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Crisis Of Ethnic Fijian Identity

Letter published in The Independent (UK), 6/6/00


Dear Editor,

Kathy Marks (June 3rd, page 15, 'Speight's bigotry takes him to the brink of power) gives a realistic picture of Speight, but not of what the political crisis in Fiji is really about.

It is not a simple conflict between ethnic Fijians and Indian-Fijians. The current problem, like the previous coups in 1987, has more to do with a crisis of ethnic Fijian identity, and complex rivalries between the three different geographical confederacies.

George Speight may claim to represent the majority Fijian interests, but many Fijians would dissent from this.

He is a failed businessman and political bully, and many Fijians feel his behaviour has been un-Fijian in the extreme.

When I visited Fiji in February this year, there was an atmosphere of cautious optimism among all ethnic groups about Chaudhry's government. Major concern was over his abrasive style.

Many Fijians support Chaudhry, indeed his government had a majority of ethnic Fijian Ministers. Both Fijians and Indian-Fijians together worked hard over the 10 years following the last coups to achieve the 1997 constitution.

Many Fijians - not just Indian-Fijians - live with fear about the current situation, and many Indian-Fijians are being supported by Fijians. There will also be many of Fiji's more than 250 islands where the current 'coup' has made little immediate impact.

Having started giving in to Speight's demands, there is a feeling of a democracy falling apart. One demand leads to another, but order is not restored.

The main feeling of my friends and ex-colleagues is 'Where will it all end?'.

I would advise the Independent to commission an article from people who are able to give an authoritative, complex perspective.

This might include: Brij Lal (Fiji-born and grandson of an indentured labourer, Professor of History and Director of the Centre for the Contemporary Pacific at The Australian National University) one of the architects of the 1997 constitution; Teresia Teaiwa, Lecturer in Pacific Studies, Victoria University of Wellington; or any number of students on the Journalism Programme at the University of the South Pacific.

Liz Todd Lecturer, University of the South Pacific, Fiji 1990-1993 now Newcastle University



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