in the fact that this assembly will sit in the place that for
fifty years was a world class edifice for the type of structural violence we have seen defined, that is Stormont.

That improvement has been made is not in doubt. That Republicanism and nationalism in general has sucked up a lot of highly distasteful ideological compromise is not in doubt. That the relative absence, or acceptable level of violence, that has brought us to the negative peace stage, is actually progress is not in doubt. Certain portions of republican opinion may well have a valid point when it says that violence is not a principle of republicanism, it was only ever a tactic. However we still await a more weighty explanation of that to its non-combative victims or to the relatives of those who died for a tactic;an explanation at least more weighty than an apology can cover.

What is in doubt is the ability of our political class to recognise the fact that voters are no longer high on the sentimentality of April 1998. At this time the god of governmental public relations was happy to use the whole island as a sounding board for “peace” to maximise the statistical effect of a supposed political utopia that was just tantalisingly out of the reach of our straining fingertips. All we had to do was place a sequence of numbers on a ballot paper, to guarantee an unhindered future.

Five years after we elected the first executive, we are being again asked to mark the spot to speculatively reassemble a body that, whether you agree with it or not, cannot actually reconvene without the say so of another house on the neighbouring island. Even if it does reconvene, what has there been to assure us that it will be anymore workable than it has been since 1998?

Yet again, the search for peace, real peace, has been sacrificed to the hustings.

No party here has yet come close to a formula for a positive peace, simply because structural violence still exists in it’s embryonic nucleus, just the same as it has done since it’s conception at the islands division in 1921. This is not helped at all by the fact that we still use cultural violence as a stick to beat away the fact we have failed to address core issues. True, we may not kill each other as much as we used to. And despite the expedient truculence of David Trimble, the majority of the republican machinery of war has been eradicated. However whilst still at the whim of our “beneficent”political masters across the water little is likely to progress.

Some may construe my thoughts as archaic. Perhaps they are, but they are free of the waffle of public relations. Whilst in the process of gradual withdrawal the British managed to chastise us like we were their political children. They tell us that if we act like good little boys and girls we can have our assembly back. Never ever, were they responsible for sowing the seeds of conflict. They only intervened to save us from laying total waste to each other in 1969. They were never here before that turbulent year.

If they are not already on board, then everyone should agree that further violence will do nothing to advance any cause in this state. If the GFA is to have a hope of working however our politicians must realise that playing the blame game is a non-starter. This is not a politically mature society. We do not have politicians who realise that there is a world beyond the fringes of the western Atlantic. We are a society comprised of two plain and plainly opposite ideas. It is a simple conclusion to arrive at.

Put all the cards on the table and get on with it or rip it up and start again.

We can either have political limbo or co-operate, no matter how distasteful that may be to some. There can be no return to the past.

Despite all the glitzy advertising campaigns, I fear that the electorate may be about to express that very sentiment in the coming poll. We are the perfect example of how untrue the old saying, you get the government you deserve, actually is. None of the voters in this state deserve this lot.

Johan Galtung was born in Oslo in 1930. Each year in his native city the Nobel Prize for Peace is awarded. Johan Galtung’s theories have been employed all over the earth by the United Nations as a model for rebuilding damaged societies riven by war. Johan Galtung has never been nominated for this prize.

David Trimble is a Nobel Laureate in the field of peace.

Now that’s what I call good public relations!




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

2 November 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


A Memo to Adams: Remember That Every Political Career Ends in Failure
Tom Luby



Anthony McIntyre


Ballot Papers and Elysium
Eamon Sweeney


Republican Prisoners and their Families Put at Risk due to Prison Strike
Martin Mulholland


Trust Without Honesty in the Peace Process?
Paul A. Fitzsimmons


The Letters Page has been updated.


31 October 2003


Cieran Perry of Working Class Action Interviewed
Anthony McIntyre


Republican Socialist Alternative Economic Strategy

Liam O Ruairc


The Ultimate Obscenity
Thomas Gore


The Chomskybot Code
Mary La Rosa


CAFTA Thumb Screws - The "Nuts and Bolts" of Free Trade Extortion
Toni Solo




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