We need to talk about… the Falklands

11.03.2013 - Tony Robinson

This post is also available in: Spanish

We need to talk about… the Falklands
Falkland Island Penguins (Image by Ben Tubby, Wikimedia Commons)

(Here, Tony Robinson writies in a personal capacity about the recent Falkland islands referendum and issues of ownership)

The issue of the Falkland Islands comes up frequently among my many Argentinean friends and as fierce patriots they proclaim their sovereignty of the islands and denounce in the strongest terms the British “occupation”.  They uphold not only the history they learn in schools but also the resolutions of the UN that, they say, back up their claim to sovereignty of the Islands.

Most recently a ridiculous referendum has taken place on the Islands which the UK and the Falkland Islanders will use as propaganda to ‘prove’ to the rest of the world that the Islands are British.  At any time now elected administrators of the Falklands are expected in the USA where they hope to lobby Obama to confirm their “Britishness”.  This is of course as silly as saying that Canada is British, or France is British.  In fact there’s a better claim for calling France British as the British population of France is many times greater than the number of British descendants living on the Malvinas.

And of course it is absolutely ridiculous for Britain to claim the Falklands as theirs in the 21st century given that nearly all the remaining colonies were given their independence in the last century.  How can the UK claim to own islands thousands of miles away on the opposite side of the planet?

However, the UN in its General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) “on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples” of 1960 in its point 2 says:

All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

And this is where it starts to fall apart for Argentina’s claims because the people living on the islands actually want to be colonised and the UN allows for a territory to be governed from overseas when they freely choose it.

So we are faced with a seemingly insolvable problem here:

  • Argentina claims the islands (because they historically occupied them and because they are nearby)
  • Britain claims the islands (because they have historically occupied them and because Argentina occupied them by force in 1982 and the British nationalists would go berserk if the UK gave them up after a war was fought for them)
  • The Islanders themselves want to remain under British administration
  • The UN is, as always, deliberately ambiguous in the language of their resolutions in order to allow both sides of conflict to continue to justify their position.
  • Last, but not least, is the fact that the islands might be sitting on huge oil reserves and as always it is this financial resource that both parties are interested in (especially the UK).

So, how do we resolve this situation?  Well the Humanist ideal of the Universal Human Nation can come to our rescue here.

Humanists who believe that all human beings should be equal in rights and opportunities and who believe that there should be no borders for human beings see the argument over which “country” owns which islands as an argument that belongs to human prehistory because it puts the value of “country” (i.e. lines drawn on a map to mark administrative borders) above the value of human beings.

“The Falklands are British” says the common man on the streets of Manchester, Birmingham or Newcastle without any interest in going there for work, pleasure or any other reason.  Most of them couldn’t find the islands on a map if their lives depended on it.

Likewise, “Las Malvinas son Argentinas,” says the common man on the streets of Buenos Aires, Rosario and Mendoza, as no more than a mantra learnt in school.

Of course, as long as people don’t go to war over it, people are free to say what they want but really the only people with a right to say anything are the people who want to live there.

Here though, there probably enters a valid grievance from the Argentine side.  They can claim that maybe the Islanders would want to be administered by Buenos Aires if there had been an open immigration policy on the islands.  Of course as this never happened, the population is more British than people living in Britain given the huge immigration of foreigners into the UK.

But the point is that while “countries” claim ownership of territories on which human beings live, the value of those human beings living there are placed in a secondary level and this humanists define as violence.

And the issue doesn’t only belong to the Falklands.  How do we find a resolution to Israel and Palestine without giving the rights to live in that land to all the peoples who want to do so?  How can we resolve the indigenous issues in South America without giving the rights to people to live where they live?

Can we resolve Israel/Palestine by evicting the Israelis or the Palestinians?  Not really.  Can we resolve the demands of the Mapuche Indians in Chile by evicting 30 generations of Spanish colonisers?  Can we resolve the problems of the Falklands/Malvinas by evicting the British population?  No.

Well we could, but it would be impractical and not to mention downright violent and anti-humanist.

If we are to really advance as a Universal Human Nation we have to drop this attachment to “country”.  When we start to realise that first we are human beings and then later we can attach adjectives such as; “british”, “male”, “middle-aged”, “white”, “atheist”, “gay”, etc, and not start with the adjectives first, and when we have resolved that our government be decentralised to its ultimate limit (while still maintaining a system of social security that looks after every human being on the planet) then we will be reaching an interesting moment of history when it’s possible that we may be able to resolve conflicts without violence.

From the point of view of humanism, we aspire for a world where human beings are in equal conditions with the right to belong to whichever nation they choose and live where ever they choose. The question of the Falkland Islands/Malvinas should be considered from this point of view.

Categories: International, International issues, Opinions
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