In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Queen’s anniversary provokes protests and apathy

LONDON (AP) – After seven decades on the throne Queen Elizabeth II is widely regarded in Britain as a stone in troubled times. But in the former British colonies, many see it as an anchor of the imperial past, the damage to which still persists.

So while Britain is celebrating the Queen’s platinum anniversary – 70 years on the throne – with festivities and parties, some in the Commonwealth are using the occasion to seek a formal break with the monarchy and colonial history it represents.

“When I think of the queen, I think of the lovely old lady,” said Jamaican academic Rozalea Hamilton, who advocates for her country to become a republic. “It’s not about her. We are talking about the wealth of her family, built on the backs of our ancestors. We are struggling with the legacy of the past, which has been very painful. ”

The empire in which Elizabeth was born is long gone, but it still reigns far beyond the British shores. She is the head of state in 14 other countries, including Canada, Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Bahamas. Until recently, there were 15 – Barbados severed ties with the monarchy in November, and several other Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, say they plan to follow suit.

The celebration of the anniversary in Britain, which falls on a four-day holiday weekend beginning on Thursday, is aimed at recognizing the diversity of the UK and the Commonwealth. A huge anniversary competition in central London on Sunday featuring Caribbean Carnival performers and Bollywood dancers.

But Britain’s image as a hospitable and diverse society has been affected by the discovery that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Caribbean people who have lived legally in the UK for decades have been denied housing, work or treatment – and in some cases deported – so that they had no documents to confirm their status.

The British government apologized and agreed to pay compensation, but the Windrush scandal sparked deep anger in both the UK and the Caribbean.

The jubilee trip to Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas in March by the grandson of Queen William and his wife Kate, designed to strengthen ties, had the opposite effect. Images of a couple shaking hands with children over a fence off a net, and riding a Land Rover with an open top on a military parade, have caused many echoes of colonialism.

Cynthia Barrow-Giles, a professor of political science at the University of the West Indies, said the British “seem very blind to internal reactions” that royal visits provoke in the Caribbean.

Protesters in Jamaica have demanded that Britain pay reparations for slavery, and Prime Minister Andrew Holnes politely told William that the country was “moving forward”, indicating that it plans to become a republic. The following month, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Brown told the Queen’s son Prince Edward that his country would also one day remove the Queen from the presidency.

William acknowledged the power of feelings and said the future was “seen by people.”

“We are proud to support and respect your decisions regarding your future,” he said in the Bahamas. “Relationships are evolving. The friendship lasts. “

UK officials hope that the countries that become republics will remain in the Commonwealth, an organization of 54 countries, consisting mainly of former British colonies, the ceremonial head of which is the Queen.

The strong personal commitment of the Queen of the Commonwealth has played a major role in uniting the diverse group, whose members range from vast India to tiny Tuvalu. But an organization committed to democracy, good governance and human rights has an uncertain future.

As Commonwealth heads of government prepare to meet in Kigali, Rwanda, this month for a summit postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, some are questioning whether the organization could continue if the Queen’s eldest son, Prince Charles, succeeds her.

“Many of the more awkward stories of the British Empire and the British Commonwealth are waiting in their wings as soon as Elizabeth II disappears,” said Royal historian Ed Owens. “That’s why it’s a difficult legacy that she passes on to future generations.”

The crisis in the Commonwealth reflects the decline of Britain’s global influence.

Zimbabwe was expelled from the Commonwealth under its authoritarian late President Robert Mugabe, and is currently seeking readmission. But many in its capital, Harare, have expressed indifference to the Queen’s anniversary as Britain’s once strong influence waned and countries such as China and Russia maintain closer ties with the former British colony.

“It is becoming irrelevant here,” said public activist Peter Nepedva. “We know about (Chinese President) Xi (Jinping) or (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, not about the Queen.”

Sue Onslow, director of the Commonwealth Research Institute at the University of London, said the Queen was the “invisible glue” that holds the Commonwealth together.

But she says the organization has proved surprisingly strong and should not be written off. The Commonwealth played an important role in encouraging opposition to apartheid in the 1980s and could do the same in combating climate change, which poses a significant threat to its lower islands.

“The Commonwealth reflects global trends,” Onslow said. “Therefore, if you think about the creeping authoritarianism that has taken place in non-Commonwealth countries … it is happening in the Commonwealth countries as well. Progress towards greater democracy and good governance is certainly under pressure, and there is regression. ”

But she said the Commonwealth has also shown resilience.

“The Commonwealth has demonstrated an excellent ability to invent itself and come up with solutions in times of crisis, almost as if it jumps into a phone booth and comes out under a different guise,” she said. “Will it do so now, the question is open.”

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Alex Turnbull in Paris and Andrew Meldram of Johannesburg contributed to this report.

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