Monday, January 27, 2014

From Hoxha to Bainimarama

I am old enough to remember the Communist Party of New Zealand claiming that in the socialist paradise of Albania every single person, bar a handful of Trotskyists and CIA agents, not only supported but loved supreme leader Enver Hoxha. Back in the late '80s the Communist Party’s paper The People’s Voice liked to juxtapose photographs of picket lines outside timber yards in Tokoroa with portraits of Hoxha’s rock-like face and excited accounts of life in his Balkan nation, where crime, unemployment, and other social ills were allegedly unknown.

Years after the disintegration of the Hoxhaite regime, I chatted with a Kiwi who had travelled to the socialist paradise of Albania and lauded it in print, and asked him how he could have drawn such mistaken conclusions about the place. He explained that he had talked with scores of Albanians, and that they had all praised the regime that ruled them. What he hadn’t realised, of course, is that his interlocutors had no option but to echo the party line, if they wanted to keep their jobs and their liberty.

I thought about the deluded supporters of Enver Hoxha when I read a recent guest post at Kiwiblog, the popular website of National Party insider David Farrar. Under the title ‘A first hand but different view of Fiji’, Farrar reproduced the opinions of Deane Jessup, an ‘enterprise communications specialist’ who recently took a holiday in Fiji.

After two weeks of ‘deep honest conversations’ with Fijians ‘from all walks of life’, including an elderly man who gave him a class in weaving and a taxi driver or two, Jessup has concluded that the regime of Frank Bainimarama, which has been condemned by all of Fiji’s political parties for censoring, detaining, and sometimes torturing its opponents, is a ‘revolutionary’ force for good, and should be supported by all New Zealanders.

Fiji’s trade union movement and its Labour Party have complained about declining social services and standards of living under Bainimarama’s dictatorship, but Jessup insists that ‘health and hospitals are ten times better’ than they were before Bainimarama, and that the education system has been similarly transformed. Roads and bridges are being built ‘everywhere’, and the economy is ‘bustling’.

Jessup claims that every Fijian he talked with, without exception, supported Bainimarama. He concedes that Bainimarama has some high-profile critics, like the leaders of the Labour Party and the Methodist church, but contends that these dissidents are ‘racist’, ‘corrupt’, and ‘nepotistic’, and shouldn’t be taken seriously as representatives of Fijian opinion. Both Fijian political parties and human rights watchdogs have condemned the constitution Bainimarama recently forced on Fiji, warning that its curbs on freedom of assembly and expression mean that the election scheduled for later this year cannot be genuinely democratic. Jessup, though, knows better. He predicts that the election will be free and fair, and that ‘everyone’ in Fiji will vote for Bainimarama. Not even Enver Hoxha was quite as popular as Bainimarama seems to be.

Jessup isn’t so tasteless as to discuss explicitly the detention without trial and torture of Bainimarama’s enemies and the censoring of his critics in the media and the academy. He accepts that unspecified ‘bad things’ happen in Fiji, but notes that these mysterious ‘bad things’ also happen elsewhere too, and thus shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

Deane Jessup’s love letter to Bainimarama contrasts interestingly with the impressions of Fiji that Dr Maikolo Horowitz of the ‘Atenisi Institute offered on this blog last year. After visiting Fiji on behalf of an American radio news network and holding extensive discussions with human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, and politicians, including Mahendra Chaudhry, the leader of the Labour Party, Horowitz concluded that Bainimarama had constructed an efficient and frightening dictatorship, and that he was not likely to surrender power anytime soon. Horowitz witnessed a peaceful demonstration against Bainimarama’s constitution being broken up with tear gas and long batons; he heard stories of Labour activists being beating beaten and jailed; he experienced the ferocious opposition of the Methodist church to Bainimarama; and he noted that Bainimarama’s constitution makes free and fair elections impossible.

Deane Jessup’s sheer lack of guile suggests to me that he isn’t writing propaganda for Fiji’s dictator out of some sort of vested interest. He probably did talk to a few Fijians during his recent holiday in the sun, and probably did find them all singing the praises of Bainimarama. But that sort of political unanimity ought to have troubled rather than excited Jessup.  

In his interview with me, Maikolo Horowitz noted that many of the Fijian journalists and civil servants who helped him acquire information and make contacts were very worried about their security, and insisted on meeting him privately. Suva was, Horowitz reported, a tense, troubled city, whose people were continually looking over their shoulders. When they encounter visitors to their country who lack Horowitz’s credentials and discretion, dissident Fijians would surely be very likely to keep their real opinion of Bainimarama secret. Like the Kiwi communist who visited the Albania of Enver Hoxha, Deane Jessup has failed to take into account the chilling effect that dictatorship has on free speech.

Footnote: A Lesson from Tonga

Deane Jessup’s clumsy apology for dictatorship in Fiji is not, in itself, remarkable – clumsy apologies for all sorts of unpleasant things are easy to find on the internet. The decision of a highly visible supporter of the National Party and an intimate of John Key to publish Jessup, though, deserves to be pondered.

It is possible that David Farrar’s decision to give Jessup space on his blog is simply a reflection of the lack of seriousness with which so many New Zeaanders regard the tropical Pacific. Instead of drawing on some of the rich body of informed research produced by Pacific experts like Maikolo Horowitz to help him think about Fiji, Farrar may have lazily turned to a mate who spent a week or so on a beach recently and talked to a few taxi drivers. 

