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This man has killed a fragile democracy
Wednesday 24 May 2000

FIJI'S 30-year experiment with democracy is finally over. Wounded in 1987 by Rabuka and recovered by chiefs and Indians since, it has been given the last rites by George Speight.

The largely urban areas of Fiji are dominated by the educated indigenous and Indian elite. They, like most Australians, will be outraged by what has happened.

But rural Fiji, where the traditional Fijian spirit resides, is village-based and less educated in democratic values. It is these Fijians who have never understood why their vanua (country) needs to be run by anyone but Fijians. In this heartland, they will, through their chiefs and matanivanua (traditional spokesmen), be supporting George and praying that he succeeds. Not because of the guns he has pointed at the heads of his hostages; not because of the hidden hands of power and influence that are behind him; but because he speaks to the constant in their hearts: that is, to run Fiji on their own, in their own way.

In 1874, Fijian chiefs accepted the rule of Britain. Five years later, they accepted British advice to permit Indian labor on their shores in return for a greater share in the economic prosperity of the colony. By the 1930s, the Fijian people saw they were going to be left behind numerically, educationally and economically by their Indian population. Prophets such as Apolosi Nawai from Wainibuka arose, preaching an economic nationalism. He was soon put in his place by chiefly collusion with colonial authorities.

After World War II, Lauan chief Ratu Sukuna, who had been groomed to lead the Fijian people into the modern world, reluctantly accepted Ratu Mara as his successor. By the 1960s, preparations were under way for independence under the rule of Ratu Mara. Nationalist taukei (landowner) hopes were on the rise with him, but when independence arrived in 1970 these ordinary Fijians were dismayed by the constitutional deal stitched up by Ratu Mara and others of the Indian elite: the deal failed to guarantee indigenous political sovereignty for Fiji.

By 1977, another prophet had arisen, Sakeasi Butadroka from Rewa. His call for Fijian political sovereignty and for the repatriation of Indians by Britain helped earn him a jail term under Ratu Mara's rule. While Mara was erecting his own edifice of statesmanship, Butadroka was establishing his appeal as the charismatic conscience of the indigenous mind.

To Fijians who eventually became the "taukei movement" of the 1980s, a local hero was required to establish their dream of a Fijian state against the democratic grain of the Mara era. Rabuka proved to be the man of the hour - in May 1987 a soldier with credentials, who was confident, Christian and nationalist, took government away from the democratic process and promised to reinvent it on strictly indigenous political values.

By the end of the 1990s, nothing of the sort had eventuated and the nationalist movement, frayed and bitter, lost faith in Rabuka as well as Mara. Rabuka's demise at last year's election was the proof of how far his star had fallen among indigenous Fijians who had originally supported and legitimated him in 1987.

Now, the nationalist dream is again on the march. This time, it is in the hands of a rising indigenous "new class" who are typically embodied in George Speight - educated, articulate and impatient to flex their expertise in the political arena. His attempt to realise it may not last very long but his demise, when it comes, will not be the end of the nationalists and their cause. Far from it; they will simply wait until another opportunity offers itself and another champion steps forward.

Given Ratu Mara's age, that may not be very long. And the question then will be: who will have the traditional authority and quality of character to hold back the forces of destruction and bloodshed on that occasion?

Fijian-born Dr Robert Wolfgramm lectures at Monash University's School of Political Social Inquiry.


Posted as a general awareness article about events in the Southern Pacific. Surprisingly important developments down here, although Americans might consider it rather borish in the whole scheme of things. This article presents a broad overview of those things that brought about the last six days in Fiji.

Regards from OZ

-- Pieter (, May 23, 2000


Pieter, not to make light of the tribulations down under, but we have one crafty son-of-bitch chief here that we suspect of wholesale, fulltime sellout, so we're rather preoccupied. We can only wonder what the low life, traitor will do next. We hear he is occupied with his legacy; Is that a friggin joke or what?

-- KoFE (your@town.USA), May 23, 2000.


You shouldn't critize Ronnie. He is ill. This is not appropriate.

Pieter: Regardless of whether you support the global economy, this is just another example of a people rejecting it and dooming themselves to poverty. We see it on a regular basis. It is a mean world; if you reject it you must pay the price.

Or so it seems. Really.

Best wishes,,,,,

-- Z1X4Y7 (, May 23, 2000.

Hello KoFE,
This forum been getting a dose of the religion so I thought it best to continue the various other news bits-n-pieces that makes this generally an informing place. I think the show in America will preoccupy you mob and the rest will just get on with it. Don't be surprised that this Fiji thing is not just isolated. Unrest is happening all through the Pacific belt, but you might not hear.

Howdy Z,
Sometimes I think there is nothing rational about the global economy when American economic hiccups can effectively spread sorrow elsewhere. This Fiji thing is not just about global stuff swaying the palms. It also includes a swag of issues that seem almost unresolvable; issues like Japanese over-fishing and rainforest tree harvesting, intrusionism and sovereignty questions for the indigenous people. Toss in some woeful mal-administration and democracy is out. It's happening all over the region, up the island chain into Papua and the Philipines, Indonesia and SE Asia including Burma. Lovely...


-- Pieter (, May 24, 2000.


It's hard to have a Fijian nation when there's really nothing but a collection of tribes ans European and Indian citizens who have no place to fit into Fjian culture. This is going to be a continuing problem, I'm afraid. The current crisis seems to be a creation of the army and Fijian nationalists with George Speight as their front man.

We'er going to be in Fiji on June 3 and sail around the Yasawa Islands until the 17th. I'll post something when I get back on what I see there, assuming I'm not taken hostage :^)

-- Jim Cooke (, May 24, 2000.

Z, are you a globalst and Clinton lover too? Goodness, gracious, just be thankful you are'nt a close friend; it cold be bad for your health....

-- KoFE (your@town.USA), May 24, 2000.

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