MOPE is an acronym that derives from the title of an essay written by Professor Liam Kennedy a few years back. It comes with the sub title: THE HISTORICAL SYNDROME OF THE MOST OPPRESSED PEOPLE EVER. As a notional ‘syndrome’, it affects the capacity of otherwise rational individuals to see Northern Ireland’s problems in context with other global (and much more traumatic) events. It is rooted in the feeling that Ireland’s trauma is not like anyone else’s: it is deep and unto itself. As Kennedy explains in the opening paragraph, it betokens a strong feeling that “Ireland’s past is not a foreign country.”:
For the plain people, unionist as well as nationalist, it is familiar, static and reassuring. It sometimes seems, as Theodore Hoppen says, “as if time itself has lost the power to separate the centuries”. For unionists and protestants, even at the end of the 20th century, images of massacre, of siege, of insecure victory still carry a powerful charge. For catholics and nationalists, there are the 700 years of oppression at the hands of the English and, for some, the unfinished business of the British presence in Ireland. For all the emphasis by historians on complexities and discontinuities, there is a popular sense of deep continuities, of enduring patterns which stand outside of historical time.
Although the essay was written some years ago, the syndrome continues to this day: with each side prone to advertise its own suffering to the exclusion of all others. And indeed that of those in other places, such as Srebrenica, Darfur, East Timor, Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.
And it is prone to affect more than just the extremes. As Kennedy remarks of Parnell:
Reports of the “Bulgarian Atrocities” in the later 1870s had excited and troubled the sensibilities of liberal Britain. Throwing this concern back in the face of Gladstone and his fellow liberals, the emerging leader of the Home Rule movement pronounced that Ireland had suffered much more at the hands of the English than the Bulgarians at the hands of the Turks.
Inevitably is it is a regular feature of discussion on Slugger still, and is likely to remain so until some kind of stable democratic settlement kicks in, and, much as they have in the Republic, our politicians final have license to take decisions of the things that actually matter to people on the ground.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty