Sunday, April 17, 2016

Mensahi Ginen i Gehilo' #13: The End of the End of History

After the Cold War ended, conservative philosopher/political theorist Francis Fukuyama penned an argument about "the End of History." His basic thoughts boiled down to the idea that with the United States victorious in the Cold War, and with Communism and Marxist thought and governments disappearing, the dialectics of history were over. The United States would never have another worthy antagonist, who could challenge it, and that liberal democratic capitalistic ideas would become the norm and nothing viable could ever appear again beyond it. There are many ways that we can see some truth to this argument. Very few people would ever openly argue nowadays that democracy isn’t the best possible for of political government. Capitalism appears to be the happy norm, after all, who could openly argue against the making of money and spreading of wealth? Whereas technology seems to constantly shifting and changing, making previously unthinkable things feel very normal, in political terms, most people accept that the world is in most ways set. Despite, the adoration and addiction people seem to feel for dystopian visions in their popular culture rations, most of the world goes about their lives imagining that no significant shift in the world exists just around the bend. This creates problems for those, such as Chamorros, who in many ways have been “left out” of history or “left behind” by the progress that build the idea of the world today. For those who remain in colonies, for those whose lands have long been stolen and are now called “indigenous” in the countries that were once theirs, for those who have long dreamed of their own place in this world, but have been relegated to being “minorities” or “discontents.” As I’ve written elsewhere, we wait beyond The Fourth World Wall. It can be difficult to build any momentum for our movements, because for us to achieve decolonization or independence or self-determination might fundamentally alter the map of the world, might call into question that idea that History has really ended.

We can find an inkling of this in the 1995 film Strange Days. Set in Los Angeles, days before the start of the 2nd millennium, it chronicles society on the verge of breakdown and collapse as a race war threatens to erupt following the death of an outspoken black rapper. As military and police roam the streets to maintain “order,” one of the characters watching the “end of the world” on TV, does some amateur philosophizing. He agrees with the overall apocalyptic mood, his reasoning being that, the stuff which would make history History is all gone.
You know how I know it’s the end of the world? Cause everything’s already been done, you know. Every kind of music’s been tried, every government’s been tried, every fucking hairstyle, fucking bubble gum flavors, breakfast cereal, every type of fucking. What are we gonna do? How are we gonna make another thousand years?

For over a century of colonization in Guam, the United States has, for the most part, come to be understood as a similar end to all things. The limit against which no one, especially not the lowly Chamorro, on Guam could question or surpass. Within all attempts at decolonization, or acts of decolonization, we find at some level a critique of the United States, its presence in Guam, which either requires or offers something different, something better.

For example, policies and actions of the United States have dislocated Chamorros from their land and from the subsistence agricultural economy they thrived on for centuries. Yet, those who seek to decolonize Guam by returning to the land and farming it, are contesting the colonizing common sense that we find throughout the Pacific, where the smallness of the islands and lack of “resources” means that economic and physical survival will always be based on the mental and material resources of those outside of the Pacific. They are in a sense saying that the United States didn’t get it right, that, in fact, there is a better way of doing things here.

Guam suffers through the End of History in its own particular way, which I refer to as the decolonial deadlock. An overall resistance to the idea of political status change, of Guam becoming something other than being a mere possession or colony of the United States. This deadlock has many dimensions, some of which are tied to fear, overwhelming feelings of dependency, inability to see things beyond the colonizer’s gaze, but the aspect that is most connected to this notion of History being over and the impossibility of anything new or authentic appearing comes about when people compare Guam in its colonial smallness, with the US and its colonial grandness. The most distilled version I’ve come across was when I was speaking before a group of Guam high school students about decolonization and my ideas for changing the make up of the Government of Guam. I was rebutted by a student with the following sentence, “What makes you think that you can do better than the United States?”

The you in that statement is not just me, it is in reality that lowly Chamorro from Guam who stands in weak defiance against History’s end. The connection to the excerpt from Strange Days is clear – greater men and greater nations have tried everything already, especially governments; and as Guam is nothing more than a “dot on the map” and the United States is the greatest country in the world, what can you offer against this megalith to create History? As contradiction is the engine of History, what could a Chamorro from Guam offer in competition with the United States, which could be considered an alternative, something understood as conflicting, contradicting? What does this Chamorro have that could be considered something that the wheels and gears of History would even consider turning for? All that the Chamorro can offer, is his or her shattered existence to be entombed in what Fukuyama terms the Museum of History.

For those of us pushing for decolonization and independence in Guam, we are challenging that notion that History has ended and that there is no real work left to do. Guam is not alone. There are other places, primarily small islands that are still in need of decolonization, attached to colonizers who have little interest in pushing them towards self-determination. Here is an article below from The Diplomat which describes some other islands in the Pacific.

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"State-in-Waiting: Introducing Your Future Pacific Neighbors


Within a few years, the Pacific Islands region will likely become home to the newest states in the world. Each of these nations is emerging from a complex history of colonization and civil unrest, and the creation of new states in the region has significant political, social, and economic ramifications for the Asia-Pacific as a whole.

