So when tensions began to arise a few weeks ago, I decided it would be better to just wait for things to settle down a bit before addressing them with people back home. If we're being completely honest, I hoped that it would all blow over before anyone heard - it's a lot easier to say, "Oh yeah, there was some disagreement. Doesn't that suck?" in retrospect than to have to answer specific questions about the incidents and my safety here in Belfast.
But then I was in Paris for New Years, and stories about Belfast were on the news. Then it must have made its way to the States, because I started getting concerned emails. So I thought I'd just address it all here now. It is an incredibly complex issue that I know I can't do justice (which is why I usually refer you, my faithful reader, to people that are more knowledgeable than I about political matters), but I will do my best to summarize:
In early December, Belfast City Council voted to limit the number of days that the Union flag was flown above City Hall. This made several people upset, and groups began to form to protest this decision. Some of the protests were more peaceful than others - which have turned violent on occasion. Protesters have used social media to organize events, often with the addition of "#flegs" (hence the post title).
|Image: Belfast Telegraph|
With that being said: First and foremost, I am safe. I have not felt unsafe since the trouble has begun. Yes, I see more police land rovers than before and it's really annoying when you're waiting for a bus that isn't actually coming because the road is blocked elsewhere. But this is a situation where even just a few blocks distance makes a difference. There are not wild bands roaming my neighborhood with torches or anything. I reiterate, we feel totally safe here. Our friends and coworkers look out for us, and let us know if we should avoid certain situations or areas at certain times. This is also where the social media aspect helps us - we know when there will be a gathering, so we don't go there!
The people acting in violence are the vast minority of the population. The majority of people I meet hate to think that this is what the rest of the world associates with Belfast. We have SO much more to offer than the images of violence that make media headlines. The upcoming 4 Corners Festival is just one of many examples - notable here because it ends with a prayer and worship service at my church!
So please, family and friends back home - don't worry about me. Or if you do, make it because I'm a klutz and not because you think I'll be water cannon-ed on my way home from work!
Update: find an article from another perspective here.