It is said that Josef Stalin so detested the criticisms of Leon Trotsky, that in officially commissioned books he had Trotsky referred to as Judas Trotksy. During the Stalin purges of 1936 and 1937, many who criticized the Soviet supreme leader and his government spent years in his Gulag –– forced labour camps.
In Adolf Hitler’s Germany the Night Of The Long Knives will forever be associated with the purge of the führer’s critics between June 30 and July 2, 1934.
Human history is replete with many examples of politicians –– most of them psychopaths –– who saw themselves and their governments as beyond criticism, and responded in turn with reprisals often determined by the lack of enlightenment and type of societies of which they found themselves in charge.
Thankfully, Barbados has never had such extremism in its pre- or post-colonial experience. Unlike the despotic regimes that existed in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany, Barbados’ democracy and the enlightenment of its people have ensured that those who criticize politicians, their policies and their Government are not the subject of purges, disappearances or annihilation.
Those who have been at variance with local Government officials have from time to time been likened to indentured servants, or, in worst-case scenarios, been deported, deemed persona non grata, or have had work permits revoked. Of course, this has not hindered many from rising to positions of prominence after expulsion –– even to the office of prime minister.
And this brings us to Prime Minister Freundel Jerome Stuart and his recent spat with principal of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles. Government is not an abstract entity, nor is it a fine piece of metalwork crafted by the crippled god of fire Hephaestus. Nor has the god Hermes dictated that the language used to describe Government be always flattering, as if coming from the mouth of some brainless sychophant.
Government is made up of fallible human beings prone to mistakes, capable of success, deserving of praise and certainly not beyond criticism. And in democratic countries, such as Barbados, Government is fair game for the butcher, baker, candlestick maker and the university principal. But Mr Stuart would have us believe otherwise.
“We have a principal of a university descending from Mount Olympus, as he sees it, and deciding that he presides over an institution of learning that is not just an institution of learning but that is an alternative government.”
Our esteemed Prime Minister went even further in his chastisement of Sir Hilary: “If you want to be a politician, leave the security of your prepared position, come down and join the fray and be prepared to be dealt with politically.”
It would appear an indictment has been lodged against the educator before his commission of a crime.
Mr Stuart is well known for his proficiency with the English language, and, as a student of the classics, has always shown a commitment to quite precise language. It is in within that context that we determine that his criticism of Sir Hilary was well considered before uttered.
However, we support Sir Hilary’s right to be critical of any policy which he deems likely to impact negatively on the University of the West Indies and the citizenry it serves. We do not share the view that he must adorn a political hat to exercise that right to speak. Indeed, he is best placed as principal of the institution to speak on any matter related to the university.
If it is the opinion of Sir Hilary that Government’s cuts at the university have set the Cave Hill Campus back by 20 years and are an assault on working class women, he is entitled to make public that view. That the cuts might be necessary, as stressed by Government, does not negate the principal’s right to a perspective.
The gardener on the campus’ payroll is entitled to share that same view from any rooftop.
To suggest that Sir Hilary’s dalliance with the Democratic Labour Party in the 1994 general election now abrogates his right to criticize the party 21 years later, is as ridiculous an assertion as to suggest that Errol Walton Barrow’s membership
of the Barbados Labour Party made him unfit to form the Democratic Labour Party in 1955.
We state emphatically that an excellent grasp of the thesaurus does not make what emanates from the mouth of anyone the gospel; and in Mr Stuart’s criticism of Sir Hilary, the suggestion that the university head must be a politician to criticize, should be punished not only with laughter, but also with resounding rebuke for the folly that it is. We note Sir Hilary’s response to Mr Stuart’s criticisms, and we hope that its almost apologetic tone is simply a figment of our imagination. He owes the Prime Minister no such acquiescence.
Mr Stuart, a known lover of history, would do well to be guided by the advice of late British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill.
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop.”
Would that the Hitlers and Stalins of this world had been faced with uncompromisingly “disrespectful”, “ungracious” and “indecent” criticisms of their policies!