As a Scottish local authority we are generally mindful of our place in the hierarchy of international politics, but nevertheless are so concerned at the manner in which the situation regarding the Memorial in the Howard Park, Kilmarnock, has been reported and commented upon in both the media and social media, and the emotions and controversy which have been stirred as a consequence, that we consider it appropriate to issue this further statement in order to clarify both what has transpired to date and, more importantly, the Council’s current position and future intentions in respect of the Memorial.
As a Council, our core values are hewn from the rich seams of culture and history which form the bedrock of our community today.
We believe in the principle of common humanity – the sentiment that we are all the same under the skin. Or, as we like to put it in these parts, we believe that “We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns”.
We also believe all human life is of equal value and the loss of any human life other than by natural causes should always be a matter of regret to society.
These were also the values of our predecessor, Kilmarnock and Loudoun District Council, which informed their decision to install the memorial in memory of those from our twin town of Sukhumi who died in the violent conflict in 1992/1993. Not those who fell fighting for, or by the hand of, one side or the other, but simply all of those from Sukhumi whose lives were lost. This was intended as a meaningful gesture of support and concern from one civic authority to another, recognising the twin town relationship which was in place at that time.
It is those same egalitarian values which have caused this Council to continue to maintain and respect the memorial since 1996 when East Ayrshire Council was formed, just as we respectfully maintain the War Memorial in Kilmarnock in honour of own lost and fallen from past conflicts.
That had been the case for almost 25 years without any prior incident or controversy until recent events.
In that regard, when the matter was first raised with the Council, and the Scottish Government, by the Georgian Embassy, the Council quite appropriately sought a view from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office through the Scottish Government in order to reach a properly informed decision as to how best to respond to the issues raised, in so far as they related to matters of UK foreign policy.
Similarly, in order to cover all the possible outcomes, a request was made to have the memorial assessed by a professional stonemason in order to obtain confirmation whether any alterations which might be proposed were technically feasible and, if so, for an estimate of costs. Again, this was simply done in order to inform the decision making process and to cover all of the possible range of responses, noting that the permanent removal of the memorial was never likely to be the preferred outcome.
Unfortunately, whilst the request was made with the intention of having a stonemason inspect the memorial in situ in the Howard Park, instead the Council’s contractor, unaware of the political context to this operational request, followed their normal operating procedure and removed the memorial to a stonemason’s yard, on a temporary basis, to allow the assessment to be carried out pending a decision being taken. Whilst that was not the initial intention, once it was reported back to the Council that this had in fact occurred the sensible approach at the time appeared to be to leave the memorial at the stonemason’s yard pending a final decision on matters. On reflection, recognising the hurt and controversy which has ensued the Council would simply wish to acknowledge that to be the case and apologise for having unwittingly set off the subsequent chain of events which followed.
Having done so, and having fully considered all representations received from all quarters over the past few weeks the Council would now like to confirm its position as follows.
Against this background, the Council hereby confirms its intention to restore the memorial to its original location, without any changes being made at this time, and to invite all parties who are minded to assist to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the aim of establishing a universally acceptable alternative wording and content, which the Council will then be pleased to put in place.
That way the Memorial can continue to serve its intended purpose as an expression of remembrance and compassion towards all families of Sukhumi who lost their loved ones during this conflict, and perhaps also, looking forward, as a symbol to mark the conclusion of the current ongoing conflict resolution processes. The Council will also install an information board next to the Memorial which explains the current position and advises of the ongoing dialogue.
In the meantime, we would conclude by simply encouraging all interested parties to reflect on the words of one of Ayrshire’s most famous sons, our own Robert Burns, whose well known work “A Man’s A Man for A’ That” concludes:
“Then let us pray that come it may,
(as come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’
For a’ that, and a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world
Shall brothers be for a’ that.”