JILL LAWLESS Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — Seven decades on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II is widely regarded in the UK as a rock in troubled times. But in the former British colonies, many see it as an anchor of an imperial past whose damage still lingers.
So while the UK is celebrating the queen’s platinum jubilee – 70 years on the throne – with lavish celebrations and parties, some in the Commonwealth are using the opportunity to push for a formal break with the monarchy and the colonial history it represents.
“When I think of the queen, I think of a sweet old lady,” said Jamaican academic Rosalia Hamilton, who advocates for her country to become a republic. “It’s not about her. We are talking about the wealth of her family, built on the backs of our ancestors. We are fighting the legacy of the past, which was very painful.”
The empire in which Elizabeth was born is long gone, but she still rules far beyond the borders of Britain. She is the head of state in 14 other countries, including Canada, Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Bahamas. Until recently, there were 15 – Barbados severed ties with the monarchy in November, and several other Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, say they plan to follow suit.
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The UK Anniversary celebration, culminating in a four-day bank holiday starting Thursday, aims to recognize the diversity of the UK and the Commonwealth. On Sunday, a massive anniversary theatrical performance will be held in central London with the participation of Caribbean Carnival performers and Bollywood dancers.
But the image of Britain as a hospitable and diverse society has been undermined by the discovery that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Caribbean people who have lived legally in the UK for decades have been deprived of housing, jobs or health care, and in some deported – because they did not have documents confirming their status.
The British government apologized and agreed to pay compensation, but the Windrush scandal caused deep resentment in both the UK and the Caribbean.
An anniversary trip to Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas in March for the Queen’s grandson Prince William and his wife Kate to strengthen ties seems to have had the opposite effect. Images of the couple shaking hands with children through a chain-link fence and riding a military parade in an open-top Land Rover evoked echoes of colonialism in many.
Cynthia Barrow-Giles, professor of political science at the University of the West Indies, said Britons “seem to be very blind to the visceral reactions” that royal visits elicit in the Caribbean.
Protesters in Jamaica demanded that Britain pay reparations for slavery, and Prime Minister Andrew Holness politely told William that the country was “moving forward”, signaling that it was planning to become a republic. The following month, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Brown told the Queen’s son Prince Edward that his country, too, would one day depose the Queen as head of state.
William acknowledged the power of feeling and said that the future “should be decided by the people”.
“We proudly support and respect your decisions about your future,” he said in the Bahamas. “Relationships are developing. Friendship lasts.
British officials hope that countries that become republics will remain in the Commonwealth, a 54-nation body made up mostly of former British colonies, of which the Queen is the ceremonial head.
The Queen’s strong personal commitment to the Commonwealth has played a large part in bringing together a diverse group whose members range from vast India to tiny Tuvalu. But an organization that seeks to champion democracy, good governance and human rights faces an uncertain future.
As Commonwealth heads of government prepare to meet in Kigali, Rwanda, this month for a summit postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, some are wondering if the organization can continue to operate once the Queen’s eldest son, Prince Charles, succeeds her.
“Many of the most embarrassing stories of the British Empire and the British Commonwealth wait in the wings once Elizabeth II is gone,” said royal historian Ed Owens. “So it’s a difficult legacy that she’s passing on to the next generation.”
The Commonwealth crisis reflects Britain’s decline in global influence.
Zimbabwe was removed from the Commonwealth under its authoritarian late President Robert Mugabe and is currently seeking readmission. But many in her capital Harare have expressed indifference to the Queen’s anniversary as Britain’s once-strong influence wanes and countries like China and Russia forge closer ties with the former British colony.
“She becomes irrelevant here,” said social activist Peter Nyapedwa. “We know about (Chinese President) Xi (Jinping) or (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, not the Queen.”
Sue Onslow, director of the Institute for Commonwealth Studies at the University of London, said the Queen was the “invisible glue” holding the Commonwealth together.
But she says the organization has proven remarkably solid and shouldn’t be written off. The Commonwealth was instrumental in mobilizing opposition to apartheid in the 1980s and could do the same with respect to climate change, which poses an existential threat to its low-lying island members.
“The Commonwealth reflects global trends,” Onslow said. “So if you think about the creeping authoritarianism that has happened in non-Commonwealth countries… it is happening in Commonwealth countries as well. Progress towards greater democracy and good governance is definitely under pressure, and there has been a regression.”
But she said the Commonwealth has also shown resilience.
“The Commonwealth has shown a remarkable ability to reinvent itself and find solutions in times of crisis, almost as if it were jumping into a phone booth and crawling out under a different guise,” she said. “Whether it will do so now is an open question.” “.
Alex Turnbull in Paris and Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg contributed to this report.
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