Ist Südtirol Italien? A Brief Explanation of The South-Tyrol Problem

Quick Facts South TyrolNestled in Italy’s scenic north-east, amongst the Dolomite mountain range, lies the autonomous province of Alto Adige. While such a description may encourage the intrusion of any number of images stereotypically Italian into one’s mind, thoughts of pizza, pasta and wine would in most cases be misplaced within the region. Südtirol is the more commonly used term, strudel and schnitzel the more commonly eaten food, and German the more commonly spoken language. For South Tyrol is an Austrian-enclave within Italy, populated predominantly by ethnic Germans and locked within a foreign land as a result of decades old geopolitical arrangements closely tied to the alliances made during the World Wars. As Austrian nationalism flares in the wake of the rise of the far-right Freedom Party, are tensions growing between Rome and Vienna?

Italian designs on this historically German-speaking region can be traced back to the Napoleonic Era. Napoleon, in a bid to supplant the power of the various German micro-states, divided the Tyrol region between Bavaria and the Kingdom of Italy. While the division did not last long due to Tyrol’s reunification under Austro-Hungarian administration at the Congress of Vienna, South-Tyrol’s association with the wider Italian region had been ingrained into the ideology of many Italian nationalists. The eventual unification of Italy, achieved in spite of Austro-Hungarian aggression, sparked calls for the incorporation of ‘unredeemed lands’ or Irredenta into the Kingdom of Italy. Irredenta refers to lands which Italian nationalists believed historically to be a part of a ‘greater Italy’, including lands with large Italian populations such as the Dalmatian coast and Malta, as well as ‘lost’ territories, such as South Tyrol. Italian claims over the region were exploited by the Entente powers during the First World War, when the land was promised to Rome as part of the Treaty of London, should the Italians switch allegiance in the conflict. Initially the transition was largely inconsequential, however this would change as fascism grew in Italy.

In April 1921, as part of the rising militancy in Italian nationalism, a German-cultural parade held in the regions capital, Bozen, was attacked by hundreds of armed fascists. A local teacher was shot dead during the attacks, and while the Italian Prime Minister ordered arrests, the increasingly powerful Benito Mussolini threatened to intervene on behalf of the fascists should such an order be carried out. This precipitated South Tyrol’s Italianisation, manifest in the banning of the use of German in public office, the mass closure of German schools and the encouragement of ethnic Italian immigration. Moreover, fascism began to grow as an ideology amongst native Tyrolians, who had their allegiances blurred by the increasing co-operation between Hitler’s National Socialist government (governors of Austria subsequent to the 1938 Anschluss) and Mussolini’s fascist regime. Hitler, despite justifying his invasion of Czechoslovakia as an effort to regain territories populated by ethnic German communities, displayed no particular desire for South Tyrol. Thus came the South-Tyrol Option Agreement, which encouraged Tyrolian emigration into Germany or an acceptance of the Italianisation of South Tyrol. While many Tyrolians left their homeland, the fall of Nazism precipitated the return of most.

South Tyrol
South Tyrol’s seen nestled within The Alps, sandwiched between Austria and Italy. (Google Earth)

While the end of the Second World War saw the solidification of many western European borders, the post-war settlement for Tyrol has harboured grievances which have flared up routinely ever since. The Gruber-De Gasperi Agreement saw South Tyrol remain part of Italy but with greater autonomy within the Trentino-Tyrol region. The combination of Tyrol with Trentino rendered the region an Italian majority and was seen by many as an attempt to dilute the influence of ethnic Germans within Italian politics. Moreover, government endorsed Italian migration into the area saw the ethnic German population fall from ninety percent to sixty percent between 1880 and 1960.  This caused growing resentment, and throughout the 1960s a violent terrorist organisation known as the Committee for the Liberation of South Tyrol attacked Italian monuments, infrastructure and officials. Under both internal and external Austrian pressure, a second agreement was made. The agreement stipulated greater autonomy for South-Tyrol, as well as the referral of disputes in the region to The Hague. This, combined with the freedom of movement made possible by the European Union, as well as the declaration of a wider Tyrol ‘Euroregion’, saw a sharp decline in Tyrolian separatism.

The Südtirolfräge, or South Tyrol question, has been awoken in recent months by the rise of the far-right Freedom Party within Austria. The Freedom Party, who form part of the coalition government, strongly support the Tyrolian secessionist movement and unification with Austria. This has compelled Sebastian Kurz to offer some residents of the region Austrian citizenship. The decision has been praised and condemned along the same lines by opposing secessionists and Italian nationalists, who believe the door has been opened for an independence referendum. Italians see citizenship as an attempt to strengthen Austrian claims over South Tyrol and a delegitimising of their own rule. As nationalism rises within Austria, and secessionism gathers momentum in Tyrol, it seems likely that the century-old South Tyrol question will need to be answered once again in the coming years. Polls tend to indicate that a majority of ethnic Germans in South-Tyrol support secession. When the Italian and Ladin population are included, polls tend to fall short of fifty percent. The Austrian far-right are likely to stoke this simmering ethnic division, supported by the secessionist political movements, including the Freedom Party-aligned Die Freiheitlichen. After their much-maligned ambivalence towards Madrid’s brutal suppression of the push for Catalan independence, Tyrol may be the next opportunity for the European Union to prove their aptitude in dealing with the ever-increasing secessionism within the bloc.


SOURCES

www.euronews.com/2017/12/19/dual-nationality-is-just-the-beginning-says-south-tyrol-independence-campaigner

www.theguardian.com/education/2014/may/30/south-tyrol-live-in-italy-feel-austrian

www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/18/austrias-new-government-stokes-secessionist-row-northern-italy/

www.corriere.it/english/18_gennaio_25/anti-semitic-statue-south-tyrol-refuses-to-be-budged-7909f980-01e5-11e8-9ff2-341a2fe0297c.shtml

Photos:

Cover Image – www.gegenargument.at

Google Earth

The United States, Japan, and the Subjugation of Okinawa

The relocation of the United States Marine Corps Base at Futenma, Okinawa, has long-been a controversial subject within Japanese politics. Plans to relocate the base to Camp Schwab, in the island’s far north, have stagnated in recent years as a result of prolonged local protest. Now, following the election of the pro-Tokyo mayoral candidate Taketoyo Toguchi in Okinawa’s Nago City, PM Abe has expressed his relief in finally being at liberty to press ahead with the American relocation. This does not however reveal the full story of Okinawa, former independent Kingdom turned Japan’s poorest prefecture, and their century of subjugation.

