GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
The PDRY in the imaginary of the Southern movement.
Paper Proposal Text :

The rise of the southern separatist movement is directly related to both the mechanisms under which unification was achieved and perceptions throughout the country of the qualities and faults of the regimes existing prior to unification. It is also based on ‘imagined’ understandings of reality then and now.

Most if not all of the recognised ‘leaders’ of the multiplicity of southern Separatist groups are men who were prominent regime personalities during the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen [PDRY], some from even earlier periods. Indeed, they featured in rival/enemy factions or organisations either during the struggle leading to independence from Britain, or in similarly rival factions within the Socialist regime ruling the PDRY during its 23 years of existence. These rivalries involved considerable bloodshed. The surprising phenomenon of the absence of emergence of a new younger leadership through the 2011 popular uprisings in the south has allowed these elderly men to appear to represent southern visions and hopes.

While, by now, more than half the population was born after unification, the PDRY and, indeed, the colonial period, play a major role in the imaginary of many southern Yemenis, whether they support separatism or unity. Younger southerners have some knowledge of that period from their parents and older relatives and friends, others only through the limited literature on the period. Many manifest considerable interest in learning more about that period.

Prior to unification Yemeni unity was a very popular national slogan, supported by the vast majority of the population. Many southerners saw the YAR as a positive model, particularly given restrictions on travel and therefore the difficulties of visiting it. Even then, visits to Sana’a often led visitors to revise their positions. Since unification there has been a stubborn determination by many southerners to reject any information about life in the rest of the country which did not fit their stereotypical view that ‘northerners oppress southerners’. Similarly the limited personal knowledge of many Yemenis about life elsewhere than in their towns or governorates, as well as their reduced access to media, are all affecting views and empathy.

The paper will discuss
- The role of the former leadership of the YSP in the current separatist movement focusing in particular on their history and earlier rivalries and examining how these are likely to affect the future
- Perceptions of younger people of the pre-unification period and the role this plays in their support or otherwise for separatism
- The revival of tribalism and tribal leadership since unification, and the role this is playing in the current divisions of the southern separatist organisations
- the appeal of the colonial period and leaders from that time, by comparison with that of the socialist period, and the extent to which these are merged

The paper will be based on the direct experience of living in the PDRY under three of its leaders in the 1970s and 1980s, including travel throughout the country, as well as further years of living and working in the ROY during which time I worked for over 2 years in the southern governorates at different times and thus had the opportunity of hearing a wide range of views as well as note the interest of many youth in the previous experience. It will also use the many published academic works on southern separatism, as well as blogs and other ‘modern’ media.