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An Uneasy Peace

Mariusz Smiejek | Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

12th of July, Ardoyne, Belfast- every year the Orange Order (staunch Protestants and Loyalists) organizes parades marching through the Catholic districts.
They always end up with the street disturbances between the locals and the Police as Catholics see the marches as a sign of tribalism and territory marking. Riots can last (with intervals) up to several days.

This year is 17th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the document which attempted at normalizing lives of two antagonistic communities, Protestants and Catholics, Loyalists/ Republicans. It is fascinating to watch how it works and how it does not at certain points.

Some people work very hard to normalize their lives shattered by the conflict (the Troubles). It means that they strive to meet those who killed their beloved ones (they meet them anyway everyday in the shops), talk to them, run joint reconciliation projects, prevent their kids from hating each other, establishing selfhelp groups, paint joint murals promoting peace and history of the place, learn about each others`s history.

Some cannot bury the hatchet. They hate, they cannot let it go. The wounds are too fresh or sometimes there is this clear inability to start anew. People who were on life sentence for killing their enemies are asked to go on living next to them to participate in the very same cross community projects. They are asked to coexist. Is this possible? Yes? Is this easy? No.

Also, there is some cynicism surfacing. Some people sense they can earn lots of money taking part in the peace process. So they earn it, but inside they have never changed. It adds spice to injury.

Northern Ireland is a fascinating place. Contradictions can be seen everywhere, people who are loving and tender and ready to move forward are hampered by those who hate or at least cynically exploit the situation. I dealt with community workers, with the representatives of still active paramilitary organizations, I watched them work, I listened to them when they complained about their life, I saw them cry and getting angry, reasoning to kids wanting to attack the other side on the interfaces (these are where Protestant and Catholic communities meet), I attended the riots, talked to the Police and people who were in prison, who were suicidal, assist other people with emotional problems, I met local youth.

There are so many things that need still to be done in Northern Ireland. Yes, money helps, but even money cannot change people`s hearts. That is a struggle for generations to come.

The series of photographs constitutes an insight in life of Northern Ireland after 16th years of peace process.

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