Derry – Londonderry reaches for Culture

“When(ever) I hear the word culture, I release the safety catch of my Browning.”

Thus speaks a character in the play Schlageter by the Nazi poet laureate Hans Johst. Written to celebrate Hitler’s 44th birthday and rise to power in early 1933, the line became a (in)famous Nazi slogan, one used by Goebbels and others.

The riposte “Whenever I hear the word revolver, I reach for my culture” has multiple attributions.

With considerable financial aid from London, Brussels and Washington DC, the city of Derry/Londonderry has been reaching for culture, and the banishment of the gun, throughout this year as the UK’s City of Culture 2013.

The city is certainly looking well, the people friendly and “transformation” is in the air, visible in the form of the 2011 Peace Bridge, and the Ebrington festival space, a reworking of a former army barracks, and naval facility and base. Throughout the year, the city has hosted some very successful high profile events like the Radio 1 roadshow, and Fleagh Ceol na Eireann. The latter event incorporated, for the second year, a number of Protestant marching bands, a wholly welcome and positive development. The author of a book on these bands, Blood and Thunder, was telling me that members were “buzzing” afterwards given their positive reception. Northern Irish Protestant identity is pluralizing again, with some traditions reconnecting themselves to older Northern Irish forms of belonging not so steeped in sectarianism (United Irishmen-ness).

Other cultural events seem to have a more limited class appeal, with the Turner Prize currently unfolding in the Ebrington complex. Predictably, there is some friction between the ambitions of those culturing up the city and those long suspended in the popular culture of sectarian division. “People mostly get along” was what one taxi driver told me, and maybe we should simply think not of “peace” in the city but of the ordinary antagonisms and division that characterize most cities as also characterizing Derry.

Derry, Derry, Up? Lets hope so.


About Dr Gerard Toal

Irish born academic living in Washington DC researching geopolitical competition and territorial conflicts in post-Communist Europe. Author of CRITICAL GEOPOLITICS (1996), BOSNIA REMADE (w C Dahlman) and NEAR ABROAD: PUTIN, THE WEST AND THE CONTEST OVER UKRAINE AND THE CAUCASUS (Oxford University Press, 2017).
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