Quick Facts Okinawa

Okinawa has a long and vibrant culture. Alongside the remainder of the Ryukyu Island chain Okinawa formed the Ryukyu Kingdom, a major trading post in Medieval Asia. Famous for its porcelain, trade with China resulted in significant Ming Dynasty influence, including widespread immigration from China. Following the 1609 invasion of the Japanese Satsuma Domain, the blend of Chinese and Japanese influence resulted in the emergence of a unique Okinawan culture, complete with its own distinct languages. Local trade evolved into trade with the wider world, with the Ryukyu island ports serving as the only stages within which European traders could access Japanese markets during the period of isolationism.

The relative liberty enjoyed within Ryukyu ended in 1879, when the Empire of Japan formally annexed the archipelago, establishing the Okinawa Prefecture. King Sho Tai was exiled to Tokyo, and with a policy of colonisation which would soon be replicated in Korea and wider Southeast Asia, indigenous Ryukyuan culture and language were systemically repressed. The Japanese language was made standard, and ‘dialect speakers’ were publicly shamed. The intense labour which formed the backbone of the Tokyo-engineered Okinawan economy led to mass emigration, primarily to industrial cities on the mainland such as Osaka. When the Second World War broke out, Okinawans were one of many communities who felt threatened by the expansionist and brutal imperial Japanese regime. Their fears were not misplaced, as the Battle of Okinawa, one of the most significant battles of the Pacific War, saw over a third of the native civilian population killed. Many of these died as a result of Japanese propaganda, which portrayed the Americans as monsters, leading to suicide.

Defeat during the war saw Japanese domination on Okinawa replaced by US military domination. From 1950 until 1972 the US Civil Administration of the Ryuku Islands was the de facto government in Okinawa. The US dollar was the currency, cars drove on the right, and a proliferation of US military installations were installed across the island, cemented by the 1960 Status of Forces Agreement. The US military presence has long been seen as an invasive presence, a disrupter of Okinawan peace, a factor which ties the island and islanders lives to American conflicts such as Korea and Vietnam. The Okinawa Prefecture was returned to Japanese control in 1971, however the US military presence, encompassing 19% of Okinawa, remained. Seen as an amalgamation of American and Japanese oppression, grievances towards the US military presence came to a head in 1995, when three US servicemen were convicted of the rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl. The mass protestations prompted suggestions of a reduction in the US military presence, as well as a relocation of the Futenma Air Station. This wasn’t enough for many Okinawans, and rejections of the Camp Schwab relocation made on both environmental and anti-military grounds have resulted in a decades long stagnation of the proposals.

Okinawans continue to be let down by a Tokyo Government which values their military strategic partnership more than the will of its own citizens. Local opposition was signified when in November 2014, the anti-US base candidate Takeshi Onaga was elected as the Okinawan Governor. This hindered any immediate progression of the base relocation. While this may be viewed in stark contrast to the more recent of the pro-relocation mayor in Nago City, it is worth bearing in mind that Okinawa is the poorest Prefecture in Japan. Child poverty stands at 37%, almost three times higher than the national average. When faced with such neglect, candidates stressing their desire for economic growth are bound to be favoured by those affected. Taketoyo Toguchi ran such a campaign. While Shinzo Abe saw this as a greenlight for the long-stagnant relocation project, perhaps the clear cry from Nago’s high poverty rates should have been the overriding message to adhere from the result of the vote. Opposition to the US-military presence is undoubtedly still widespread, however this is offset by the poor economic conditions on the island. While Japan continues to bend to the American will, little will change in Okinawa. The islanders will continue to resist, as they have done for centuries.


SOURCES

Pax Sinica: China Goes Global

We are living in the Chinese century. This is what economic forecasters would have you believe. With economic pre-eminence often comes cultural hegemony, evidenced by the overpowering Americanisation of global society. Jeans, burgers, hip hop – America is everywhere. Conservative forecasters estimate that the Chinese Economy will pass that of the US by 1930 – suggesting that the coming decades could see a penetration of Chinese influence around the world, akin to that enjoyed by the States in the years subsequent to the Second World War. Despite the historical isolationism prevalent in Chinese culture, evidence of such an emergence is already apparent. Originally manifest in Han encroachment into traditional Tibetan, Uyghur and Mongol lands within the boundary of what we would now define as China, Beijing’s reach is now going global.

One area in which Chinese influence is flexing is in the vast and sparsely populated lands which lay to the north in Siberia. The Asian part of Russia accounts for three quarters of the countries’ land mass, yet is home to just forty million people. The Chinese, who number some 90 million in the borderlands, have a long association with the area, which the Russians captured from them in 1860 during their ‘century of humiliation’. Importation of raw materials from Siberia-based Russian companies has formed a significant portion of Chinese manufacturing sector in recent decades. More recently however these have been supplanted by Siberia-based Chinese companies, harnessing these materials from their source and churning out finished products within Russian territory. With this has come a steady in-flow of ethnic Han workers, and with them Chinese oriented facilities.

While the traditionally Russian ethnic groups of Siberia are declining in population size, the Chinese are steadily increasing their presence. Aside from the stronghold in Vladivostok, Moscow’s influence east of the Ural’s is waning, something which some might expect would endear a response from the usually hard-line Vladimir Putin. Such a response has however not been made by the Kremlin, and instead efforts have been made to facilitate the Chinese population. The most striking testament to this is the development of multiple casinos in the area, all heavily targeted at Chinese clientele. Such a facilitation suggests that Moscow is willing to accommodate the slowly increasing Chinese foothold in Siberia, possibly in order to coerce the soon-to-be economically dominant Beijing into a closer trading partnership. It may also be the case that the Chinese reclamation of Siberia is considered an inevitability, and Moscow considers it best to accommodate a friendly Beijing to its east while focusing on the steadily increasing NATO presence to its west.

As Beijing’s influence is spreading to the north, a similar affect is occurring to the south. Across the all but subdued Tibetan Plateau – remember those guys? – China is heavily investing in Pakistan. Known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or CPEC, the project focuses heavily on the modernisation of Pakistani transport links in a deal valued at 62 billion dollars. While revolutionising the Pakistani economy, the deal also facilitates Chinese trade by shortening cargo ship routes in and out of Europe and Africa substantially. To this end, plans for a Chinese naval base in the Pakistani port of Balochistan have been announced. The announcement of such a deal demonstrates Beijing’s independence in international and military affairs, particularly when given the recent anti-Pakistan stance employed by Donald Trump’s US administration. The strengthening ties between China and Pakistan will also serve to frustrate Pakistan’s eternal enemy, India. While any strengthening of it’s north-western neighbour, with whom they have been in a perpetual state of war with since British partition in 1947, Beijing’s presence in Lahore will get alarm bells ringing in Delhi. Territorial disputes in Askai Chin and Doklam have left Sino-Indian relations frosty. Moreover, the growing Chinese presence in Myanmar and Bangladesh also leaves India at risk of being isolated within its own backyard. It remains to be seen whether these two ever-expanding economic powerhouses can facilitate each other in the same neighbourhood. The ancient division provided by the mighty Himalayan mountains grows smaller every day.

china madagascar
Agricultural workers protest the presence of a Chinese gold mine in rural Madagascar.

