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11.00  Commemorating Conflict or Moving on to a New Era? Dealing with the "Scars in the Urban Fabric“ in Post-Conflict Belfast

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9:00, Lundi 6 Juin 2016 (30 minutes)

During political conflict, cities become “intensive microcosms for the wider societal tensions and fragmentations, and their diverse related discourses.” Even after the conflict is settled, many spatial remnants of the conflict remain as “scars in the urban fabric.” In addition to rebuilding infrastructure, economy, and political institutions, societies face the task of reaching an agreement on how to commemorate the conflict. Experiences in and interpretations of the recent past often continue to divide former conflict groups, making it difficult to come to terms with the past. On a local scale, this problem becomes manifest where actors of post-conflict urban policy and planning deal with the often-contested spatial heritage of the conflict and decide whether to preserve, demolish, or transform. 

This paper will explore the discourse on and practice of dealing with the spatial remnants of conflict in Belfast after the Good Friday Agreement. The starting point of my research was the observation that a broad consensus on the fact that the Northern Ireland conflict has impacted enormously on Belfast and vice versa seems not to be mirrored by a systematic policy approach toward the spatial heritage of conflict in the city. After the Good Friday Agreement, Belfast aimed to leave behind its image as conflict-ridden and divided and embraces the new era as a metropolis of culture, tourism, and events—a strategy that has been labelled as “lipstick on the gorilla.” I will therefore look at the strategies “on the ground” that deal with the history and the stories of places that are connected to the conflict. By doing so, I wish to find out which aims and motives are important to actors when dealing with the spatial heritage of conflict—Is the commemoration of the past an important issue or do the places mostly have to fit in with a neo-liberalized agenda so that the city can stand its ground in the global competition on visitors and investors? Is the spatial heritage to be preserved or to be deleted? Are some legacies worth preserving and others not? Urban space and places are shaped by society and by what is desirable and possible at a certain time in a certain society, so that the ways in which a post-conflict society deals with the places shaped by or connected to conflict can be quite illustrative about its approach toward the past and visions for the future.

I will discuss some of the findings of my on-going dissertation at the University of Kassel (Germany). Using the methodological framework of a discourse analysis, I chose the former Andersonstown Barracks site in the republican stronghold of West Belfast as a case study. One of the biggest and most hated Police and Army Barracks in Belfast was located on the site until 2003. The building has been demolished, but the site is still vacant today and—in spite of huge efforts by a plethora of actors—an adequate new use for it is not yet in sight. I will show how very different and sometimes conflicting aspirations, hopes, and fears from touristic to community or commemorative uses play a role in dealings with the site, making it difficult to reach consensus and thereby revealing how riven with conflict the society still is in many ways. I will discuss whether the promotion of heritage tourism can provide a solution to the dilemma between remembering and moving on, at least for some places. 

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