Belfast

Belfast, Northern Ireland …

The atmosphere is heavy, with a clear tension. Breathe the air in Belfast, is breathing the bloody history of the city.  It is suffocating, it terrifies …

You must leave the touristic city center and venture into the neighborhoods of Falls Road, Shankill, East Belfast, to understand.

Down here, as soon as I get my camera out, someone is observing me. It is even more than that, I am scrutinized, watched, as if they need to know “who is he” and “what is he doing”.

Accidentally I come across an IRA bar on Falls Road. I enter, people observe me. In here they are selling independence flags in honor of Bobby Sands, a Republican hero, member of the Provisional IRA. He died in the Maze prison, after a 66-day hunger strike, in his battle for dignity of political prisoners.

I have a coffee … The “boss” comes to ask me, where I come from and who I am … But it is rather relaxed, friendly and we joke.

A guy comes in with a large plastic bag, which he places on a table with a dull thud …He pulls out a Sturmgewehr 44 an assault rifle of the Third Reich from 1942, considered as the ancestor of the AK-47 Kalashnikov.

They look at it, they laugh and then the first guy shows it to me and places it between my hands …It is what … 8:30 a.m.?  And I have a coffee with some IRA guys in Belfast with a military weapon in my hands. Sometimes there are fates which we provoke, unwittingly.

Fifteen years after signing a peace agreement, Belfast has undergone profound changes, but divisions remain between Catholic and Protestant communities.

To understand how “the Troubles” have shaped the Northern Irish society, just simply walk along its streets, Belfast is an open-air museum. Murals celebrating the actors of the conflict, are visible throughout the city.

In 1998, peace was officially back by the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. It took three decades of fighting and over 3,500 people were killed as result of the conflict. Since then, the enemies of yesterday steer together in joint executive and government. But Catholics and Protestants continue to be divided…

Between them, still kilometers of concrete, barbed wire fences built during the Troubles to avoid clashes between the two communities.