Beyond its territorial borders, Beijing is also leading development projects in Africa and Indian Ocean nations. Through carefully planned ‘special economic zones’, which establish China-friendly financial stipulations unrepresentative of that of the host nation, Chinese business is thriving in nations like Kenya, Mauritius and Madagascar. Such nations governments are more than willing to do business with China, having grown weary and suspicious of western governments following centuries of colonial exploitation. In Kenya, the steady increasing in Chinese businesses in sectors such as infrastructure and mineral extraction has seen an explosion in Nairobi’s Chinese population. With this has come restaurants, hotels and casinos advertising exclusively in Mandarin and tailored specifically for Chinese personnel. This has proven controversial, particularly during a scandal during which black African patrons were turned away from a Chinese restaurant. Anti-Chinese protests have also gathered strength in Madagascar, where demonstrations have taken place against gold-mining companies as a result of their encroachment into traditionally rural communities. Nonetheless, Chinese investment is the backbone of many African economies. This is no more visible than in Mauritius, where many China-led development projects have emerged, including renovation of the island nations airport terminal. Such projects have led to the emergence of Chinese enclaves on the island, with Chinese-oriented facilities emerging akin to those now found in Nairobi. Such a growth of influence in a continent with which the Chinese have such little historical ties to beyond the voyages of Zheng He demonstrates that as the Chinese economy grows so does its international influence.

Beijing’s growth is not only being felt within ‘developing’ nations or sparsely populated lands, but also within advanced western nations. Take Britain for example, who as they turn away from the EU are beginning to court the soon-to-be largest world economy as a potential future trade partner. The foundations of the modern UK-China relationship were laid as the Union Jack lowered for the final time in Hong Kong, signalling London’s acceptance that China’s will could no longer be ignored and should be adhered to in the national interest. Before the EU referendum, Chinese investment in the UK had been heavily focused on during Xi Jinping’s 2015 British state visit, during which the President dined with the Queen, as well as David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn. The visit resulted in business agreements worth 40 billion pounds and an extension of Chinese visitor visas from six months to two years. Post-Brexit, it is likely that China will be seen as an avenue for British trade, as well as a source for the international students upon which its Universities so heavily depend. The impact the increased Chinese presence within Britain will have both economically and socially remains to be seen.

The rise of China and its increasing economic footprint worldwide bears a striking resemblance to that of the post-WWII rise of the United States. Such a rise to economic hegemony often leads to an increased military presence to defend those interests, and this has already manifest itself with the construction of Chinese Naval Bases in Djibouti and Pakistan. The third wave of hegemony usually comes in the form of social exportation. The seeming inevitability of such a development may seem intimidating, however is such a universal dominance detrimental to world society? Many nations have benefited from the US-led new world order, particularly those in Eastern Europe, in economic, military and social terms. People broadly like burgers, or rather their accessibility to US-style fast food, they like jeans, they like hip-hop. This would evidently be contested in other areas of the world, something which would likely be reflected with regards to an equally encompassing Chinese hegemon. China is already preparing itself for dominance of the international order, facilitated by a westernisation of its own culture. Chinese youth are learning English, studying abroad, and travelling the world. Football, the world’s game, is seeing heavy Chinese investment, with the Chinese Super League signing some of the biggest names in the sport.  Shanghai recently saw the opening of a Disney Park. As the world opens itself up to China economically, the Chinese are opening themselves up to the world socially, facilitating the steady incorporation of a dominant Beijing into international society as the soon-to-be hegemon of the twenty-first century.

J G Middleton

Landlocked in Latin America: Bolivia’s Fight to Regain A Coastline

The Bolivian Navy boasts around 5,000 sailors. In some indexes it ranks 13th in the world in terms of commissioned naval craft, between the military powers of Turkey and South Korea. Día del Mar, or ‘Day of the Sea’, is held annually on the 23rd of March and is one of Bolivia’s largest national celebrations. Such a fixation with the sea may seem bizarre for a country without a coastline. Bolivia however was not always landlocked, and this was rather the result of territorial losses during a late nineteenth-century war, with the reclamation of the lost coastal lands being a key issue within the nations’ politics ever since.

As the dust settled following the collapse of the Spanish Empire in Latin America, and the newly independent South American states set about cementing their territorial boundaries, the western Atacama Desert became the centre of a diplomatic row which would eventually erupt into war. At the time, the coastal area known as Litoral Department was occupied in the north by Peru, centrally by Bolivia, and to the south by Chile. In 1878 in violation of a treaty signed four years earlier, the Bolivian authorities imposed new taxes on a Chilean company working in the Bolivian area of the province. In response, the Chilean military occupied the port of Antofagasta, triggering a Bolivian declaration of war. This also brought Peru into the conflict on Bolivia’s side, as a secret alliance had been signed between the two countries in 1873.  The war went disastrously for the Bolivian-Peruvian Alliance. The Chilean army overwhelmed the Bolivians, taking Litoral province, while Lima was occupied, and the Peruvian territory of Arica occupied.

While the loss of a nations coastline will undeniably have dealt a major symbolic blow to a relatively young Bolivian republic, the ramifications of the loss of the coastline run deeper than that. For the former Litoral Department is a mineral rich area, comprising 400 kilometers of coastline and 120,00 square kilometres of territory. Home to silver and copper mines, as well as nitrate deposits, the region is an economic artery to any nation in possession of it. Following the war, Chile’s economy enjoyed a major upturn as a result of the acquisition of this territory its associated resources. Chile remains the largest exporter of copper in the world. This is contrasted by the underdevelopment which has defined modern Bolivian economics. Without access to the coast, Bolivia has struggled to export sufficiently, and has relied largely on tariffed routes through other Latin American countries. While this was remedied to a limited extent by the Arica-La Paz Railway, built during an early twentieth century rapprochement between Bolivia and Chile, the stagnation of Bolivia’s economy can largely be attributed to the loss of Litoral. The Antofagasta Province, as Litoral is now known, is Chile’s largest recognised region, and has a population of around 350,000, larger than that of the Bolivian capital in Sucre. The success of Chile’s administration in the area has only served to maintain anti-Chilean sentiment, both on the part of Bolivia and Peru.

