A Sense of History

Chronique Hebdo

We should give a thought to how we relate to neighbouring islands. Is it only a matter of business opportunities and self-interest in the pure capitalist tradition? Don’t we give a hoot to leaders and politicians who have been outstanding figures in the history of their islands? Neither does the national television deem it necessary to invite historians or political analysts to enlighten the public on the life history and achievements of key personalities.

Presumably, the higher sphere of decision makers has little ambition for the public when it comes to acquiring a deeper knowledge of history. Judging from their indifference and lack of empathy, the Mauritian public should satisfy itself with the poor standard of local politics, party infightings, ego clashes and dynastic politics.

Not a single Mauritian politician deemed it important to attend the funeral this month of a key political personality next-door. Jack Bizlall appears to be the only one whose attention was caught by his demise. Either the other politicians suffer from intellectual laziness or they do not want to displease the French embassy by recalling publicly the political career of Paul Vergès marked by his anti-French-department stance.

The demise of Paul Vergès in Réunion was met with total indifference over here. Whatever be our political stance today, Paul Vergès’ life, political goals and achievements should have been highlighted in an appropriate homage paid to him as a politician and intellectual who was a key figure in local politics in a neighbouring island.

Paul Vergès’ life centred mostly on his fight for independence, which he never obtained. At least, his belief in political independence from France was worth mentioning as well as the reasons for his failure to gain independence for the island. How France never leaves a place it has taken possession of unless it is booted out in a military confrontation resulting in a bloody war with heavy casualties. How the Latin temperament of the French and their sense of superiority makes them hysterical in their dealings with colonies which dare claim freedom from the shackles of colonialism. How their lack of pragmatism made it difficult for them to join the bandwagon of decolonisation in the 1950s-60s, and discuss with freedom fighters in a rational, dignified manner.

Algeria and Vietnam are glaring examples. Reunion and the small West Indian Islands are small fry for France. They became French departments without the consent of the people who were hardly educated in the 50s. France’s double identity of being sweet and cruel, protective and repressive has been most effective in silencing the people through government aids lavished on them in the 80s and brandishing the benefits of French language and culture while keeping rebellion at bay with a strong military presence.

Weak people lose the moral strength required to claim political independence. Paul Vergès and his Communist comrades gained neither independence nor even the status of autonomy for the island. The local public television, former RFO, and the press took care to portray independent islands like Mauritius and Madagascar in a negative light. True, in the 70s and early 80s, Mauritius was still groping in the dark tunnel during SSR’s years in power, while Madagascar landed into a political and economic mess akin to what obtained in certain African post-colonial countries. Enough to scare the people of Reunion away from pressing for independence. Cultural assimilation in the educational system weaned away the local people from their history and their past. Had the Communist Party gained independence, its leaders would probably have adopted Albert René style in Seychelles, a white Creole authoritarian style.

Paul Vergès was of mixed descent, Vietnamese and Reunion white Creole, and his close aides were Catholic white Creoles. Creole societies, whether white or black, have had a track record, unfortunately, of breeding authoritarian régimes. Seychelles, Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba and Brazil are examples. Young Paul Vergès started his career by shooting point blank at his opponent Alexis de Villeneuve, a young white Creole of the bourgeois class. What sort of régime Gaëtan Duval would have set up in Mauritius, had he been given a free hand to rule the country in the late 60s, is not hard to guess. Ethnicity has to be mentioned simply because politics does not evolve in a cultural void.

The fight for independence is a noble cause and freedom fighters should be given due respect. Whether communism is a morally viable political ideal which was bound to lead to dictatorship is another debate. Why do leaders of radical left remain lifelong liders maximo, even when the party sheds off its leftist hue, is not the point here. At least, the MMM should have paid tribute to the Comrade who passed away in the sister island. But it abstained from so doing.

Finally, Paul Vergès claimed equal rights and benefits like those in mainland France just to toe the line of the populace though he never gave up the dream of autonomy. He was a staunch supporter of environmental-friendly economic development and constantly raised awareness on global warming and climate change, which his detractors made fun of hardly a decade ago. Over here in Mauritius, climate change was something that happens to people on another planet.

If the MBC cannot inform and educate the public, especially, the younger generation on the political development of regional islands following the demise of a key political leader, let a private television channel do it. Likewise, the communist versus capitalist ideology that led to a Cold War situation throughout most of the 20th century should have been debated on television and radios when Fidel Castro passed away with a view to recalling history and understanding the world today. Communism as an alternative to imperialism, colonialism and capitalism, was once a most alluring ideology. How the exalting speeches of Castro on la revolucion cubana made leftists worldwide dream of a more egalitarian society everywhere!

Communist methods in the former Soviet Union, China and Cuba should be explained to the public. How communist regimes distorted facts about the outside world, enclosed the minds of their people and brainwashed them into believing falsehoods regarding their national history and other political systems at an international level. China is still hiding the truth about the development of communism from its citizens. The method used by dictatorial Communist Unbelievers in different countriesis similar to the one used currently by despotic Believers of Al Qaeda, IS and their various offshoots in the Middle-East, Asia and Africa.

Whether Marxist ideology pushed liberal capitalist systems to adopt more socialist measures to improve workers’ conditions is an open debate. Reasonable working hours, holidays, paid sick leaves, freedom to team up in trade unions for workers were causes fought for by leftist parties worldwide.

Surely, the age of high technology in global communications is not only about promoting consumerism and praising loads of new products which we do not need to be able to live happily. Communication to promote knowledge is indispensable to the uplift of a people, and history is a key component among the vast fields of knowledge that should be made available to the public. A well-informed public is able to assess the political and economic development of its country, and to avoid baseless personality cult of political figures through propaganda. All the blogs and articles available on the internet on historical events are not reliable sources of information. World history is hardly taught in Mauritian schools. We hope that the authorities have more ambition for the intellectual advancement of the population at large.

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