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Political Violence Legitimization in Ireland and Cyprus

Final Report Summary - POLITICAL VIOLENCE (Political Violence Legitimization in Ireland and Cyprus)

Executive Summary:

This research has been part of a project predating the award of this fellowship. It examines evidence from the historical record of Ireland and Cyprus in order to develop a comparison of the ways in which political violence occurring in the two places was legitimized. Most particularly, under examination are primarily the respective periods in the two islands in which insurgencies against the state (the UK in both instances) developed, which is to say, the period 1916-1919 in Ireland and the period 1955-1969 in Cyprus. In a secondary fashion, under examination are also the subsequent (post-UK) periods in which the public memories of the insurgencies were, respectively, intertwined in the processes of consolidation of the new states that came into existence in Ireland and Cyprus. In addition to a wealth of secondary material, the research examined archival sources in Ireland and Cyprus, while also conducted more than thirty in-depth interviews among Cypriot participants and spectators of the events of 1955-1959 in Cyprus. For the most part, research on Cyprus had been carried out prior to the commencement of this fellowship while research on Ireland took place during the course of the fellowship.

The general finding of the research is that the legitimization of political violence is situational, emerging out of many parallel processes that integrate representations of violence and collective commitments (nationalism, morality, historical narratives, strategic logics, etc). In this, Ireland and Cyprus present similarities in form. At the same time, the research points to some general differences between the two. For one, the discourse over the violence in Cyprus, taking place during the post-WWI liberal zeitgeist, was played out against audiences that included not only publics in Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, and the UK, but also world media and the UN diplomatic corps. By comparison, the audiences of the discourse over the violence in Ireland, taking place mostly in the interwar period, were narrower and less attentive. Partly as a result of this, the discourse in Ireland focused more on the legitimacy of the state (UK) and of the nationalist claim to a republic than on the violence perpetrated by the republican insurgency and the counter-insurgency in the name of the Crown; whereas in Cyprus, the violence of the nationalist insurgency and the British counter-insurgency were pivotal in the legitimacy discourse, with the bigger picture regarding the conflict marginal.

The comparison also points to differences vis-à-vis the publics within the two islands. Given that under scrutiny is the way representations of violence resonated with various domestic publics, a key difference between Ireland and Cyprus regards the general configuration of these publics. Thus in Cyprus, where violence was geographically spread out, the publics sympathizing with the insurgency and the publics opposing it lived in close proximity to each other and to the violence; this left relatively little space for third, less committed publics to develop a voice. In Ireland, by contrast, because violence was concentrated in areas covering about one third of the island, much of the discourse developed from a relative distance and reflected the views of third parties, which were varied and fluctuating. This general assessment is supported also by findings regarding the role of the elite in the development of representations of violence. In Cyprus, the (Greek Cypriot) political elite was more directly involved in framing the discourse on the insurgency than was the (Catholic) political elite in Ireland; the former was also less multi-vocal than the latter. It is important, for instance, that the Orthodox Church of Cyprus was a pivotal certifier of the insurgency while the Catholic Church of Ireland presented a fragmented and inconsistent position in the face of the insurgency.

The findings of this research, finally, speak also to the respective periods of state consolidation in Ireland and Cyprus. Given that the end of insurgency was in both places the product of compromise, the politics of the nascent states implied conflict between those who supported the compromise and those who saw is as betrayal. Briefly stated, this conflict in Ireland was, for the most part, resolved by way of a devastating civil war within months after the compromise was reached. In Cyprus, the civil war came with delay, about ten years after the compromise. This difference between the development of this conflict in the two island accounts for much regarding how the collective memory of insurgent violence in each place was figured, configured, and reconfigured.

The book manuscript resultant from this research will be completed in the upcoming months. Its impact is expected to go beyond the respective historical scholarships in Ireland and Cyprus. Given that it deals with two pivotal moments in the histories of two states that still face “unresolved historical questions,” the book will be of interest to the general scholarship in the fields of comparative-historical sociology and comparative politics, as well as to the policy makers who wish to better understand current conflicts in Ireland and Cyprus. Further, dealing with insurgency and counter-insurgency, the book has lessons to offer to those interested in contemporary insurgencies and counterinsurgencies. Often couched in misguided terms of terrorism and counterterrorism, the historical events in Ireland and Cyprus resemble contemporary events on a series of accounts, not the least on the general fact that the constituencies of violence set much of the parameters in which violence unfolds. Thus the book reporting on this research, as well as side publications stemming from the research, go to the heart of political and conceptual debates regarding violence and its role in state formation.