go to the home page
see what Ruth is up to links to all Ruth's non-fiction publications links to all Ruth's crime fictions titles links to most of Ruth's journalist over the last four years
Belfast Telegraph logo
20 June 2016

Yes, so Ireland was occupied - get over it and look at how the invaders spared us a worse fate

Are the Irish, as Gerry Adams insists, the most oppressed people ever? Try least, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Human rights campaigner Professor Liam Kennedy

In Budapest for a few days and reading about Hungary's history, I couldn't help yet again dwelling on MOPE, the Most-Oppressed-People-Ever narrative of Irish history thus nicknamed, skewered and demolished by my friend Liam Kennedy.

Those who would like to challenge saddos like Gerry Adams, who still cling to this mythology like a comfort blanket, should get hold of professor Kennedy's brilliant Unhappy the Land: the Most Oppressed People Ever, the Irish?

As Maurice Hayes - a Catholic who became a top-level senior Northern Ireland public servant and later an Irish senator - put it, the book "slaughters almost every sacred cow in sight, from the Famine to the Rising, the Ulster Covenant and the Proclamation of the Republic, the Troubles (however labelled retrospectively) and the Civil War".

In his review, Mr Hayes recalled how an elderly Czech lady, the choreographer and Belfast resident Helen Lewis, reacted at the height of the Troubles to cross-community activists bemoaning their mutual victimhood, "intolerable" living conditions, "oppression, discrimination, paramilitary and security-force violence, their unparalleled suffering and the hopelessness of their position".

A survivor of three concentration camps and a forced march, who had lost to the Nazis, among others, her husband, mother and cousins, Mrs Lewis became impatient with the caterwauling and interrupted: "And you think you got troubles!"

So, for MOPEers of all denominations and none, here are a few highlights in Hungarian history.

In the 13th century, between 20% and 50% of the population were wiped out and the country devastated by Mongolian invaders.

In the 16th century, after shattering defeats, it was divided into three parts, one a Turk-occupied province of the Ottoman Empire; another, semi-independent for a time, gradually became its vassal state; and the third was ruled by the Austrian Habsburgs.

Around 150 years of incessant warfare ended with the Hungarians defeating the Turks, but remaining under heavily-resisted Austrian dominion.

After a period of peace under the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Hungary was forced into the First World War by Austria, which drafted four million from the Hungarian kingdom, and was on the losing side.

Post-war, communists were responsible for the Red Terror and royalists for the White Terror.

In the 1920 settlement imposed by the victors of the Great War, Hungary had to surrender two-thirds of its territory: its population went from around 20 million to eight.

Its military losses during the Second World War as a German ally were in the region of 300,000, in addition to about 80,000 civilians, and around 600,000 Jews were murdered.

Then, the Soviet Union took over and, as our taxi driver put it mordantly, forgot to go home until 1991.

The persecution and repression led to the unsuccessful 1956 revolution, in which 20,000 died, mainly from Soviet bullets, after which the communist government killed 400, imprisoned almost 22,000 political opponents and interned 13,000 more.

You get the picture.

I would not want any country to forget its history and I believe victims of the Troubles are all entitled to sympathy, truth and justice, but is there any chance that those who go on and on about the unique suffering of the Irish might get a sense of proportion?

Human beings do terrible things to each other, but, by being so far off the beaten track, this little island has been spared much horror.

Yes, we were occupied and colonised by our nearest neighbour, but we were luckier than most small countries (pause for squawks of MOPE outrage), as it was more benign than most invaders and protected us from all kinds of dreadful alternatives.

The eternal whingeing resembles that so brilliantly satirised in The Life of Brian: "But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"

The British did most of that for us, along with giving us their language, democratic, legal, educational and other institutions, access to all opportunities in their country even after independence and - in the case of Northern Ireland - the right to stay in, or leave, the United Kingdom as the majority decides.

Forget about the self-pitying, ignorant absurdity of MOPE.

LOPE (Least Oppressed People Ever) is nearer to reality.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic, was published by Oneworld Publications on March 22.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards