Sunday, June 05, 2016

Tales of Decolonization #9: Diplomatic Life in Pictures

For this year's Regional Seminar I wanted to accomplish a number of goals. First, the primary goal was to give my presentation as an expert on the decolonization situation in Guam. Second, was to meet with people from the other Non-Self-Governing Territories to try to develop the foundation for a solidarity network to increase awareness and communications. Third, to conduct interviews for the Guam public radio program Beyond the Fence. And finally, just to conduct research for my own academic work. For the first three, things went smoothly at the conference. In fact, other than some technical problems with my digital recorder and my struggles with jet lag, things went far better than I expected.

Interviewing people to learn more about the decolonization process, the diplomatic relations involved with it was a bit more difficult. Employees of the United Nations itself were politely mum when asked about things in any formal interview, saying that they had to clear things with those above them prior to speaking freely on any topic. Country representatives were polite, as us from the colonies don't even get the minimum amount of respect and recognition the smallest of nations get, but when I wanted to ask them things in a more formal context, suddenly had emails to answer and workout equipment to make use of.

International diplomacy is a game of trading favors. Something is given up, normally because something can be gained, if not immediately, at a future date. Those from the territories, the colonies have very little in the way of resources to bargain with. This is something that non-voting delegates in the US Congress experience as well. Even if you are treated with the trappings of inclusion and participation, fundamentally you cannot escape or color up fancily your exclusion and powerlessness. If you are included and not just a recipient of "state-like" or "country-like" treatment, then there is always the possibility that your inclusion alone can matter for something, this usually manifested in the form of public support or votes.

But I've found over the past few seminars that I do have something which can help get me, at least some access, and that is a decent digital camera and an enjoyment of taking pictures at events. At each seminar, people who work for the Decolonization Unit of the United Nations have access to a camera that they can use to take pictures, but as one of them told me "they aren't photographers" and usually don't take great looking pictures. The media shows up at the start and the close of the seminar, but usually to talk to the chair of any VIPs that are in attendance, not the experts and country representatives present. The people attending the conference take selfies and group photos, but rarely is anyone present to photograph them while they are testifying or debating.

After agreeing to provide people with pictures, suddenly people were more willing to sit down and talk to me, and even informally discuss things with me they weren't willing to earlier. As a special honor, the United Nations Decolonization Unit, has for each regional seminar I've attended, asked me to be their "unofficial" photographer and they've even used some of my images in their reports and on their website.

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