21st CENTURY CARIBBEAN: “Republics maybe, but no quarrel with the Queen” By Sir Ronald Sanders
The streets were festooned with flags and multi-coloured banners, large crowds of people thronged the road sides, British soldiers marched to the commanding sounds of bagpipes and drums. Local police, boy scouts, girl guides and even the fire brigade joined in the parade. There was everywhere a feeling of cheerfulness. In the evening, a fireworks display was held and the mood of joy continued. It was June 2nd 1953, the day that the young Elizabeth was crowned Queen, one year and four months after she came to the British Throne following her father’s death.
The event that I witnessed as a child – and the fragment of memory that I just recalled – did not occur in London. Celebrations on a much grander scale with great pomp and pageantry were held in London that day. The event I saw was in Georgetown, the capital of British Guiana – Britain’s distant colony in South America. It was a celebration replicated in every part of the British Empire, then still spread around the globe, and, as yet, an Empire on which the sun did not set.
As Elizabeth marks her Diamond Jubilee – 60 years since that unique June day in 1953 – the British Empire no longer bestrides the globe and she is no longer Queen of many countries in Asia, Africa, the Pacific, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. The grand celebrations are taking place in her British homeland with London very much the centre of jubilation. Unlike 60 years ago, there are no striking public celebrations in her 15 other remaining realms of which 9 are in the Caribbean.
To mark the occasion, members of the Royal family were dispatched, as representatives of the Queen, to the 15 realms ahead of the June 2 celebrations in London. They carried greetings from Her Majesty and participated in events experiencing varying degrees of reciprocal warmth. By far, the most successful and engaging of the royal visitors was the charming and internationally-recognizable Prince Harry, one of the Queen’s grandsons who visited Belize, the Bahamas and Jamaica. His visit to Jamaica was particularly significant because only weeks before the newly-elected Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller, had announced her government’s intention to relinquish ties to the Queen in favour of republican status.
Indeed, the magnificent celebrations in London, including the gathering of Royals from all over the world demonstrate that Elizabeth is essentially Britain’s Queen, and while she has been determined throughout her reign in her admirable efforts to visit as many of her realms as possible, visiting is not the same as being there.
This portends that, in the near future, many of the Queen’s remaining 15 realms will choose to become republics. In Barbados, the previous Labour Party government had suggested it, though it had done nothing concrete to take it forward. However, in the next administration, the issue may well return to the agenda.
While large numbers of the populations – especially the older generations – will retain great affection and admiration for this great lady, the majority of people will regard the Crown as a British institution, located in Britain and distant from their pressing affairs. Already on the cards are intentions made public by the governments of Australia and Jamaica to become Republics. The only one of her realms, outside of Britain, that has strengthened its ties to the Crown is Canada whose government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, recently re-named the military forces “Royal”.
Nonetheless, the Queen deserves the adulation and regard that she has been given on her Diamond Jubilee by the British people. She has carried out her duties with dedication and devotion, even through misfortunes and tragedies in her own family. Her world-wide renown and the pomp and pageantry associated with her official tasks, have been of considerable benefit to the British economy and to British standing internationally.
Millions of people throughout the 53-nation Commonwealth of which she is Head as a “symbol of their voluntary association” also have a rightful regard for her. She has been an ardent Champion and advocate of the Commonwealth relationship even defying at one point the advice of her British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, not to attend a Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Zambia at the height of the struggle to wrest Southern Rhodesia from a white supremacist regime. She took the time to meet every Commonwealth Head of State and government personally, and all of them – including Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe – have said they enjoyed their conversations with her, and were impressed by the breadth of her knowledge and understanding.
At her coronation after the Homage in Westminster Abbey ended and the drums beat out and the trumpets sounded, the assembled congregation not only cried out: “God save Queen Elizabeth, Long live Queen Elizabeth”, they also shouted, “May the Queen live for ever”.
Their final exclamation may not be fulfilled, but so far Britain and the rest of the Commonwealth have had 60 years of devoted service from a remarkable lady. As the Jamaica Prime Minister said in explaining her desire for a republic, “I love the Queen, she is a beautiful lady, and apart from being a beautiful lady she is a wise lady and a wonderful lady, but time come”.
So, while undoubtedly more of her realms, including those in the Caribbean, will opt to become Republics and sever their ties with her, the decision will be taken as a matter of practicality; it will not be a rejection of The Queen personally, and she will continue her relationship with them, as she has done with all Commonwealth countries, as the symbol of their voluntary association and their collective champion.