LONDON ( Associated Press) – After seven decades on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II is widely seen in Britain as a rock in turbulent times. But in Britain’s former colonies, many see it as an anchor of a royal past whose loss still remains.
So as Britain celebrates the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee – 70 years on the throne – with pageantry and parties, some in the Commonwealth are using the occasion for a ceremonial break representing monarchy and colonial history.
“When I think of the Queen, I think of a lovely old lady,” said Rosalia Hamilton, a Jamaican academic who campaigns for her country to become a republic. “It’s not about him. It’s about his family’s wealth, which is built on the backs of our ancestors. We are grappling with the legacy of a past that has been very painful.”
The kingdom in which Elizabeth was born is long overdue, but she still rules far beyond the shores of Britain. He is the head of state in 14 other countries including Canada, Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Bahamas. Until recently it was 15 – Barbados broke ties with the monarchy in November, and several other Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, say they plan to follow suit.
Britain’s Jubilee Celebrations, which culminate in a four-day holiday weekend starting Thursday, aim to recognize the diversity of the UK and the Commonwealth. Caribbean Carnival artists and Bollywood dancers will feature in a massive Jubilee pageant through Central London on Sunday.
But Britain’s image as a welcoming and diverse society has been dented by the revelation that hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people in the Caribbean who had been living in Britain legally for decades were denied housing, jobs or medical treatment. were denied – and in some deported cases – because they did not have the paperwork to prove their status.
The British government has apologized and agreed to pay compensation, but the Windrush scandal has caused deep anger in both Britain and the Caribbean.
A jubilee-year visit to Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas by the Queen’s grandson Prince William and his wife Kate in March, aimed at bolstering ties, had the opposite effect. Images of the couple shaking hands with children through a chain-link fence and riding in an open-top Land Rover in a military parade stirred up echoes of colonialism for many.
Cynthia Barrow-Giles, professor of political science at the University of the West Indies, said the British “seem to be very blind to the kind of visceral reactions” that royal visits to the Caribbean receive.
Protesters in Jamaica demanded that Britain pay compensation for slavery, and Prime Minister Andrew Holness politely told William that the country was “moving forward”, a sign that it plans to become a republic. The following month, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the Queen’s son, Prince Edward, that his country would also one day remove the Queen as head of state.
William acknowledged the power of feeling and said that the future was “for the people to decide.”
“We proudly support and respect your decisions about your future,” he said in the Bahamas. “Relationships develop. Friendships last.”
UK officials hope that the countries that become republics will remain in the Commonwealth, the 54-nation organization largely made up of former British colonies, with the Queen as its ceremonial head.
The Queen’s strong personal commitment to the Commonwealth has played a big role in uniting a diverse group, whose members range from vast India to tiny Tuvalu. But the organisation, which aims to support democracy, good governance and human rights, faces an uncertain future.
As Commonwealth heads of government prepare to meet in Kigali, Rwanda this month for a summit delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, some question whether the organization will continue after the Queen’s eldest son, Prince Charles, succeeds could.
Royal historian Ed Owens said, “Many of the more uneasy histories of the British Empire and the British Commonwealth are waiting in the wings as soon as Elizabeth II is gone.” “So this is a difficult legacy that she is passing on to the next generation.”
The crisis in the Commonwealth reflects Britain’s declining global clout.
Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth under its authoritarian late President Robert Mugabe, and is currently seeking re-entry. But many in the capital of Harare have expressed indifference to the Queen’s birth anniversary, as Britain’s once strong influence has waned and countries such as China and Russia share close ties with the former British colony.
“She is becoming irrelevant here,” said social activist Peter Nyapedwa. “We know about (Chinese President) Xi (Jinping) or (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, not the Queen.”
Sue Onslow, director of the Institute for Commonwealth Studies at the University of London, said the Queen has been the “invisible glue” holding the Commonwealth together.
But she says the organization has proven to be surprisingly durable and should not be written off. The Commonwealth played a major role in opposition to apartheid in the 1980s, and could do the same on climate change, which has threatened the existence of its low-lying island members.
“The Commonwealth reflects global trends,” Onslow said. “So if you think about authoritarianism creeping in in non-Commonwealth countries… it is happening in Commonwealth countries as well. Progress towards greater democracy and good governance is certainly under pressure and has been declining.”
But he said the Commonwealth has also shown resilience.
“The Commonwealth has shown a remarkable ability to rediscover itself and find solutions in times of crisis, almost as if it is jumping into a telephone box and coming out under different guise,” she said. “Whether it will do now is an open question.”
Alex Turnbull in Paris and Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg contributed to this report.
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