New Caledonia votes to remain French colony, throwing spanner in BLM and woke left narrative on the ‘evils’ of empire
As the West obsesses over decolonizing everything from statues to education, the South Pacific island of New Caledonia, ruled from Paris since 1853, has voted to remain a colony. Maybe overseas rule isn’t always so bad after all?
Empire is an atrocity. Colonies should uncouple their shackles to proudly claim their unadulterated freedom. That’s what we’ve been told by a host of talking heads of late, particularly following the BLM movement. Superseding another territory’s sovereignty is deemed a heinous act of tyranny.
The public backlash began earlier this year as statues of colonial figures were ripped down. Most famously, a mob in the English city of Bristol pulled down Edward Colston and threw him into the river. Since then, 72 memorials honoring colonial figures have been earmarked by campaigners for removal across the UK.
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It’s happened in other countries too, Belgian protesters set fire to a King Leopold II statue in Antwerp, while one in Ghent was covered in red paint.
The anti-colonial messaging has also come from a range of world leaders.
UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed led an outcry at the UN General Assembly over Turkey trying to restore colonial rule, which he intimated was a grave injustice.
Sierra Leone went even further, announcing that it plans to end all colonialism by the end of the decade. Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh vowed if “we are to remain true to the fundamental principles of the United Nations that is fit for purpose, then it becomes absolutely necessary to relegate the chapter of colonialism to history within the period 2021-2030.”
There are even calls for a Museum of Colonialism to be built in the UK, historian William Dalrymple explained: “It’s being realistic about some of the really terrible things that happened in our past,” as well as adding that colonial figures would now be seen as “war criminals.”
There’s no doubt that slavery and exploitation are horrendous and unjustifiable. But colonization isn’t so simple.
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In a very general sense, it tends to be portrayed as a white nation taking control of a non-white country, for a variety of reasons. We are also fed the narrative that the non-white nations would want to kick out their occupiers, if they were handed the opportunity. This is where the logic hits the buffers.
Last weekend, the population of New Caledonia was in that very position.
The colony held a referendum to become independent from France, which Napoleon III’s forces annexed 170 years ago. It has large deposits of nickel; its head of state is Emmanuel Macron; and it uses the French flag. Anyone born on the island, which is in the southwest of the Pacific Ocean, gets a French passport. And all of that will remain.
The people of New Caledonia voted to stay a colony, ruled by Paris with
53.26 percent marking their ballot ‘No’ to breaking free. Critics may moan that it’s so close, taking away from the result’s impact, but referendums are frequently that close.
Brexit has completely restructured Britain’s status quo, it was 52 to 48. The 2014 Scottish referendum was 55 to 44, while the 1995 Quebec independence vote from Canada was 50.58 to 49.42.
Another poke in the eye to the ‘colonial bashers’ is that New Caledonians voted the same way in 2018. They were granted the referendums and could even have another in 2022, if enough of the local assembly requests it.
Last weekend’s vote also saw more people turn out than in 2018, so all the BLM aftershocks have had no effect.
Even with its remote location, the ease of digital communication means New Caledonians will be well aware of all the discussions and protests. They would have also seen Barbados recently confirm its plan to remove the Queen as head of state. But still they decided to remain under French rule.
Macron hailed the result as a “sign of confidence in the republic.” It may get glossed over, but this is a fundamental development that every politician and activist should study. Of late, there’s been a torrent of well-meaning individuals speaking out, encouraging minorities to dictate their own paths and to no longer feel constrained.
This has shown to be naive, when applied wantonly across the board. It falls into the ‘West Knows Best’ delusion, where the rest of the world is dictated to. Others are assumed to be lacking the intelligence to forge their own way forward.
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You can’t preach to other populations under the misapprehension that you see things clearer. That’s why the constant demonization of being a colony now looks crude. New Caledonia wanted to remain as one.
The reasons for how and why belong to them, but they should be respected. The rest of the world doesn’t need Western preaching. If nations want to be colonies and keep their shackles on, that’s up to them.
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