A Separate Peace In Belfast

If you wander through Belfast, before long you'll bump into a Wall. ItÂ's a big and long Wall, snaking through the city and in places taller than anything Berlin had to offer. It is also an altogether modern Wall and, as Walls go, rather nice. In most places it actually matches the houses nearby.

They call it the Â"peace lineÂ" and it has been built gradually and almost in parallel with the building of the peace process. But a simple reality cannot be ignored: this is a wall between Catholics & Protestants.

People who live along the Wall will say itÂ's all that stands between them and nighttime attacks – a Wall built just in case everything goes wrong.

It may be the job of the politicians busily making their Â"New GovernmentÂ" at Stormont to calm these fears, but they privately agree that the shadow of the past still falls heavily across Belfast.

It also falls across Germany. As Berlin half-heartedly prepared to celebrate ten years without its own Wall several weeks ago, visitors to the city couldnÂ't help but notice how the old division has disappeared without a trace -- an apparently seamless merge between East and West.

But as in Belfast, Berlin is still torn by a residual resentment between the two sides.

Those once under the yoke of Communism briefly reveled at their new freedoms. Those in the West also felt the thrill. But today, the Western Â"Wessies,Â" feel the Eastern Â"Ossies,Â" are a burden. And the Â"Ossies,Â" see the Â"WessiesÂ" as overpowering bullies who have taken the jobs, power and money for themselves.

At the height of BelfastÂ's inter-communal strife in the 1970's, Catholics and Protestants lived in mixed communities -- although they hardly ever mixed. The British armyÂ's so-called Â"tribal mapsÂ" (which London never admitted to) showed Catholics and Protestants lived around each other in intermingled blobs of green and orange.

Decades later, those maps would show a broad separation. The two communities have moved apart even as the manuals on the peace process were being written.

The separation of Belfast's communities -- together with their Wall -- has led to a deepening of animosity and fear, even as the mixing of communities in Berlin has equally bred dislike and resentment.

It will change with time, say the British and German architects of it all. But in fact, the truth may not be so simple. It may take many generations.

In Berlin, the Wall that was once a reality, is now largely a Wall in the mind. In Belfast, itÂ's the other way around; what was once in the mind is now very real brick, concrete and wrought iron.

But with or without a concrete division, mistrust still separates the people of both cities -- a nasty feeling that cannot easily be explained, or fit onto a television screen.

©1999, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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