First up is the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, which must hold an independence referendum before the end of 2018. Following violent clashes in the 1980s between the indigenous Kanaks and the pro-French European settlers, the UN listed New Caledonia as a non-self-governing territory in 1986, effectively placing the territory on its “decolonization list.” After further killings, hostage crises, and assassinations in the 1990s, the French government signed the Noumea Accord in 1998, mandating that a vote on independence was to take place before 2019.

The outcome of the upcoming referendum is difficult to predict, and is causing heated debate in a nation that is already intensely polarized. Changes in 2015 to the electoral eligibility laws prescribed that only the indigenous population and persons who were already enrolled to vote in 1998 would be automatically eligible to vote in the referendum, causing protests among pro-French groups. The latest census results reveal that within a population of 260,000, 39 percent are indigenous Kanaks, whilst 27 percent are European. The remaining 34 percent comprises “mixed race” persons, migrants from other Pacific islands, and a handful of Asian minorities.

As the referendum approaches, pro-independence activists have some hard work ahead of them in order to broaden their appeal beyond the Kanak bloc and gain the majority vote necessary for independence. Little more can be said at this stage while the New Caledonia Congress continues to debate the question of electoral eligibility, but it seems likely that the results will be close.

The Autonomous Region of Bougainville, currently a province of Papua New Guinea, will follow suit with a referendum in 2019. The decision to stage a referendum came out of the Bougainville Peace Agreement in 2001, following a long and bloody civil war from 1988-1998. The conflict was fought between Bougainvillean revolutionary forces and the Papua New Guinean military — assisted by the infamous private mercenary company Sandline International – and the ten years of fighting left as many as 20,000 dead.

Longstanding feelings of alienation toward Papua New Guinea among Bougainville’s estimated population of 250,000 suggests that a strong vote in favor of independence is the most likely outcome of the 2019 vote, meaning that Bougainville could become the world’s next new country.
In appreciating the necessity to establish diplomatic relations with what may well become the newest fragile state on Australia’s doorstep, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced that Canberra would be setting up a diplomatic post on Bougainville in May 2015. The government of Papua New Guinea responded by banning Australians from travelling there, with PNG Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato denouncing the plans as “outrageous.”

Despite the overwhelming support for independence among Bougainvilleans, Papua New Guinea’s frosty attitude toward the question of independence intimates that secession is not entirely guaranteed. Part of the peace agreement was that the PNG Parliament would have “final decision making authority” over the referendum results, meaning that Bougainville’s independence will theoretically require parliamentary consent. It is unclear how this will play out in 2019, and it is also unclear how the UN, regional leaders, and Bougainvilleans themselves would respond if Papua New Guinea refused to ratify a vote for independence.

The Pacific also holds a number of more long-term candidates for statehood. One of the key areas to watch over the next decade is French Polynesia, an island collectivity in the South Pacific that the UN* re-classified as a non-self-governing territory in 2013. As such, the French government was called upon by the UN General Assembly to take rapid steps toward effecting “a fair and effective self-determination process” in French Polynesia, a major win for the indigenous Maohi nationalists.
Similarly to New Caledonia, the French Polynesian parliament is split between the pro- and anti-independence political parties, and these sentiments broadly divide the population into the indigenous and European camps. The political situation is further complicated by the intertwining of the independence movement with the campaign for recognition and compensation from the French government for the 193** nuclear tests carried out in French Polynesia between 1960-1996, with anger and momentum in the latter movement fueling the independence campaign.

While a referendum is some way off in French Polynesia, the events in New Caledonia over the next few years are likely to provide significant impetus for the decolonization process. Aside from New Caledonia and French Polynesia, France has another overseas territory in the form of the islands of Wallis and Futuna. Whilst the islands’ indigenous populations have traditionally been strongly pro-French, Futuna chiefs recently hinted at a potential push for independence in the midst of concerns over French mineral exploitation.

The Pacific Islands of the future seem set for some radical changes. Some of the biggest questions will be those surrounding governance capacity, fiscal independence, and resource management. New Caledonia, home to 25 percent of the world’s nickel reserves, can be expected to undertake a dramatic renegotiation of its mining arrangements upon independence, while the fate of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville — estimated at a value of $37 billion and an infamous flashpoint for bloody clashes and indigenous exploitation during the 1990s — remains at an impasse.

Sorely neglected within the field of IR analysis, the Pacific Islands region may yet emerge as as one of the geopolitical hotspots of the 21st century. With a number of other independence movements growing across the Pacific — including the Chilean territory of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chuuk State in the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji’s Rotuma islands, Banaba Island in Kiribati, New Zealand’s Cook Islands, Australia’s Norfolk Island, and the Indonesian territories of West Papua, Aceh, Maluku, and Kalimantan, to name a just a few — it’s high time that we paid some attention to our Pacific neighbors.

*An earlier version of this article said that France had re-classified French Polynesia as a non-self governing territory.
**An earlier version of this article said that there had been 196 nuclear tests in French Polynesia.
Sally Andrews is a New Colombo Plan Scholar and the 2015-2016 New Colombo Plan Indonesia Fellow. She is a Director of the West Papuan Development Company and the 2016 Indo-Pacific Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs.
This article was first published on the Young Australians in International Affairs blog. This article can be republished with attribution under a Creative Commons Licence. 

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