Ann Allan : What is Culture?

1.The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

image2.The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

The above are the popular definitions of culture. The word culture has become a dirty word in Northern Ireland, misused, misunderstood and sensitive. I’m not out to offend anyone by my observations as I come from a mixed community background since 1970. I also grew up in a village, before I crossed the great community divide, where there was a toleration on both sides of parades, both on the 12 th July and the 15 th August. A bonfire was a small family occasion where a few logs burned in the middle of a safe non contentious area. No pallets, no tyres, no flags or emblems, no election posters and no ‘holy’ statues.
Move forward 45 years when one would expect that as a society we would have moved forward. But no! Ask one of the bonfire builders why they are building a bonfire and you’ll get the cliché, It’s our culture. Should they be pursued and questioned what they meant by culture I doubt you would get a lucid or reasoned answer.
We hear the cry respect our culture. I’m sorry culture to me doesn’t entail:

The paving stones on the street painted red, white and blue,
Flags flying from every lamp-post for weeks, some in tatters.
Flags of other nations flying. What is the flying of the Palestinian and Israeli flag all about?
To improve the situation and to move towards some semblance of toleration. Let’s start with both sides removing any flags that:
1.Are from other countries
2. Are from paramilitary groups which are threatening to any sections of the community.
This year we have even seen the swastika and the confederate flag. These can only have been put up to offend some sections of our community. The flags are also flown in areas where the community doesn’t want them but that doesn’t seem to be taken into consideration.
In some areas where bonfires are built way in advance of the twelfth, the streets are littered with rubbish both before and after the 11th night. How can anyone take a pride in their area with this being allowed to happen? I feel for those house proud residents who have skimped and saved to buy their houses.  We have seen this year how residents had to move from their homes in Chobam street to accommodate a bonfire. Result people  inconvenienced. Rate payers foot the bill. Fire service on duty to make sure houses not burned down. This is not culture.
Speak out against this situation and you are likely to fall foul of the organisers and some members of the loyalist community. I have friends in the loyalist community so please don’t say I am biased.
So if you want me to endorse your culture, take the sectarianism out of the picture on both sides, promote the good aspects like the bands and the encouragement of young musicians. Don’t turn our streets into what looks like public dumping areas. Enjoy the bonfires. Remove the sectarian aspect and it could turn out to be an occasion without ridicule and rancour.

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