Peru, like Bolivia, maintains a long-standing feud with Chile concerning Peruvian provinces captured by the Chilean army during the War of the Pacific. Files recently declassified under Donald Trump’s administration were commented on by Evo Morales, the Bolivian President, as having revealed an offer in 1975 made by Chile regarding a 10km corridor providing Bolivia with sovereign access to the sea. This was likely made in order to win the favour of the Bolivian’s in any future hot or cold Chilean-Peruvian conflict. The offer, for reasons unknown, was never acted upon. Latin American nations continue to utilise Bolivia’s national desire for a coastline to their advantage. In 2010, Peru signed a 99-year allowing the Bolivian Navy to use its dock facilities. The Navy, formed in 1969, is currently based on Lake Titicaca. A similar deal has been struck with Argentina, allowing the Bolivian Navy to patrol the Desaguadero River freely. It is no coincidence that both Peru and Argentina have long standing disputes with Chile as they struggle to coerce the Bolivian’s into an alliance.

In a speech made on the 27th January, Bolivian Foreign Minister Fernando Huanacuni spoke on Bolivian television reiterating the government’s determination to reacquire Litoral. Commenting on a maritime suit against Chile currently being debated in The Hague at the International Court of Justice, the minister spoke of ‘fruitful’ developments. It is hard to see a solution which would prove satisfactory to all parties.  For Chile, the loss of its largest recognised province is not something which will be considered a realistic possibility for Santiago’s politicians. Antofagasta has been made successful under Chilean guidance and sustains the relatively successful local economy. The Bolivian’s will be hoping, and expecting, that the verdict will restore to them the Department still symbolised by a star on the national flag. Any concession of less than the entire claimed province, such as a corridor to the coast, is likely to do little to satisfy those who see Antofagasta/Litoral as part of Bolivia’s sovereign right. Moreover, any sign of Chilean co-operation is likely to alert those with territorial grievances in Lima and Buenos Aires. It may be so that the complexity of territorial disputes in the region sees the landlocked Bolivian navy remain an international, rather than a historical, curiosity.


SOURCES

Britain’s Paedophile Island: Scandal and Survival on Pitcairn

The story of the Mutiny aboard William Bligh’s HMS Bounty is perhaps the most documented mutiny in naval history. Far-less known however is the story of what became of Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers. They, in their bid to evade capture by the Royal Navy, stumbled across an uninhabited island isolated in the expanse of the South Pacific – Pitcairn – where their descendants live to this day. A blend of Old English, Scots and Tahitian – Pitcairn language and culture is a living history. Supplied annually from New Zealand, the islands have a population of around 50, are free of television and cars, and are a three-day-boat journey from the nearest serviced airstrip. The seeming tranquillity of their isolated island home is not reflected in the now 227 year social history of Pitcairn, which has been defined by violence, depopulation, and, more recently, child-sex scandals. Subsidised by taxpayers 14,500km away, this last outpost of the British Empire serves as a social experiment unparalleled on Earth, one which reveals the perils of sustained generational isolation, as well as the ever-changing definition of modern morality and the complications caused when those morals are used to judge communities whose customs have not evolved along the same path.

Pitcairn Location
Pitcairn’s isolated location in the expanse of the Pacific Ocean

When the mutineers arrived on Pitcairn in 1790 they comprised of nine Bounty crewmen, eleven Tahitian women, six Tahitian men, and one baby. Knowing the alternative to refuge in isolation in the far reaches of the Pacific was capture and imprisonment or death at the hands of the Royal Navy, the community embedded itself into Pitcairn, one of four islands which would eventually become the British Pitcairn Island Colony. Previously inhabited by since-departed Polynesian peoples, the island was adept for the sustenance of a small, permanent community. This did not however prevent violence from breaking out amongst the settlers, who, fuelled by ethnic divisions, alcoholism and sexual grievances began warring with one another. The fighting was so intense that within five years, John Adams was the only surviving male in the community. Granted amnesty for his part in the mutiny, the Adams-led purged commune began to flourish, and subsequent to official colonisation by Britain in 1838 the population was recorded at 193. This explosion in population size within such a narrow pool of breeders, within such a short period of time, indicates a culture of inbreeding and underage sex, problems which continue to define Pitcairn and its people. The extended population stretched the island’s resources to the extreme, and under pressure from the crown the islanders agreed to relocation on Norfolk Island, a flax-growing outpost of Australia. However, after a few years, 44 had returned, drawn by their cultural attachment to the rocky Pacific outpost.

Largely left to govern their own affairs throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries, the islands persisted in isolation and obscurity for over a hundred years. The islanders converted to Seventh Day Adventism after a visit from an American sailor, and economic self-sufficiency was achieved through the export of collectible stamps. This all changed in 2004, when following a tip-off made by a young girl to a visiting British Police Officer, a deeply entrenched culture of rape and under-age sex was exposed. Upon investigation during Operation Unique, headed by DI Peter George and Rob Vinson of Kent Police, a number of Pitcairn women revealed that they had frequently been sexually assaulted as children by men in the community. These allegations, which stretched back years, unveiled an archaic paradigm in Pitcairn society – a striking inability to grasp the concept of statutory rape. Girls had been having sex with men as far back as any islander could remember. Testaments made by the men accused- seven on Pitcairn, including the mayor Steve Christian, and six abroad – stressed that in Polynesian culture, girls are seen to mature at an early age, and that this was something a judge representing modern British culture could not fully understand or officiate upon. This was exacerbated by the fact that the islanders had set their own laws throughout the twentieth century, laws which did not explicitly forbid murder or rape. Such activity was seemingly often perpetrated, seldom spoken about, and generally accepted as simply the way things were. The British, represented by a distant governor based in New Zealand, were conflicted in their approach. Should mediation be employed in an appreciation of the peculiarity of Pitcairn custom and in prevention of the imprisonment of a third of the islands male population, or should British law be enacted in full? The latter was opted for, and an official assault trial took place. The men accused helped in the construction of a prison on the island in anticipation of the verdict. Six men were convicted, all of whom were living at home by 2010.

While it is easy to present the sexual assault trial as an imposition of modern values on an archaic culture, something which the men accused stressed, this is contrasted by the testimonies of the brave women who stepped forward. Those women, who while raised in a society which endeavoured to dismiss such crimes as ‘normal’, took their opportunity to end historical sexual injustices within their community. This came despite the implications it would inevitably have in the short-term for men they had lived with in isolation for their entire lives, and who they were often related to in some form. Believed by some to be a conspiracy conjured by the British to depopulate the islands, the trials have left deep divisions between those islanders willing to listen to the testimonies of the outspoken women, and those who outright deny any wrongdoing. More often than not, denial is a refusal to accept that minors cannot consent to sex with an adult. The issue persists: in 2010 Mike Warren, Mayor of Pitcairn, was charged with the possession of indecent images of children. Children aged under 16 must apply for an ‘entry clearance application’ prior to visiting the island, while the Foreign Office forbids any island-based staff to be accompanied by their children. Highlighted at Pitcairn is the need for imposed morality in the face of barbaric practices, whether or not such practices are seen as normal within a given community.