It is worth noting, though, that Cameron Slater, another high-profile blogger with close connections to the National Party, has also been publishing apologies for Bainimarama’s regime lately.  

Slater’s posts reflect a current of opinion on the Australasian right.  For almost a decade now, Australian and New Zealand governments have opposed Bainimarama, sought to exclude him from regional fora, and imposed a series of sanctions on Fiji. There are some on the right who believe that such a stance has become counterproductive. They point out that Fiji has responded to sanctions by strengthening relations with China, and worry that Australian and New Zealand business will be squeezed out of the Fijian archipelago by Chinese firms. For these advocates of a change of policy toward Fiji, the constitution written by Bainimarama and the election he has scheduled for this year offer excuses for the normalisation of diplomatic and economic ties.

But the recent history of Tonga should be a warning about the consequences of supporting the sort of undemocratic constitution Bainimarama has foisted on Fiji.  

In 2005 and 2006 the Tongan people revolted against their monarchy and nobility with strikes, mass marches, and a riot that destroyed much of downtown Nuku’alofa and prompted the deployment of Australian and New Zealand troops and police in the capital.
Realising that it had to offer some concessions to its opponents, the Tongan elite negotiated a constitution that, like Bainimarama’s document, blended apparently democratic with blatantly anti-democratic clauses. The constitution allowed for the election of a majority of seats in parliament by popular vote – but it reserved a third of seats for nobles. Eager to hold onto its influence with the Tongan elite and convinced that stability was better than ‘pure’ democracy, the New Zealand government ignored the flaws in the constitution.  

When Tonga held elections in 2010, New Zealand proclaimed that the country had made a transition from authoritarianism to democracy. The aftermath of the election showed up the fatuity of this boast. Seventy per cent of Tongans voted for the Democratic Party, but the constitution’s gerrymandering meant that nobles were able to form a government.  

The nobles’ illegitimate government has been a disaster for both the Tongan people, who have had to put up with more of the corruption and incompetence they voted so heavily against, and for New Zealand’s government, which has watched the nobles steer closer and closer to China and evict a Kiwi company from their air space.  

As Tonga looks forward to a new general election, the New Zealand government and its Canberra ally have belatedly and cynically sided with the country’s Democratic Party. But it is far from clear how the opposition can gain power in this year’s vote, given the gerrymandering built into the constitution. If the democrats again win a huge majority of the vote and again are denied government, then a return to the violent unrest of 2006 is hardly unlikely. Some supporters of the Democratic Party talk openly of civil war.  

The constitution Bainimarama has given to Fiji provides for multi-party elections, in an apparent concession to democracy – but it also makes it very difficult for parties to register themselves and limits their opportunities to demonstrate and propagandise. As the recent history of Tonga shows, people who are blocked from exercising their democratic rights will find other ways to express themselves. Bainimarama’s constitution guarantees a violent future for Fiji.

 [Posted by Scott Hamilton]



Anonymous Hoxhaism today said...

Hoxhaism lives!

10:11 pm  
Anonymous Simon said...

Good post mostly, but I'm not sure why the outrageous attack on socialist Albania and Comrade Hoxha is necessary.

10:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Under the draft constitution, the authorities can also limit freedom of speech when speech could impose “restrictions on the holders of public office.” This loophole would allow authorities to limit basic rights and freedoms for anyone they find to be critical of the government and authorities.

10:36 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cam Slater is a sick fuck who wrote a post masturbating over Bainimarama's cops' torture of prisoners. Cam thought it was great they shoved rods up the arses of the prisoners.

4:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

March 10th, 2013 at 10:04 pm
Cameron Slater’s views on Bainimarama are pretty vile (just like the Commodore).
Vote: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2 You need to be logged in to vote

4:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Fiji's military dictator Voreqe Bainimarama has ordered two regime inquiries after he failed to win a television text message competition for personality of the year.

The regime's attorney general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told a press conference in Suva that the poll result has been changed and Bainimarama is first - beating out a woman who won it on January 1, Premila Kumar of the Fiji Consumer Council.

Bainimarama, who ended democracy with an armed coup in 2006 and refuses to restore democracy until 2014 at the earliest, claims the text polling run by semi-privately owned Fiji TV and Vodafone, was undemocratic.

"The allegation is that members of the public could text in and give their vote and the announcement was going to be made on the first of January," Sayed-Khaiyum says.

But they closed the poll on December 30 and ignored 1500 votes sent in on December 31 - and almost all of the votes on the last day were for Bainimarama. The uncounted votes appear to make up almost all of the submitted text votes.

Sayed-Khaiyum says Fiji TV has apologised and on January 9 reversed the result awarding the title to Bainimarama.

But the regime has sent a formal complaint to the Commerce Commission and to the Media Development Authority "in respect of unethical practices".

The authority was established by military decree and has dacronian powers to close down media outlets or force them to change owners - as they did to the Rupert Murdoch owned Fiji Times.

Under the revised Personality of the Year results, Bainimarama apparently scored 1700 votes to Kumar's 464.

4:35 pm  
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