This article by Tonio Galea was first published on this week’s edition of Diplomatique.Expert, Corporate Dispatch’s journal.
One can say that, with the end of the Cold War it wasn’t only the Berlin Wall that crumbled but so did the political divisions that dominated the European political divide, too. Admittedly, the fall occurred at a much slower rate than the Wall.
The political divide that previously dominated the scene, not only split between what was then known as East and West but ran at a more localised level as well. The Communist bogeyman was now no more, especially with the demise of the Soviet Union. Even in Russia itself, the Communist party today is just a shadow of what it was, although as they say, old habits die hard.
The political parties that were the stalwarts against Communism slowly began to falter across Europe as veteran politicians brought up in an era of war and austerity in Europe slowly began to step aside and make way for a new generation, blurring the lines between what is traditionally known as the left and right of the political spectrum.
People have always organized more easily around what they’re against than what they’re for. Politics have grown viscerally tribal and voters became more instinctively destructive: it gave rise to an electoral anger that produced several surprises defined by opposition to the status quo.
This was a trend driven by social transformation, economic upheaval and technological change.
The political scene is changing everywhere and, with it, the way it is delivered. Tweets today receive more attention than a political speech. We find ourselves in a new system that is both primal and distinctly 21st century. The latest electoral surprise came from Ireland.
The Sinn Fein, once considered the political arm of the Irish Republican Army and hence shunned, stole the show in the Irish elections and became kingmaker even if it does not necessarily mean that it will form part of the new Irish government. Notwithstanding, the results in Ireland shattered a century of dominance by establishment heavyweight parties.
The roots of the Sinn Fein transformation, which as a political party was associated more with Northern Ireland on the other side of the border, than with the Republic of Ireland, has been coming a long time.
It started with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to a three-decade military campaign with the IRA on the forefront, to throw the British out of Northern Ireland and unite the island of Ireland.
Sinn Fein developed around more inward-looking issues that captured voters’ attention — housing, homelessness and healthcare — and their demands for change matured alongside a generation that never witnessed their violent roots.
This represents a political earthquake that is taking place against the chaotic backdrop of Brexit.
An earthquake that has made Sinn Fein the only Irish party with major political influence both north and south of the Irish border; the European Union’s new land border with the United Kingdom. The party’s dream of a united Ireland may now not be as remote as it once was.