Rocked by the assault trials, the islanders now focus on survival. Emigration of their young, primarily to Australia and New Zealand, is casting doubt over the sustainable future of Pitcairn. Invitations for immigrants have largely gone ignored, despite the creation of a Marine Reservation around the island, fuelling hopes for associated tourism. The costs and distances involved in visiting the island, as well as the negative publicity surrounding the territory, are preventing any such programmes from being significantly profitable. It remains to be seen whether the scandal and incrimination of a third of the communities’ adult men may lead to the extinction of a culture dating back to 1790. Time will tell whether wounds will heal, and tensions are exacerbated by the islands isolation and the entangled nature of Pitcairn community. As a tiny democracy, government will be in the hands of the victims, parents, and the convicted alike. The coming years will reveal whether a community living in such extreme isolation can recover from a culture-changing scandal to build a platform for successive generations of islanders to persevere in the Pacific.


Sources:

Frontline Gibraltar: The Evacuation of the Rock

Gibraltar is a thriving British Overseas Territory, situated at the gateway to the Mediterranean. The local population are a multicultural blend of Maltese, British, Moroccan, Genoese, Jewish and Spanish cultures, and speak a distinctive dialect known as Llanito. A successful democracy, Gibraltarians enjoy some of the lowest unemployment figures in the world, with infrastructure supported by bunkering and an booming online gambling industry. Students study at universities, primarily within the UK, for free, with much of their living expenses subsidised by the local government. An extensive government housing programme means very few Gibraltarians are homeless. This acute social awareness within Gibraltarian politics and democracy has not evolved as organically throughout the peninsula’s extensive history as it might be assumed. The importance of individual and community rights within Gibraltarian culture can be traced directly to the Second World War, when the territory was almost entirely depopulated by the British to make way for military fortification. The experiences of the evacuated population, who were ferried between three continents throughout the conflict, form the bedrock of modern Gibraltarian culture and politics.

Quick Facts Gibraltar

Having been invaded by the Moors in the Fourteenth Century, surrendered to the British in 1704, and besieged by the Spanish and French in 1782, Gibraltar is no stranger to military conflict. In all of these instances the civilian population endured, with the siege of 1782 on record as the longest in British military history. Gibraltarians were relatively unaffected during the First World War, but the all-encompassing nature of the Second World War did not overlook La Roca. The involvement of Fascist Italy in the conflict meant that the Mediterranean, and control of it, was a key aspect of British strategic policy. This was exacerbated following the Italian invasion of British territory in North Africa. The need for a military staging post in the area led to a declaration by the British in June 1940, that all women, children and elderly of Gibraltar were to be evacuated to French Morocco. The British assessed that the presence of a civilian population would impede the productivity of the base, which was to be expanded for use by the RAF and Royal Navy. Therefore, without significant deliberation, 13,500 Gibraltarians were escorted onto boats away from their homeland.

The situation in Morocco soon became untenable. The capitulation of France, following which French territories in North Africa were governed by the Nazi-collaborating Vichy regime, saw the evacuated Gibraltarians living in enemy territory. This situation turned to hostility following an often documented incident at Mers-el-Kebir, where the British sunk the French Fleet to prevent its use by the Axis powers. The evacuees were forced out of Casablanca as a result, and were herded by rifle-wielding French soldiers onto British ships not equipped with provisions for a large civilian population. Return to Gibraltar was impossible as fortification of the territory was in full swing; the Gibraltar Defence Force were formed, an airfield constructed, and the Rock of Gibraltar itself extensively fortified with miles of tunnels, hospitals, power stations, and barracks built inside. A return of the civilian population would risk the compromising of this extensive strategic development.

As such, despite protests from the fatigued evacuees, the transports navigated the Atlantic war-zone to Britain. Had the transports been attacked, one British Admiral claimed it would have been the worst maritime disaster in history. Most evacuated Gibraltarians remained in London throughout the war, where they would endure the worst of The Blitz within houses rendered empty by occupants who themselves had fled to safer locations in the British countryside. Luckier were those sent to Madeira, who enjoyed a relatively peaceful war. Many more were sent to Jamaica, where they inhabited a camp now comprising part of the University of the West Indies. Exposure to the English language and the western world would profoundly impact the evacuees. Pre-war, the Spanish language was used in education, and also within the most popular newspaper of the day ‘El Capense’. Western exposure, as well as participation in Britain’s war, led to the distinct anglicisation of Gibraltarian culture visible today.

Gib Searchlights
The Rock of Gibraltar, lit by British searchlights during WWII

The success of the 1942 Allied invasion of North Africa, which Gibraltar had been strategically vital in, negated any realistic possibility of invasion or attack at the territory. This prompted calls from evacuees and those who remained in Gibraltar for repatriation. The civilian population was still regarded as a potential nuisance by the British. Gibraltar retained its strategic importance, and Britain saw its dominance of Mediterranean commerce and the associated Suez Canal zone as a lynch-pin in its post-war cling to great power status. Moreover, many homes had been demolished to facilitate militarisation, and an extensive homelessness crisis was feared should the evacuees return too soon. As such, the return was delayed. Many were moved to camps outside of Belfast, within which conditions were said to be appalling. Over 6,000 evacuees remained within camps such as these by the war’s end, with the last Gibraltarian returning home in 1951.

This denial of basic human rights and exodus from their families and homeland led to a heightening of the Gibraltarian social consciousness. Along this vein, the Association for Advancement of Civil Rights was established by Joshua Hassan and Albert Risso. The AACR called for improved working conditions, access to healthcare, and improved working conditions under the slogan ‘with Britain, not under Britain’. It is no coincidence that the rise to prominence of the AACR coincided with the rise of Attlee’s Labour Party in Britain, who were elected on a manifesto broadly comparable to that proposed for Gibraltar. Gibraltarians returning from London had been exposed to the grievances of the British working class and could see these issues reflected within their own society. These demands continue to form the basis of modern Gibraltarian politics, as access to free education, healthcare, and government housing dominating the demands of the territory’s inhabitants. This focus on Gibraltarian rights forms one of two key components of Gibraltarian culture, alongside the commitment to partnership with Britain. This was perhaps best demonstrated in 2002, when 98% of voters rejected the principle of share sovereignty with Spain. These two key aspects of Gibraltarian culture were undoubtedly shaped by the experiences of those evacuated from their homes during the Second World War.

