Sunday 26 May 2019

A novel way to park the statue controversy

Sean Russell statue in Fairview, Dublin
Sean Russell statue in Fairview, Dublin
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

You'd swear we have no domestic controversies of our own, such is our insatiable desire to import them from other countries.

The current statue hoopla in the States managed to wend its wearisome way across the Atlantic in the last few weeks with the fuss over some Cork fans flying the Confederate flag.

Inevitably, there were people who care about neither Cork nor the GAA suddenly exercised about the appearance of 'neo-Nazi flags' in Croke Park and demanding that anyone with the offending symbol be removed and banned from further games.

The Rubberbandits probably hit the right note when they said that the flags shouldn't be banned, but it might be a good idea for fans to leave them at home - a most welcome dollop of common sense in an era when common sense is in short supply.

Being neither a Cork supporter, a fan of the Gah or a particular admirer of the Confederacy, it's hard to look at the kerfuffle without laughing, and it reminds us again about this island's obsession with flags. God knows they've caused enough grief in Ireland down the years.

I'm inclined to leave them be, on the grounds that the flag was being flown by Cork fans as a symbol of their rebel spirit, rather than some weird support for slavery.

Also, I disagreed politically with those Dundalk fans who fly the Palestinian flag, but I also think a ban on them is a step too far.

The best option would be to simply let the fans sort it out amongst themselves. They're the ones who go to all the games and the only ones with the right to decide what should be flown.

I guess I'm just instinctively opposed to banning things. But the issue isn't as simple as it first appears. I've been writing sporadically for the last few years about the dangers posed for any society which tries to rewrite its own history, but in fairness I'm not overly keen on the statue of Seán Russell (above) in Fairview, so I came to see that were two sides to the argument. So should the Americans engage in historical cleansing and start their own Year Zero?

That's a recipe for disaster, but they might do worse than look to Hungary for some inspiration.

I spent a fascinating afternoon in 'Statue Park' outside Budapest a few years ago. When that country gained its freedom from communist tyranny, they didn't demolish all the statues to Lenin and Stalin, they moved them to a memorial park where they are maintained, and explained, and people can still see them.

They're not venerated, nor are they erased from either the past or the present.

In the face of the growing and genuinely unsettling unrest in the States, such an idea might be the least bad of both worlds...

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