Democracy Café, May 2022

Report of the Democracy Café which took place at 29 Brown Street, Salisbury on Saturday 14 May 2022

In the usual way, members suggested topics for discussion and then voted on which they preferred.

The first topic to be discussed was “A United Ireland?” – is the possibility of a united North and South of Ireland in the near future a prospect that should be greeted or feared?  The view of most members was that there was little to be said for the state of Northern Ireland continuing as it is, now that Sinn Fein has become the largest party in the North.  There was discussion of the colonial basis of the Unionist settlement and a feeling that unification was inevitable eventually.  The success of the Alliance Party was encouraging in indicating a move away from the old sectarianism, but members cautioned that the religious divide had not gone away. Implications for the UK as a whole were also debated.

Changes in the South have also been beneficial to the tendency to unity, as the power of the Catholic church has lessened, and the fear of the Protestants in the North of becoming second-class citizens has faded. Their continuing desire to be seen as British was still a source of puzzlement, although an emotional attachment to the UK was recognised.  What happened to the Protestants in the South after 1921?  Some left for England and elsewhere but many stayed and seem not to be a second class community in the Republic. 

One of the encouraging factors some thought were the attitudes of young people who were born after ’the troubles’ and the Good Friday agreement.  Joint education is important and a move away from sectarian schooling should be welcomed.

Members also debated what was the actual contribution of NI to the UK, and what would be lost if it left.  The feeling was that the effect would be marginal.

The second topic under discussion was “Is war (particularly the Ukrainian conflict) all about propaganda?”  The proposer was struck by the claims of the Ukrainian head of military intelligence that the war would be over by the end of the year, there would be a coup in Russia, and that Russian might was a myth.  This was reported with little indication that the claims were questionable, so is the Ukrainian side as guilty of propagandising as the Russian?  Scepticism was expressed at the detail level in the Ukrainian claims of military hardware destroyed.

When war is declared, truth is the first casualty.  Attributed to Samuel Johnson

It was noted that, certainly in Russia, the propaganda is directed at the home audience.  On the other side, the Ukrainians have a very good propaganda machine, which has encouraged them to fight harder.

The observation was made that it depends who is speaking.  Propaganda has nothing to do with the truth, although it might contain truth.  But the information has to be believable, which implies an element of truth, unlike with a conspiracy theory.  How one weighs the individual items of information one is fed is problematic.  We were reminded that the word itself derived from the Italian and the propagation of (Catholic) faith.  It’s modern meaning assumed that it was at best one sided.

It was noted that in war it is highly likely that even the top military will not know what is going on, so truth is not always easy to find.

It was commented that it was only possible to validate much of the claims with modern technology; without it the debate we were having would have been impossible.

As a positive conclusion, the debate moved to discussing the trend for young people to not have any truck with party propaganda while remaining politically aware.

For those with an interest in this can follow the course run by Future Learn on this topic.

Andrew Hemming

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