In this long overdue post (given this blog is meant to be keeping you informed of our time in Fiji) you may notice some odd spellings. Well I am occasionally surprised when I check my stats to find out what obscure google searches bring up my blog. And I don't want to pop up on the first page each time someones googles F1j1's c0up. Because really this is my opinion and observations for you guys only. Hence the unusual spelling... Don't know if I'll bother to run spell check tonight.
So as many of you know on December 5th last year our elected F1jian government was overthrown by the mil1tary led by commander V0reqe (Frank) Ba1n1marama (we will refer to him as VB). Oh shock horror, how could democracy suffer such a blow! I hear you all cry. And initially many of us thought the same. But being in a position to actually observe such an action has completely changed my once strident views toward democracy, to the point where I viewed with interest the statement in one feature in the Fiji Sun "Is democracy a luxury only first world countries can afford?"
The first thing we observed from this side of the fence, having of course the convenience of the internet and Sky Digital, was how skewed reporting can be! I mean I am on the verge of completely losing faith in the media. Take for eg the night of the c0up... we watch on Fiji one (the local national TV station) the m1litary approach the gates...theres a pack of photographers infront of those gates like Brad and Angelina are trying to get in for dinner! and they're not budging! Canon and Nikon speedlites are bumping and jostling and no one is going to back down until they get that shot their editors looking for (I must add here they did hide in the bushes for a few days previous too). The soldiers asked them to shift, politely at first, then like a parent losing their bargaining power they started to (almost) beg..."please! we're serious! you must shift!". The photographers stood their ground and waited for the money shot. Finally the soldiers moved in and started pushing them out of the way. Cross now to a major Australian network. Their correspondent is being interviewed. "the soldiers were extremely rough and pushed the photographers around badly..." What the! The pinnacle of shoddy reporting was probably the network that showed the shot of the armoured personel carrier/ tank thing supposedly on the streets of Suva. eh? there aren't any of those anywhere in Fiji! A file piece from a UN peacekeeping force maybe?
The reasons behind the coup are complex and much analysed. Fiji generally has a Prime Minister, and parliament (elected), in addition to a President, and a Great Council of Chiefs... But you could probably say corruption was people's main beef, and the reason for the common saying "agree with the cause, just not the method". The problem now is getting the "clean up campaign" effectively moving. As noted Fijian academic (and farmer) Ron Gatty commented "Let us be patient and do it right. Do not try to rush democracy" (Fiji Sun) This is not a wild c0up supporter, infact it was Gatty who called Speight (former c0up leader)"a dangerous clown in his time".
For all the dodgy reporting there comes the occasional gem, including one in the Australian News by Graham Davis titled An Island Enigma. While I'm not sure he wasn't a little harsh with his comments about 4ndrew Hughes, many of his comments are right on the button. I reprint his observation of why the coup happened here...(spelling is mine!)
" [Q4rase] is a man who first came to power because of the 2000 c0up, described it as "God's plan" and once said democracy in Fiji was based on a "dangerous delusion" that its people were all the same. In power, Q4rase turned a blind eye to burgeoning corruption, pursued blatantly racist policies that favoured Fijians and marginalised the 40 per cent of citizens of Indian extraction. Encouraged by the extreme nationalism Q4rase promotes, Fijian thugs routinely intimidated and beat the poorest Indians eking out an existence in rural areas.
Ba1nimarama, who'd handed Q4rase the job of prime minister after jailing Spe1ght, stood by for a long time as the understandings they'd reached were eroded. With mounting frustration, he witnessed a parade of convicted and suspected coup-makers appointed as ministers in Q4rase's cabinet.
But when Q4rese set out to pardon those involved in the Spe1ght coup, it was too much for the m1litary chief, who'd barely escaped with his life in a subsequent mutiny. Compounding his anger was legislation that would extend Fijian ownership of land to the seas and make other citizens pay for the simple act of going fishing.
Right until the end, Q4rase could have withdrawn the legislation, but his sole concession was to have its constitutional validity tested in court. Which was the bigger gun at his head? The one in Ba1nimarama's hands or in the hands of the fellow nationalists around him, desperate for pardons and fresh income? "
I think for anyone who lives here one of the biggest observations is the plummet in crime. Retribution under m1litary rule is swift, and sometimes violent, but seemingly effective. Friends of ours staying in Nadi were startled when locals told them how much safer they felt post coup (maybe expecting an unhappy downtrodden people). So why did we have a travel warning equal to countries where bombs were going off? or was it a thinly disguised trade embargo...The other thing which is startling is the incredible and shocking stories of corruption and wrongdoings which are coming out. And sometimes foreign investors appear to be as culpable as the Fijians who profited from aiding them.
For us the main sign of change was the presence of m1litary checkpoints outside Lautoka and Nadi. They have since been handed over to the police, but for a while the children's impression of a c0up was smiling men with guns who waved cheerily as people drove past. One day we were even pulled over! But the soldier was actually someone we knew, infact his parents feature in the "mad dogs and englishmen" post archived here. He gave the children a tour of their checkpoint camp. While I wanted a cool portrait of a soldier at the checkpoint it all got rather quickly out of hand, and I was becoming scared we would actually get our guide in trouble. So I loaded the kids back in the car (as passing tourists looked over anxiously) and drove them on to their swim lesson...
and the one below, captioned: "Tom! Don't touch that! (who parked that bus there)"
On a different subject I have finally discovered Google Reader (thanks to some message board friends). It is a really handy way of keeping up with those blogs which have caught your attention. When they're updated you can see them displayed when you bring up Google. Handy! It was the brilliance of "The Simple Photo Minute" that helped me get a handle on it. Though I admit I had to watch it a couple of times...
Also I feel I have been posting too many bad weather shots lately. The truth is that its been super hot and sunny over here for quite a while now, which is why I tend to find the mainland's monsoon weather so fascinating. Actually I have a new pair of sunglasses (in an attempt to lose the quickest cataract growth competition I have with my grown up neice- a genetic quirk we share)- Rayban-P's which means they are polarised. So I have this wonderful bright blue green view of the place where we live through my new sunnies, and I found I have been almost overworking the saturation in my photos to match my own perception...
Bounty above (Ali and I nipped over), Treasure below...
So I'll leave it there for today, and hopefully post a few more photos from our trip to the cold country soon. Ciao!