J G Middleton and B Bagu


SOURCES:

  • Constantine, S., Community and Identity: The Making of Modern Gibraltar Since 1704

     

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    Finlayson, T.J., Gibraltar and the Spanish Shadow

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    Finlayson, T.J., The Fortress Came First: The Story of the Civilian Population of Gibraltar during the Second World War

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    Gingell, J., ed Beiso, D, We Thank God and England

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    Jackson, W.G.F., and Cantos, F.J., From Fortress to Democracy: The Political Biography of Sir Joshua Hassan

  • Photos; Cover Photo: www.gbc.gi/news/75th-anniversary-wwii-evacuation-be-commemorated-next-month; The Rock Image: WikiCommons

Refugees of the Special Relationship: Chagossians and their struggle to get home

In November 2016, a community of people based in Crawley, West Sussex, travelled to Whitehall in order to protest a government decision which would extend the now fifty year exile from their homeland by twenty years. Almost unheard of within the country they now predominantly reside, Chagossians are a people without a home. Hailing from a group of islands in the geographical centre of the Indian Ocean, they are the enduring reminder of a deplorable decision made in 1966, whereby the British government authorised the expulsion of the inhabitants of the Diego Garcia island group in order to facilitate the construction of an enormous US military base. Their story ever since has been one of abuse, neglect, and an overriding fight for preservation and recognition.

Quick Facts Chagos

The political decisions behind the expulsion of the native Chagos Islanders were heavily influenced by the decline of Empire, The Cold War, and late twentieth century US hegemony. Throughout the 1960s, as the winds of change swept through the old world order and colonialism gave way in the face of rising worldwide national consciousness, the need for the west to preserve some sort of military presence east of Suez was stark. This was exacerbated by the perceived threat of both the Soviet Union and a rising China. To counteract this, the ‘island chain strategy’ was developed, a theory which perceived the containment of communist expansion via the fortification of islands throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans. To this end, prior to the UK’s granting of Mauritian independence, the US requested that the Chagos Archipelago be annexed, reconstituted as a separate colony labelled the British Indian Ocean Territory, and leased to the United States Navy. The British, assuming their junior role in the special relationship with vigour, accepted. The decision would anger the newly independent Mauritian government, as well as the wider global governance network. The UN immediately passed a resolution which condemned the islands detachment from Mauritius, this was ignored, and US will was adhered to. So too was the demand that any resident islanders were removed to prevent any resistance to the military presence.

The Chagossians can trace their roots back to East African slave labourers transported to islands in the late 18th century by the French. The defeat of France during the Napoleonic Wars saw the islands handed over to the British, who began importing indentured labourers from India subsequent to the 1833 Abolition of Slavery Act. Over generations, the peoples on the island integrated and a distinct Chagossian culture emerged. A unique and peaceful culture persisted on the islands for generations, uninterrupted until men in distant lands decided their slice of paradise was a prime location for a military base. These same men decided that the presence of the islanders would inhibit the functionality of that island base. In order to facilitate their expulsion, the British government endeavoured to deface the Chagossian culture and any generational attachment to the islands. This came despite the fact that the islands had been populated around the same time the white man arrived in Australia, and in similar circumstances. To claim the Chagossians have no rights or connection to the islands is also to deny such rights to those populating the Falkland – rights which Downing Street went to war to protect in the 1980s.  Through the cessation of goods importation as well as intimidation by UK and US military personnel, the Chagossians were compelled to leave to the neighbouring Seychelles and Mauritius. UK aid packages were far from adequate, and islanders often lived as refugees in conditions of abject poverty. More recently, lacklustre efforts have been made by the government to provide islanders with British passports, and many have settled in Crawley, where an exiled community has emerged, however  many Chagossians remain separated from family members as a result of complex British citizenship laws. This does not mean however that a reversal of the expulsion has been likely, and any concessions are rather an admittance of guilt, a guilt which has and always will be overridden by the dependence of the UK upon US military hegemony and its upholding of the western world order.

The vocal exile community based out of Crawley has often raised the issue into the public eye. In 2000 the British High Court judged the eviction of Chagossians as illegal. While this decision was celebrated amongst campaigners, it proved inconsequential, as the Government used a Royal Prerogative to reverse the decision, bypassing Parliament in a manner very rarely seen within 21st century British politics. The islands flirted with the public eye again in 2010, when in a move revealed in leaked memos to have been heavily influenced by the need to undermine the Chagossian repatriation campaign, Foreign Secretary David Miliband created a Marine Protected Area around the archipelago. The practicality of such a reserve was immediately called into question, and the decision gathered criticism from high profile members of the Green Party and Greenpeace.

Heading into 2016 there was hope, as the US lease over the islands was up for renewal. Under Obama, the US had often hinted at its desire to step back from its extensive overseas commitments and return to the dormancy it had enjoyed before the Second World War. Moreover, the return of the islanders would have reflected well upon the Conservative government, both within the eyes of the British public and the international community. However, in November 2016 the Government announced that the US lease would be extended by twenty years, and all requests for the islander’s return were rejected. Some suggested that Chagossians could live on the islands and support the US military presence, supplanting the Filipino workers imported to conduct low-level maintenance tasks. Standing in the way of this however is the reality that native populations often oppose and hinder operations at a number of the 909 overseas facilities administered as part of the US military empire. Local grievances have limited the effectiveness of bases in the Philippines, Japan, and Turkey. As such, Chagossian exile suits American military aims in the Indian Ocean perfectly. The islanders fight on.

One of the main problems facing the islanders, particularly following the November 2016 decision, is the lack of publicity that the struggle gets within the mainstream media. Significant public pressure might be the key to precipitating a reversal of the British Government’s decision, however exposure is needed in order to achieve this. This is well known by the exiles, who endeavour through social media, protests and other mediums to promote their cause. The participation of a Chagos Islands Football Team within the 2016 Confederation of Independent Football Associations (Conifa) World Cup in Abkhazia, Georgia, is testament to this. While the Chagossians were knocked out in the group stages, their real success was the raising of the island’s profile and with it their struggle to return home. The islanders undoubtedly face a significant challenge, as the special relationship shows no signs of strain, even with Donald Trump in the White House. Wider public pressure remains the key to their return to paradise.


