What does our silence mean?
At times like these it is useful to reflect on, and remind ourselves of the message which came from Martin Niemoller’s 1946 poem “First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out Because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out- Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.” Niemoller, like many others, initially supported Hitler. In SVG many of us dislike or are uncomfortable with the way things are going, but because we are not directly affected, we remain silent. It is only when we begin to be affected that we think of speaking out. It might then be too late. The incident with Cornelius John happened at his home. Most of us might think that once we are at home, we are free from trouble unless we are natural trouble- makers. Do we have difficulty empathising with Mr John? Mr John’s version of what took place, strange as it sounded, appears very credible to me. In any event, for whatever reason, you can accept or not accept his story, but what you should have no difficulty accepting is that the way the matter has so far been handled leaves a lot to be desired. Can we not agree on this?
There are a number of things at stake here in SVG that speak to what a democracy is Not. We are short on transparency and accountability . A democracy is at work when the people are visible and involved. At the heart of a democratic state is the fact that we elect people to act and govern on our behalf. It is a power we lend to them. The Westminster system under which we operate gives them five years before we formally assess their performance, but this, unlike the American system, is not fixed. Our constitution allows votes of no confidence. This has its limitations as we have seen in recent times. In the past there were voices asking that we institute a system of recall outside the 5 year parliamentary term. There was really no consensus on how that was to work, and it was not seriously considered.
The question remains- why are we so willing to be silent while things are collapsing around us? Where do our loyalties lie? We Vincentians are really our worst enemies! Ours is becoming a failed state. Our country will never live up to its true potential while we remain divided. But we will always be divided once some of us turn a blind eye to the ills around us. But out of all of this is the fact that we do not understand right from wrong. Our state institutions are found wanting. Workers do not understand their responsibilities. In fact, they do not understand the system. What we have here is a mockery of the Westminster system.
Our response to the Covid pandemic leaves much to be desired. The finals of the Vincy Premier League showed up the mixed signals and the utter confusion. Why were things allowed to get out of hand? There really was no excuse for the utter disregard of the protocols which we are told existed. In any event, the feeling on the ground is that we are very selective in how we monitor the protocols, so that they are not taken seriously. We really cannot continue like this but, what will make the difference? Is it really that we are ungovernable? I told the story some time ago of a visitor from Britain who told her host when she was leaving, that SVG was the only country she knew where laws did not seem to exist! Is it that we like it so!
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian