Fiji Coup Supplement


14 June 2000


Fiji, and knee-jerk New Zealand
by Ross Nepia Himona


Reflecting on the knee-jerk response of Aotearoa New Zealand after a month of crisis in Fiji, perhaps we can draw out some lessons on where we are in our own development as a nation. Immaturity and insecurity are the two descriptors that immediately spring to mind.

Immaturity, in that we as a nation have displayed very little understanding of the root causes of the crisis in Fiji, and even less inclination to want to understand. Politicians, media and others have instead resorted to simplistic one-sided and one-eyed analysis, and even more simplistic condemnation, not just of the coup makers, but of anyone else who dares to express any sympathy for the indigenous Fijians and their concerns.

In general New Zealand has blindly denied the validity of indigenous Fijian concerns, and refused to even countenance the possibility that there are two sides to the ethnic conclict in Fiji. And that attitudes of Indo-Fijians might equally be blamed for that ethnic conflict, which is part of the cause of unrest in Fiji.

Having said that, I have absolutely not said that either Indo-Fijians or indigenous Fijians in general are to blame for the coup, which is quite clearly not the case. I have also not said, or even thought, that I support in any way the actions of the coup makers, whoever they all really are. I have also not said or in any way indicated that I do not acknowledge and understand the genuine needs and concerns of the Indo-Fijian.

I have just pointed out that it takes two to tango.

Perhaps I should also add that I simply accept as an observer that what has happened in Fiji has happened, and that nothing I say or do is going to change that. I personally don't have any need to jump up and down and add my outrage to that of the screaming hordes. I am more concerned to understand why it happened, and thereby to understand what might realistically be done to remove the causes, and to bring Fiji to a state of long lasting peace and harmony.

I am concerned also that without that understanding, amateurish New Zealand brokered solutions, like that in Bougainville, serve only to paper over the cracks, and are not lasting, long-term solutions.

New Zealand has generally denied the possibility that the Reeves Report and the consequent 1997 Fijian Constitution might be deeply flawed, and one of the many root causes of the present unrest in Fiji, leading to the unlawful coup. The level of debate in Aotearoa New Zealand is so puerile that anyone who questions the workability of that constitution, and promotes the making of a new constitution that works to genuinely accommodate the needs and concerns of all citizens of Fiji, is accused of being anti-democratic, and of supporting the actions of George Speight.

In pointing out the validity of the desire of different indigenous tribes and confederations in Fiji to attain greater constitutional autonomy, akin to the autonomy they had exercised for centuries before colonisation, one is accused of advocating a return to tribalism, and blithely accused of promoting a dictatorial and anti-democratic form of governance. A huge leap in logic.

To suggest that the newly engineered electoral system, designed and used for the first time in 1999, has itself produced inequities in parliamentary representation, and is another cause of the unrest leading to the coup, is to be accused of being opposed to the one-man one-vote system of democracy, and to support George Speight and his pronouncements.

Suggesting too that there are many very responsible indigenous Fijian leaders who are committed to an eventual return to constitutional democracy, and that they will eventually prevail over those who are otherwise inclined, brings accusations of being blind to reality.

Pointing out that there are genuine concerns surrounding the leasing and the use of indigenous Fijian land is no more rewarding, and is greeted with incredulity, given that indigenous Fijians own nearly all the land. Owning land, and getting a fair return from that land, are however two different things. Many Maori landowners know well that scenario.

To point to the obvious, that this whole mess is the legacy of a British colonial heritage, and that the problems caused by British rule have still not been remedied, even after many years of independence, is to be accused of being backward looking and racist, and of blaming whites for the failures of indigenous Fijians, and as an aside, for the failures of Maori.

To promote these genuine concerns of indigenous Fijian people brings howls and accusations of being anti-Indian, and racist.

All of this displays our immaturity as a nation in this region. It shows through our collective lack of understanding of our close neighbours, and collective unwillingness to want to understand anything beyond our own narrow and limited worldview, that we are, as a nation, not yet of this region.

Which leads me to the insecurity of Aotearoa New Zealand, or more precisely, the New Zealand part.

Many of the concerns of indigenous Fijians reflect similar concerns and grievances of the indigenous Maori of Aotearoa New Zealand. After a month of crisis in Fiji it is now obvious to me that this is one of the underlying reasons for the quite paranoid response to the crisis, by politicians and media and others in Aotearoa New Zealand.

It is a response deep-seated in fear and insecurity.

I have personally found that often, when I point out the genuine concerns of indigenous Fijians, and the similarity of some Maori concerns, I am accused of somehow advocating a return to tribal government in New Zealand, and of advocating the subjugation of all Pakeha to Maori-only rule. It is of course a ridiculous response, and at the extreme end of responses, but it serves to illustrate how and why the Fijian crisis is troubling the collective sub-conscious of Pakeha New Zealand.

I am not saying that all or most Pakeha New Zealanders have displayed these attitudes. However the large volume of email I have received over the last month, making that and similarly extreme accusations, indicates that there is still a deep and strong vein of fear and insecurity in this country.

The visible end of this fear and insecurity is displayed by the moral indignation, and the self righteous pontification and sermonising, of our Foreign Minister, Phil Goff. It is also visible in the Government's inability to act as the friend it claims to be, with sympathy, support and understanding, choosing instead to hurl invective and threats across the seas. It is well established that bullying behaviour is rooted in fear and insecurity..

Why else would that be so, other than that they too are somehow fearful of the consequences of the Fiji crisis in and to Aotearoa New Zealand. And deeply immature and insecure as a result of that sub-conscious fear.

It indicates also the strong values laden approach of this government to foreign affairs, inclined to want to meddle in the internal affairs of smaller neighbours, but frustrated at their inablility to force our neighbours to think and live as they self-righteously think we do, in a democratic heaven, surrounded by political heathens. Thank goodness we don't have an external intelligence agency, in the CIA mold. We would be positively dangerous in this region.

So we have decided to withhold visas for up to 85 supporters of the coup, and for two Fijian rugby teams, to "send a very clear message to Fiji that life does not go on as usual when a democratically elected parliament is removed by an act of force".

Despite what these so-called smart sactions are supposedly designed to do, it seems to me to be an acting-out of the personal indignation and frustration of immature and insecure politicians, and a somewhat surperflous and ineffective message. Perhaps also designed for home consumption more than for Fiji, and for the benefit also of the large number of Indo-Fijian voters in Auckland.

Reflecting on the knee-jeerk response of Aotearoa New Zealand after a month of crisis in Fiji, I'm saddened by our immaturity and insecurity as a nation, and not optimistic that we are collectively committed to growing up


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