Independence Day or Republic Day? Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles calls it Democracy Day.
That’s how he sees November 30, 2021 when Barbados became a parliamentary republic after having endured years of slavery, colonization and even genocide.
And as far as he is concerned, Barbadians should not be fazed by the transition.
In fact, the noted historian believes that after overcoming “the darkest days of its history”, this country is perfectly placed to manage its own affairs.
Sir Hilary maintains that Barbados had a duty and a responsibility to make the move.
“The movement to the republic is a completion of that process where the citizens of Barbados have finally said ‘we do not need to have a foreign sovereignty, we do not need to have an imperial power presiding over our political affairs, we do not need to have a foreign identity standing above and beyond the identity of the citizens of the island of Barbados’.
“Barbados, against the background of this history, has a duty. History has given Barbados this responsibility to move forward into the 21st century with an anti-colonial end of an empire agenda. Barbados has a duty. This was the first slave society, this was the first society where Africans were in the majority, this was the society that was known for the crimes committed against humanity, in slavery and genocide. Barbados has a duty, a responsibility to live up to that history and to take the step it has taken today as a matter of pride, as a matter of dignity, as a matter of honour,” Sir Hilary contends.
“Why should Barbadians have doubt about their capacity to manage their own affairs, to have complete control over their sovereignty? Why should Barbadian people have doubt having gone through what they have gone through, having experienced the darkest years of slavery and colonization, the mental terror, the psychological aspects? Why should Barbadians have fear and why should they have doubt about taking this final step of responsibility for their future?”
Sir Hilary says the move to a republic should be hailed as an outstanding achievement. But the academic says the “painful price” Barbados has paid cannot be ignored.
“The people of Barbados have a legacy, they have a history – in many respects a unique history – but the pain and suffering associated with that history remains today. All across the world, Barbados was known as the most brutal society ever established in history because of the nature of that. You have to imagine that slavery in Barbados was not only about the brutality or physical exploitation and emotional suffering, but slavery in Barbados was also genocidal.
“The African people in Barbados also experienced genocide; 600,000 Africans were imported into Barbados in the slavery period, from colonization 1625 right through 1834. At the end of slavery they were 83,000 remaining. The question has to be answered, how do you reduce 600,000 people to 83,000, less than a 20 per cent survival rate?
“….Today, the population of Barbados is still under 300,000 – half the number of those who were imported. So we Barbadian people, we are the survivors of the holocaust; a special people. We experienced not just slavery but we also experienced a genocidal process,” Sir Hilary adds, noting that all Barbadians carried that history in their blood and their consciousness.
There has been much discussion about the timing of the transition to a republic, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the country’s dire economic position. But Sir Hilary doesn’t believe either issue is significant enough to delay the move. He lauds Prime Minister Mia Mottley for her vision and determination in presiding over such a historic occasion.
“We are fortunate to have a Prime Minister that understands history, that understands her duty and her responsibility as a young and courageous and intellectually astute leader to complete this process, which was started by all of our National Heroes and found expression by the Right Excellent Errol Barrow in his declaration of national independence. We have a Prime Minister who understands all of this and is taking our nation hand in hand and taking us over the finish line.
“Yes, there will be some who will argue, ‘why now?’, that there is a pandemic, there’s economic recession and the timing is not right. But is there ever a good time to declare your freedom? Is there ever a good time to say that against the history of oppression that today is the day of freedom and liberation? When is a good time?” Sir Hilary opines.
“This is not determined by economic circumstances, it is not determined by international political circumstances. It is determined by a people and their government who have realised that it is precisely because of difficult economic and social circumstances that a nation has to dig deep and find the self-confidence to push itself through the challenges and move to the future with resilience and determination. This is it, this is the right time. We are faced as a nation with many challenges and we are committed to resolving them but I can think of no better time than to look to the future with confidence and courage, to be innovative, than when you are faced with challenges because then you dig deep, into your history, into your consciousness and find the courage to go ahead and to press on. This is that moment.”