Sources:

The Australian Holocaust: Extinction of the Aboriginal Tasmanians

There is little in British colonial history that casts as dark a shadow as what some have labelled the Aboriginal Tasmanian genocide. At the time of British settlement in 1803 there were an estimated four to seven thousand Indigenous Tasmanians, by 1847 there were just 147. While some mixed-race communities endured, the last full-blooded Tasmanian, Truganini, died in Hobart in 1876.  Intense debate has raged amongst historians over how the demise of the Tasmanian people should be defined; Niall Ferguson calls it ‘one of the most shocking of all the chapters in the history of the British Empire’, and states that it truly warrants labelling as genocide. Others, such as Henry Reynolds, argue that demographic decline was due to losses sustained in conflict with the colonists, rather than a direct policy of genocide on the part of the government. More controversially, some outright deny the culpability of the colonial government. Keith Windschuttles’ infamous work The Fabrication of Aboriginal History challenges the general view, and argues that Aboriginal society collapsed due to susceptibility to disease and its cultural mistreatment of women, perhaps overlooking the fact that Tasmanian culture had endured for around ten thousand years in isolation. How could it transpire that a country championing liberty, and the abolition of slavery, could oversee the extinction of an entire peoples? The Tasmanian population, which had survived ten-thousand years in isolation, would cease to exist after just seventy-three years of colonial settlement. This analysis will seek to explain.

Quick Facts Truganini

The colonial history of Tasmania, or Van Diemens’ Land as it was originally named by Europeans, was from its beginning synonymous with brutality. Originally a distant outpost administered from Sydney, the outpost became home to Australia’s most hardened convicts. Penal settlements such as Macquarie Harbour were said to have been some of the harshest in the Empire. Struggles with the Aboriginal population started almost immediately after the arrival of the British in 1803. Various initial confrontations with native communities culminated in a skirmish at the Risdon Cove penal settlement in May 1804, when two Aboriginal men were killed after being fired upon by soldiers. Horrific stories of indigenous butchery at the hands of sealers, escaped convicts and bushrangers prevail from this period. Accounts tell of native men being hunted for sport, and used as live targets during firing practices. Bushrangers were said to use indigenous men as a food source for their hounds. There are tales of sealers capturing Aboriginal women and chaining them in captivity as sex-slaves, and an infamous account of a wife being made to wear the decapitated head of her husband in a bag around her neck. Such encounters served to stiffen Aboriginal resistance as they began an early form of guerrilla warfare against the settlers during what became known as the ‘Black Wars.’

‘The Last Muster of Tasmanian Aborigines at Risdon’ by British landscape artist John Glover. The paiting shows the last indigenous community in the Risdon area, immediately prior to their deportation to Flinders Island. http://nationalunitygovernment.org

Government policy was hindered by the lawlessness of the sparsely settled island. The Lieutenant-Governors did feign an interest in defence of the indigenous population, however such movements were weak and often fell on deaf ears. The settlers, who were trying to carve a life for themselves in an alien land on the edge of the world, were not willing to accommodate for Aboriginal resistance. Attacks on natives often went unpunished.

In 1825 George Arthur became Lieutenant-Governor as Van Diemen’s Land achieved independence from Sydney. He began working with an established Committee for Aboriginal Affairs in an attempt to remedy the quickly worsening situation. In October 1831 the Committee wrote to Arthur listing ‘Atrocities committed by the Natives since the 19th of March 1830.’ The three-page-long list includes an account during which, on the 28th of September 1830, a Mr G. Scott’s house was ‘attacked by a mob of natives, they speared one man and killed another, the body of whom they threw into the river.’ There had, since 1828, been measures in place to displace the natives from their traditional lands in order to facilitate the expansion and success of the British settlement. Arthur came to the conclusion that resettlement on one of Tasmania’s outlying islands was the best option, and felt justified in doing so. The Committee wrote that:

‘what to some may appear the removal of these unfortunate beings from their native land cannot appear harsh; as men, as Christians they can have but one feeling, that of compassion towards their benighted fellow-creatures; and it is the persuasion that such measures alone will have the effect of preventing the calamities which His Majesty’s subjects have for so long a period suffered, and of preventing the entire destruction of the Aborigines themselves.’

This account clearly demonstrates that, forty-five years before Truganini’s death, the British were conscious of the fact that the Tasmanian peoples were at risk of extinction, and were desperately trying to prevent what Secretary of State for the colonies George Murray felt would be an ‘indelible stain upon the character of the British Government.’

Arthur quickly devised a plan for Tasmanian resettlement. He wrote to Viscount Goderich in 1831 that ‘to conciliate that wretched people, a small establishment has been formed on Gun Carriage Island.’ This was never seen as a permanent resolution, and Great Island (soon to become Flinders Island) was chosen by the Committee as a suitable location. Arthur considered that ‘escape is quite impossible, as is kidnapping by sealers…there is plenty of game, it is possible that the natives may also here pine to return to their native land, but it is imagined that the amusement of hunting would occupy their minds.’ So it transpired that the last home of a complete, homogenous Tasmanian community was what Robert Hughes called ‘a benign concentration camp’ on Flinders Island. A ten-thousand-year-old culture was sacrificed to accommodate settlers who had arrived just under thirty years ago.

The remaining Aboriginal communities in Van Diemen’s Land still had to be persuaded, or forced, to ‘come-in’ and resettle. The Black Line military campaign, during which armed men sought out remaining indigenous communities, has been presented by some as an attempt at extermination, comparable to the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. The missionary tasked with it, George Augustus Robinson, has been branded an ‘evangelical pied piper’ by Robert Hughes. Robinson was successful in ‘bringing-in’ some of the most troublesome groups, in January 1832 Arthur wrote back to London in relief that ‘the most sanguinary of the tribes, under the chiefs “Montpeilliatter” and “Tonger Longter”, who have always acted in unison, have at length been conciliated by the friendly mission under Mr.Robinson.’ By 1833, Arthur could note that ‘the country enjoys tranquillity, and the distant stock-runs are again depastured without danger to the shepherds.’ While official government papers portray this roundup as a reluctant policy carried out with Aboriginal interests in mind, many of the settlers saw it as a license to kill, and violence persisted.

In 1835, the last of the Tasmanians were resettled. On Flinders Island, disease and distress led to rapid population decline, and by 1847 the forty-seven who remained were resettled in Hobart. Truganini, the last full-blooded Aboriginal Tasmanian, died in 1876. In their twilight, Tasmanians became sought-after scientific property, with a wide array of eugenic studies undertaken by scholars in the nineteenth century. The body of the last Tasmanian male William Lanne was exhumed for study, while Truganini was displayed, with disregard to traditional funeral customs, in the Hobart Museum until 1947.

