Bayonets fixed and colours flying

IssueJune 2009
News by Kelvin Mason

On 25 April, Ceredigion Council conferred the freedom of the county on the Royal Welsh Regiment. With much pomp and circumstance, cadres of the regiment, their band and mascot goat marched into Aberystwyth. The ceremony was attended by, among others, councillor JTO Davies, chairman of Ceredigion Council, Mark Williams (Liberal Democrat MP), Elin Jones (Plaid Cymru AM), and mayor of Aberystwyth Sue Jones Davies (Plaid Cymru).

One invitee who declined to participate, though, was Cen Llwyd, chaplain to the chair of Ceredigion Council. Instead, Cen rallied Aberystwyth Peace and Justice Network, Women in Black and activist choir Côr Gobaith. In a public statement the chaplain proclaimed: “There are alternative ways to resolve disagreements between nations without going to war. “It takes an enormous amount of courage and hard work to explore the way of reconciliation and to build lives based on love and compassion, instead of creating terror and horror through force and fear which will in the end lead to many people losing their lives – mostly young and many innocent lives. And to what end, apart from destroying, harming, wounding and killing?”

Women in Black and other peace activists stood silent witness to the ceremony, closely attended by police. Later, singing in the town centre, Côr Gobaith refused to give information to police who threatened to move them on: “We sing here regularly,” one chorister told the officers. “No one is in charge. You cannot take the name and address of a place and time.”

Aberystwyth Peace and Justice Network spokesperson Lotte Reimer stressed the traditional culture of peace in both Ceredigion and Wales: “This ceremony dignified an archaic, militaristic and imperial culture and politics. It was a publicity stunt with the barely-disguised purpose of facilitating the recruitment of youth from Wales to fight in the illegal and immoral wars instigated by Tony Blair. “Our young people, whose courage we respect and whose loss we mourn, constitute a disproportionately high percentage of the casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Confronted over their participation in the ceremony, both Mark Williams and Elin Jones were quick to respond. Mark Williams claimed: “I was not there as a Liberal. I was invited as Ceredigion’s member of parliament, and attended as such…. I do not accept we were there to celebrate war or the two illegal wars.” “I think very carefully about my decisions to attend any military or royal events in Ceredigion,” wrote Elin Jones. “I have chosen not to attend most…. As a person, a politician and Ceredigion’s representative, events such as Saturday’s pose a challenge for me. On Saturday, my decision was to attend the ceremony, but not to join the pomp, pageant or party.”

Evidently, there are boundaries between an individual’s conscience, their membership of a political party and carrying out its policies, and their perceived public duty as representatives of the people. Apparently, citing these boundaries permits politicians to march on while flying many different colours. Neither Ceredigion’s MP nor AM has attended the annual laying of a white poppy wreath at the war memorial in Aberystwyth.

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