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Forms of Extreme Protest in the Post-War West

Research presentation

Festival of Ideas, University of Cambridge

On an April afternoon in 1966, uniformed men marched through Dublin, The militaristic parade through the Irish capital came at the behest of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), coordinated to remember fallen fighters of the 1916 Easter Rising. For the republicans, the method of honouring their predecessors took the form of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the most notorious nationalists in the Northern Hemisphere in what they called the ‘Free State Parade.’ It was, perhaps, the most diverse display of violent separatists to take place in Cold War Europe, with representatives from burgeoning paramilitary outfits in Wales, Scotland, Brittany, Flanders, and Quebec, and the invocation of others, particularly comrades in the Basque Country and Catalonia. This was a unique piece of pageantry: they were not marching just to memorialise a decades-old struggle, but also to publicise modern ones. Banners waving and flags flying, this event sought to demonstrate, unequivocally, that radical republicanism was not a thing of the past, but instead an enduring, and global phenomenon. In Dublin, separatists articulated, in word and deed, their belief that the world should prepare for more violence in the name of national liberation, claimed each other as comrades battling the same essential evil, Western imperialism and avarice, and offered themselves as liberators. It was a day that simultaneously established and epitomised a new era in Western nationalism.

This paper explored how the Welsh, Scottish, and Irish violent nationalists—organised in radical groups such as the Irish Republican Army, the Free Wales Army, the Scottish Liberation Army, and Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru—employed protest campaigns to advertise and actualise their independence agendas between 1965 and 1975. Reconstructing a series of peaceful protests like that executed in Dublin through the words and records of both radical nationalists and government officials across this period, and placing them in contrast to the other fatal activities of these groups and their extreme goals, this paper challenged preconceived notions of these organisations or of violent nationalism more generally by demonstrating their consistent use of non-violent, or at least non-aggressor, protest strategies. Although amenable to violence in the name of violence, these extreme nationalists still relied upon protest as a central component of their activism. This commitment to performing protest reveals both another side to violent nationalism, but also speaks to the socially embedded nature of protest culture in Britain in the Long ‘68.