- Jan 14, 2016
On Friday, 2nd June, a protest was held at the so-called “Museum of Free Derry” in opposition to the its memorialization of British forces killed in Derry during the early 1970s. I refer to this institution as the “so-called Museum of Free Derry” because, with its commemoration of the British state’s highly paid, heavily armed and judicially-protected professional murderers – agents of state violence whose brutality peaked (but did not end) with the massacre of 14 Civil Rights demonstrators on January 31st, 1972 – it has distanced itself irrevocably from the concept and philosophy of liberation that Free Derry stands for in the popular imagination. As one protestor suggested, we should rename it “The Museum of Unfree Derry”; I would add that the title, “The Crown Forces Museum of Unfree Derry”, will reflect even more accurately the ideology that this institution serves and promotes.
Free Derry was the part of Derry City, comprising the Bogside and Brandywell districts, that had been liberated from police control following the decisive defeat of heavily-armed RUC and Orange Order attackers by an unarmed popular insurgency, known as the Battle of the Bogside, that took place in August, 1969. Notwithstanding the efforts of Paddy Doherty to have barricades dismantled and the RUC redeployed in the Bogside, Free Derry persisted until the entire city was overrun by British troops during Operation Motorman in July, 1972. During this three-year period, Free Derry became recognized globally as a site of intense resistance to British political, military and police control.
Last week’s protest was called because the museum, which many people regard as a Sinn Féin-controlled front organization, has installed an exhibit recording the names of British troops and police killed in Derry. This has outraged a broad spectrum of people who have confronted the issue because they recognize it as contributing to the wider, decades-long policy of “normalization”: the policy whereby the aberration that is the British presence in Ireland is represented as normal, even natural. A fundamental policy of modern imperialism, normalization (also referred to during the 1970s and 1980s as “Ulsterization”) was also the key strategy behind the 2003 Iraq invasion and occupation, where it became known as “Iraqi-isation”. (1)