The situation with Fiji right now is an interesting contrast between the old gray parties (National and Labour) and the newer independent MMP parties: (Māori Party & the Greens) While Labour blusters and proposes that we escalate our diplomatic standoff to trying to get them thrown out of the commonwealth and not relenting until they are on a credible road to democracy, and National proposes to sit back and wait while it plays a game of hats insisting no ministers go “in an official capacity”, the new forces in politics have turned to a policy background for dealing with extreme differences in culture that is proven to work
Taking advantage of the fact that intentions are things that are nearly impossible to measure, the Māori party has declared that they think Voreqe Bainimarama has good intentions, and that as representatives of the indigenous people of New Zealand they are in a unique opportunity to open up a new channel of communication and try for a diplomatic resolution of some sort.I hope you’ll forgive me for diving into the history books for those of you unfamiliar or passingly familiar with German-German foreign relations in the cold war. 😉 The precedent for this is clear: In the days of the iron curtain where Soviet Europe and Eurasia was walled off from capitalist Europe, Germany was divided into two. West Germany claimed it was the only legitimate authority, while East Germany went rogue and claimed there were “two Germanies”, and that they had established a “socialist nation”. Following what is now known as the Hallstein doctrine, West Germany, like New Zealand with Fiji, broke off all relations with its rogue twin, and maintained an official stonewall that by the 1960s was becoming increasingly untenable.
It was a social democrat who was Mayor of West Berlin that started the solution while the wall was being constructed: Willy Brandt realised that freezing relations with the other Germany had isolated a regime that thrived on isolation and propaganda, when the best remedy for their situation was social and political contact. Willy correctly assumed that in the long term, the authoritarian socialist regime in East Germany would become more untenable as more of its citizens were exposed to the Western Germany, and that the advantages of democracy and freedom from communist autocrats would become self-evident, and eventually the regime would collapse, and faster than it would have otherwise. He called the revelation (that closer rather than no ties to the rogue regime were needed) his new Eastern policy, or “neue Ostpolitik.” The name Ostpolitik has been attached to this approach towards rogue regimes ever since, and served Willy well in his eventual promotion within the SPD, or Social-democratic Party of Germany.
The situation between us and Fiji is similar in essentials, if not exactly the same. While Fiji is a much poorer nation than we are, it was, like us, playing host to a roaring tourist trade before the latest coup, which the onset of the authoritarian regime has certainly slowed significantly. Foreign journalists are severely restricted, we’ve broken off relations, and we’ve now ejected them from the pacific islands forum despite their country playing host to its offices. Like 1960s West Germany, we have clearly reached the limit of our ability to freeze relations, and it’s time to take a serious think about where we have left to go through from here. Labour wants to throw our toys out and start actively using diplomacy against Fiji instead of just freezing it, attempting to eject them from the commonwealth, and quickly running themselves out of further steps for escalation if Voreqe continues to refuse to act as they demand. National wants to sit back and hope the situation resolves itself, a strategy that Bainimarama’s confident delay of elections would make untenable to any government taking the situation in Fiji seriously.
Like East Germany, Voreqe’s coup has relied on the isolation of Fiji, and a combination of state pressure on the media, restrictions on foreign journalists, and the intimidation of martial law to suppress dissent. A regime relying on these factors is inherently unstable under the critical gaze of free speech. The question is how to import it, and the answer is not cutting off all contact with its well-intending neighbors who are the only the only supply of free speech left with the ability to reach Fijians willing and able to bring back democracy on a realistic timetable. Relations of some sort become an urgent necessity seen from this viewpoint, even if they are completely unofficial.
As a member of the Green Party and generally a supporter of the Māori Party, I’m enthused that we’ve both cottoned on to the fact that the real solution is to show Fiji that we’re the exemplar, that stable democracy where the rules are changed by the people and voting is not restricted can work, that we need to thaw some relations with Fiji, and be an example, and that we can both focus on a long-term path to a stable Fijian democracy that can resist these coups.(Even if the latest one was bloodless) To use friendly and, initially, unofficial visitors to thaw relations, and to begin the slow sell of the road back to real democracy. If that eventually means senior MPs of whatever parties working with the Fijian government, then the credibility that lends is a small price to pay for the only real option: starting our nations talking again, and helping all Fijians- even the military dictators- become more open about what their nation has lost since its coup, and getting them back on the path to free speech and self-governance.
The calls for more visits from high-profile New Zealanders and MPs have come from both independent parties, with Keith Locke now planning to visit Fiji, and the Māori Party receiving approval from the government to meet without their ministerial hats on. (Yet another meaningless legal fiction, but it maintains the Government’s non-policy of sitting back and hoping for the best, but ultimately irrelevant to the wisdom of the Māori Party’s position) The hard bit? Being careful not to really legitimise the regime by praising it in any way, while working with them on anything that really does speed up the road to democracy, and keeping the criticism subtle enough that Fiji won’t kick us out. That may even mean making reality what is possibly only Bainimarama’s excuse: Democracy without racial discrimination, with real representation for all Fijians, Indian or Indigenous.