Archive for June 4th, 2007

Tomorrow is the 5th of June, Senk Zen in Creole, the Seychelles version of the 4th of July. It’s not called Independence Day, however, because that holiday comes later in the month, on the 29th of June, and marks the hand-over from British rule on the day in 1976, almost 200 years after the US wrestled away their right to self-rule from the same bunch.

The 5th of June is Liberation Day … this year the 30th anniversary of Liberation Day … the occasion on which in 1977 the country was “liberated” from the government installed by the Brits not quite one year before.

Count on history to settle the spin into a proper orbit — one man’s coup becomes a country’s deliverance, revolutions morph into struggles for liberty, and radical insurgents grow to become legions of brave freedom fighters.

Yes, perspective is everything, and water under the bridge provides a POV that favors what floats.

The phrase coup d’etat will not be uttered much around here, even though that is pretty much what occurred thirty years ago tomorrow. The sitting President left the country for a short visit to the UK, the Prime Minister took over without permission to do so, and then ran the country as a one-party communist state for seventeen years. It wasn’t a particularly violent overthrow … the Seychellois are not a particularly violent people … but it wasn’t without incident.

Thirty years down the pike, there are still grudges held and forgiveness is a long way off for some people, but for the most part the official ‘take’ on the events of three decades ago stands with little challenge.

Days like today tend to bring out the Red in the rhetoric, as today’s Seychelles Nation Newspaper illustrates.

The majority of Seychellois will tomorrow celebrate a very memorable date that is very dear to our hearts: the 30th anniversary of June 5, 1977 when a group of fearless Seychellois changed the course of this country for the better, forever.

This group of Seychellois made the dreams of the people their pre-occupation when they lit the flame of the country’s liberation which led to extraordinary development and progress.

Yeah … I know … some fancy fingerwork (like footwork, but on a keyboard) often takes over where proper English would do a better job, but that’s what happens when so many people had all of their higher education provided in universities in Russia, Cuba or the PRC.

Although lines like, “The strife continues for our better future and respect of our true Creole identity, without consideration of religion, origin, political belief or social status.” sound straight out of Mao’s machine and tend to muck up the meaning considerably, the point they are trying to make is that the country is better off because of the events of the 5th of June 1977.

So, is it?

I can say with little doubt that if the coup had not happened I would not be living in Seychelles now.

The first president, the guy who blinked, was very big on developing the country for tourism and playboys. Well, something like that. He had ideas of turning the place into a Heffner-esque archipelago that would have quickly put hotels on every beach … all with the grooviest of 70’s architecture, you can bet … a tragic turn of circumstance that would have had the 1993 version of the country I first encountered more like Acapulco than the incredible corner of paradise that welcomed me with virgin beaches and a citizenry that had not learned, or needed, to view tourists as begging targets.

Although the idea was to have ‘no building taller than a coconut tree’, the free-for-all developing that was likely to have taken place would have crowded out much of what made Seychelles so special in my eyes by the time I arrived.

Seventeen years of a one-party communist state may sound like a sentence of suffering to some, but for the great majority of Seychellois that time settled over them like a cosy, yet lightweight, quilt. Life was peaceful. Life was easy. Nothing much happened.

With the USSR turning inward as it broke up, support for faithful little communist countries dried up, and as the world changed … as it always does … Seychelles needed to change with it.

The first multi-party elections took place in 1993, and the man who’d orchestrated the coup and had been running the show ever since won by a huge margin. More elections have followed, and his party keeps winning.

Thirty years post-‘liberation’, and the country still has no beggars. No one here is hungry or homeless. Education and medical care have been free for so long that the literacy rate is well over 90% for the total population, and over 98% when the pre-liberation old folks are removed from the calculation … higher than that in Spain … and healthcare is better than all of Africa, much of Asia and parts of Europe.

The down-side reflects the ease of life, with work ethics and entrepreneurial spirit taking hits when the beach beckons and island fever inspires naps. It is hard to get things done and mediocrity is frequently taken for brilliance … one only needs to be barely good enough to excel, and this isn’t good for a country in the long run.

From where I sit .. .that would be on my veranda overlooking Anse Soleil with a view of the Indian Ocean toward Silhouette … history has served Liberation Day up nicely, and although development is now eating the islands faster than I’d like, those seventeen years following the coup were like a factor 40,000 sunblock that protected Seychelles from the ugliness of 1970’s building styles, 1980’s greed, and kept folks here too busy afterward for 1990’s divisive religious issues or 2000’s wars.

Yes, I’ll be celebrating the 5th of June.

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