Te Karere Ipurangi
Fiji Coup Supplement
May 26, 2000 - 11.00am
FIJI - Who Cares what the Commonwealth Thinks
In all the comment on Fiji by politicians and the media, I have not heard one workable suggestion to show how Fiji might reach a solution to this crisis, without bloodshed.
It is all very well to insist that the constitution be upheld, that George Speight and his controllers are criminals and terrorists and must be punished, that democracy must be upheld, and that the Bose Levu Vakaturaga must not give in to the hostage takers. It's all very well to threaten ex-communication from the Commonwealth. But what can be done, I ask you, without bloodshed?
Our politicians and media are mostly being driven by their passion and emotional revulsion about the event eight days ago, and are not at all realistic about a workable solution for Fiji today, that Fiji can live with. Vocal European bystanders may be able to live with bloodshed, as long as the solution satisfies their tender sensibilities and principles. Fiji cannot. Let us hope that they do not have to.
None of us condone what was done, and few of us will be satisfied with the outcome. Major General Sitiveni Rabuka has indicated that he is of the same opinion, and is not happy that the chiefs are being blackmailed. Yet regardless of the rights and wrongs, and regardless of what we think, it is General Rabuka and Ratu Mara and the Bose Levu Vakaturanga who must craft a way forward, that Fiji can live with for the moment, no matter how imperfect.
I listened to New Zealand's Foreign Minister, Phil Goff, on TV last night. The thing I noticed is that this crisis has gone on long enough for him to move his stance from outraged knee-jerk to outraged rationalisation, based on convenient principle. He doesn't have to live in Fiji with the consequences of his principles.
In talking about international condemnation last night Goff cited a list of countries that have engaged in this condemnation. It is no coincidence that his list was all white.
In 1987 a Labour government found strong resistence to Australia and New Zealand's attempts to force the non-white South Pacific nations to openly condemn Fiji. Our politicians seemed impervious to the resentment Australia and New Zealand generated throughout the Pacific in 1987, with their overbearing insistence on the European Way. They're doing it again. The only reason Pacific nations put up with Australia and New Zealand in the South Pacific Forum is that they are heavily reliant on financial aid from those two countries.
The unfailing politeness of Pacific peoples towards guests and hosts alike is totally misinterpreted by Australia and New Zealand Europeans as unconditional friendliness, compliance and agreement.
The lack of enthusiasm, even abhorrence, for loud public condemnation of neighbours is often misinterpreted as endorsement, and sometimes as apathy. It is in fact the preferred non-response of Pacific cultures, which value sympathetic understanding, and the preservation of relationships, above the Anglo-European need to express opinions and outrage. In international relationships and diplomacy it is usually only the white countries that jump up and down. They need to learn that their way is not the only way, and not even the predominant way, albeit the loudest.
Did you notice that most African countries did not leap into the international media to condemn Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe? Just the white countries of the Commonwealth.
Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and sometimes Canada, use the Commonwealth to legitimise their own foreign policy attitudes, without any understanding of what the non-white countries in the Commonwealth really think. Once again a lack of strong response from non-white countries does not signify agreement.
The threat of expulsion from the Commonwealth seems to be the main sanction being considered by Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the Commonwealth Secretariat, led by New Zealander Don McKinnon.
Expulsion should be welcomed by Fiji, for the sooner this vestige of British colonialism disappears the better. The structures have changed since the days of the British Empire, but the colonial attitudes have not.
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