Benjamin Madley calls Tasmania ‘probably the most terrifying place in the British Empire a white person could live’, and the settlers focused unapologetically on the protection of themselves and their livelihoods. British practice and policy failed to protect the settlers, who were compelled to protect themselves, with little regard for the Tasmanian population. Policy also failed, to a much more severe degree, to protect the Tasmanians, who by the time of George Arthur’s plans for resettlement had been galvanised in resistance to a force they felt was intent on the invasion of their land and the eradication of their people. As the extent of the problem revealed itself, attempts at solution were made in desperation, not to save the Tasmanian people as such but rather the reputation of the Empire. The solution would fail, and the memory of Tasmania would stain the integrity of the British Empire.

The British reaction to this decimation in practice was fuelled largely by a complete misinterpretation of the indigenous culture with regards to connection to ancestral lands, as well as a prevalent sense of inferiority as determined by the imperial racial hierarchy. Moreover, the need from the British to gain from the colony – originally in terms of establishing successful penal settlements, and then to cultivate a self-sustaining white-outpost within the expanding British Empire – vastly outweighed the need for contemporary authorities to accommodate the original inhabitants of that land. What is perhaps most telling in the story is an ambivalence towards the horrors which Indigenous Tasmanians were enduring. The overriding fact is that as long as the colony thrived, the British regarded Aboriginal plight as a matter of fact, and, overwhelmingly, simply did not care.


SOURCES

  • Niall Ferguson, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World
  • Jared Diamond, ‘Ten Thousand Years of Solitude’
  • Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore
  • Benjamin Madley, ‘From Terror to Genocide: Britain’s Tasmanian Penal Colony and Australia’s History Wars’
  • Runko Rashidi, ‘Black War: The Destruction of the Tasmanian Aborigines’
  • Henry Reynolds, Fate of a Free People: A radical re-examination of the Tasmanian Wars
  • Keith Windschuttle, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History
  • Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre (WSHC), Papers, BB/51, fol. 157, List of Atrocities committed by the Natives since the 19th of March 1830, October 1831
  • WSHC, Papers, BB/51, fol. 160, Extracts from the MINUTE of the Aborigines Committee, 28th September 1831
  • WSHC, Papers, BB/51, fol. 162, Copy of a Despatch from Lieutenant-Governor Arthur to Viscount Goderich, 7th January 1832
  • Photos; Cover Image: http://nla.gov.au/; John Glover Painting: http://nationalunitygovernment.org

Quit India: Sikh Separatism in Punjab

In February 2018 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India made headlines following an apparent snub from the Indian Government. The cold-shoulder shown by Modi and his ministers is understood to have stemmed from a long-standing belief that the Canadian Government sympathises with the Punjabi separatist movement. The ‘Khalistan’ movement, which sees significant support within the international and Canadian Sikh diaspora, is a simmering issue in India. While the widespread unrest of the 1980s has waned in recent years, its discussion within the international media may precipitate a reawakening. But what exactly is the Khalistan movement, how significant a part has it played in post-independence India, and what future do the separatists have?

Quick Facts Khalistan

India is a continent country made up of several diverse states, and is no stranger to separatism. Aside from the Pakistan/Indian split following the collapse of the British Raj, India has struggled to quell nationalist unrest in Kashmir, as well as independence movements in the remote regions of Assam and Tripura.  All of these have played a significant role in post-independence Indian politics, as has the Khalistan movement of Punjab, which seeks to form an independent Sikh nation within the north-western Indian state.

The Khalistan movement traces its origins to the Sikh dynasty of Ranjit Singh, which ruled over most of modern Punjab prior to British annexation in 1848. As British influence waned throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s calls for an independent Muslim state were closely mirrored within the Sikh community of Punjab, who feared isolation within two theocratic states. Sikhism is embedded in what are the now India-Pakistan borderlands, with Guru Nanak himself having been born in Nankana Sahin, within modern-day Pakistani Punjab. As such, Sikh nationalists envisioned a state encompassing much of what would become Indian Punjab, Pakistani Punjab, Lahore (once home to a thriving Sikh community), and Simla. Following negotiations with the Congress, the Khalistan movement dwindled in light of promises of extensive autonomy within an independent India. The fundamentalism of Islam to post-independence Pakistan prompted mass emigration and violence within Sikh communities, who fled centuries-old ancestral lands for hope of religious freedom in India.

The reality of existence as a religious minority within a state in which Hinduism was so central soon faced India’s Sikh population. Politically isolated due to formalities which rendered them a minority even within the state of Punjab, civil unrest boiled over in the 1950s following the declaration of Hindi as the main language of India. Thousands of demonstrators were arrested following peaceful protests. A lack of investment due to Punjab’s proximity to an aggressive Pakistan exacerbated Sikh opposition to Delhi’s rule. By 1983 militancy had spread throughout Sikh Punjab, and religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale occupied the Harmandir Sahib holy shrine in Amritsar, turning it into the headquarters of Sikh resistance. Thus followed Operation Blue Star, ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, during which the holy shrine was besieged by an Indian force, the Sikh leaders killed along with hundreds more as part of a wider operation against Sikh nationalism in general. In retaliation, two Sikh bodyguards of Indira Gandhi assassinated the Prime minister in October 1984. This prompted anti-Sikh riots across much of India, with 3,000 killed in Delhi alone. The violence culminated in June 1985, when Sikh militant group Babbar Khalsa detonated a bomb aboard an Air India plane flying over the coast of Ireland. A bomb also detonated in Narita Airport, Japan, on the same night, believed to also have been planted by Babbar Khalsa. The incidents brought Sikh nationalism into the western media spotlight, where it became associated with terrorism. This hindered the movement, precipitating the reduction in activity that has existed for the following three decades.

Following the election of Modi, there was hope for greater Sikh reconciliation with the government in Delhi. A number of high-profile Sikh friends meant that the Prime Minister was initially seen in a positive light by many of those in Punjab. During a 2015 visit to the state Modi visited paid respects to those Sikhs murdered by the British at Amritsar and Husainiwala. He also visited Harmandir Sahib, holy Sikh shrine and scene of the much-maligned Operation Blue Star. Initially seen as reconciliatory initiatives, many are now growing restless with regards to Delhi’s refusal to acknowledge or apologise for what occurred in Punjab during the 1980s. Indira Gandhi’s policies are regarded as anti-Sikh aggression, while the riots following her assassination are viewed by some as a genocide facilitated and unpunished by the Indian government. Mr Trudeau’s visit was overshadowed by Indian grievances surrounding Canada’s perceived role in the Sikh insurgency, but the need for him to express his commitment to a united India to endear an accommodation from Modi may set alarm bells ringing in Punjab. For while many Indian Sikhs are committed to Indian unity, the widespread violence towards their communities within post-independence India remain a sore note. Modi’s failure to acknowledge this, even when the issue is brought once again to prominence in international media, can only serve to give weight to the Khalistan movement.


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