Friday, April 12, 2024

Say no to those OBEs


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On Wednesday, November 30, 1966, Barbados became an independent nation, and with that came  all the trappings including: a Prime Minister, Flag and a National Anthem. However, this was not  enough to unshackle the Barbadian psyche  from a dependence on the British.
After 300 years of British rule, our people found it very hard to let go of the conditioning that taught us that things British would be the standard to emulate.
As a result of that inferior thinking, our Independence was watered down from the very beginning. Rather than opting for full independence from Britain in the form of a republic, our leaders chose independence with the Queen of England remaining our Head of State.
One of the advantages of retaining the Queen as Head of State was the fact that historically, subjects  of the monarch could appeal to the Crown for justice. Previously, a local litigant who was dissatisfied with the judgment of the Court of Appeal had access to Her Majesty through her Privy Council. They would hear the evidence and then advise the Queen how to dispose of the matter.  
With the advent of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Her Majesty’s subjects in Barbados no longer have access to seek justice through our Queen. That,  in effect, meant that Elizabeth II was removed as Queen of Barbados.
It could therefore be said that the establishment  of the CCJ made Barbados’ Independence a bit more meaningful. All that is required to complete our constitutional Independence is to remove the Queen  as our Head of State and replace her with a President  of the Republic of Barbados.
However, recent happenings suggest that after  46 years of political independence, it would appear  that our leaders are not psychologically ready  for Independence and are not prepared to cut  the umbilical cord that connects us to Britain.
Recently, Her Majesty’s representative in Barbados, His Excellency The Governor General, presided  over a ceremony to award the Order Of The British Empire (OBE) to a number of Barbadians who deserved to be honoured for their service  to this country.
Thanks to Google, I discovered that the Order Of The British Empire was first created by King George V. It was intended to recognize the service of people, from the British Isles and other parts of the empire, as combatants and civilians to the war effort. Today, it is the order of chivalry of British democracy and the only criterion for the award is valuable service to Britain.
In the Barbadian context, it is a travesty of our Independence to award the OBE to persons who have given meritorious service to this country.
Firstly, there is no British Empire in reality. Maybe it still exists in the minds of those who still want to glorify the conquest and human rights violations that the British visited upon indigenous peoples the world over. Wherever you turn in the former British Empire, the scars of British civilization are still evident.
Since Barbados did not have to fight for its Independence and was not on the receiving end  of British savagery, we might still be harbouring romantic thoughts of the Empire.
This is not to say that all things British are bad. After all, they bequeathed us a democratic system  of governance coupled with an apolitical civil service just like theirs. Our leaders have destroyed both but are hanging on tenaciously to the ceremonial aspects  of that system which does nothing to enhance  the feel-good effect of being a Barbadian.
When Government recognizes the contribution  of a local son or daughter of the soil by bestowing  an honour, they are in effect saying to us, especially  the young, that the person so honoured is worthy  of emulation.
What is the Government saying when the honour that is bestowed is some order of a non-existent British Empire? How are we going to build respect for this country and things Barbadian when the Government recognizes meritorious service by awarding honours from another country?
Prior to Independence, Barbados celebrated  with fireworks a failed attempt to destroy the British Houses of Parliament with explosives on November 5 every year. When this country was about to become independent, the Government proposed to discontinue that celebration and instead the celebration with fireworks would take place on Independence Day.
There was some opposition to that proposal. Speaking in a debate in the Senate on a bill to ban fireworks on November 5, Guy Fawkes Day, Senator Asquith Phillips said: “They have no national pride; and as far as they are concerned they will take English traditions and habits with them to their graves.”
Senator Phillips’ words applied in 1966 and it appears that they are equally true in 2012. The Government’s award of the Order Of The British Empire suggests that we as a people are still suffering from a collective inferiority complex.
It might be easy for me to say since I am not in danger of being awarded any Order Of The British Empire, but I would suggest that such offers should be politely declined.
• Caswell Franklyn is a trade unionist and social commentator. Email


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