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35 years as a Republic nation

By VERDEL BISHOP Saturday, September 24 2011

Today Trinidad and Tobago celebrates Republic Day, a day many citizens view as “just another holiday.” The sad reality is that many are ignorant of the significance of the day or even fail to see the importance of acknowledging what republicanism means to us personally and what it means for our society.

This year in observation of Republic Day, Newsday spoke with various public personalities, religious leaders, educational experts and some politicians to get their view on what Republic Day means to them.

Some believe that as a people, we are yet to embrace republicanism, while there are those whose hearts are filled with patriotism. Others expressed how proud they are of the nation’s progress and have promised to do their part in the progression of this country.

Being a republic nation means the supreme power rests in all the citizens entitled to vote (the electorate) and is exercised by representatives elected, directly or indirectly, by them and responsible to them. It means that instead of a monarchy, this country is now represented by a President, who is head of state.

Trinidad and Tobago became a Republic on August 1, 1976. The event is celebrated as a public holiday on September 24 because this is the date when the first Parliament met under the new Republican Constitution. The date was removed from the official calendar of holidays from 1999 to 2001 to make way for Spiritual Baptist (Shouter) Liberation Day which is celebrated on March 30. The Republic Day holiday was reinstated in 2002. Trinidad and Tobago has had four presidents in the last 35 years — Sir Ellis Clarke, Noor Hassanali, Arthur N R Robinson, and current head of state George Maxwell Richards.

Works and Infrastructure Minister and Member of Parliament for Chaguanas West, Jack Warner, said this country needs a generation of curfews to bring some discipline and stability back to this Republican state. “Republicanism should mean us becoming mature as a nation, building on the independence which we have achieved; but looking at what is happening to the country today, I don’t know how successful we are to achieving this level of maturity. We will need a generation of curfews to bring some discipline and stability back to this Republican state,” Warner said.

Vice-President of the Senate, Senator Lyndira Oudit, however, said the future of this country looks bright. She believes that we have come to a different cycle in the development and the foundations laid by our ancestors are forging building blocks for the future. She explained, “Republic Day is a chance for us to recognise the foundations that we have had and it is an opportunity for us to build on those foundations. Republic Day is about a national consciousness that I believe has not developed in the best and fullest manner up to this time but is slowly growing as more and more citizens of this country find a national consciousness and a collective voice,” the Senator said.

Head of the Emancipation Support Committee Kafra Kambon, said this country becoming a Republic was a necessary step. He noted that while a lot has not been done in terms of purging citizens of the past colonial legacy he still sees Republicanism as an important step in moving the country foward. “I think TT becoming a Republic was necessary because it removed a very oppressive symbol of colonialism when the country no longer had to recognise the Queen of another country. The more we are able to discard those symbols of oppression the better for our psychological health,” Kambon said.

Public relations officer of the Interreligious Organisation, Brother Noble Khan said the first thing that comes to mind when considering Republic Day is hope. He said our ancestors always hoped for a free nation. He explained, “as people of faith-based origins as diverse as we are, we should always espouse and hold dear virtues such as morality, ethics, honesty and respect. It’s a question of hope; here we are as a people who could have a big input and say in the destiny of our selves our family community, our country, our region and our world.

He continued, “The hopes and aspirations of our people coming out of this colonial experience have always been an aspiration of generations before and we are fortunate to be the ones to experienced the realisation of independent and republicanism. Our ancestors have always hoped for what we have realised. There is a great responsibility upon us to ensure that its sanctity maintained for the development of our nation so that succeeding generations to come will leave a heritage of continued growth and development,” Khan said.

Kezia Reece, Principal of The Athenian Pre Secondary School, believes that as a society, we need to determine for ourselves whether or not we truly experience Republicanism. “Republicanism means that we are free to make and add to the laws and decision making process in society but this becomes void and non-existent because civil society is given no voice after elections. Parliamentarians promise to speak on our behalf during elections but we are still waiting to be heard. Society becomes this non existent voice when this happens.”

She said schools should avoid placing focus on teaching Republicanism out of text books but rather they should help students to explore what is happening in society through debates, which helps to better sensitise students.

“As educators we should extend the text book definition of what Republicanism is about. We need to allow children to explore what is happening in society and compare it to what they are being taught in the text books. We should encourage our students to be more sensitised. Republicanism, colonialism and Independence become very arbitrary to children; this is why debates are important. At our school we engage in a lot of debates. We want children to take what they learn from their text books and extend it to society because this is what social studies is about. It is looking at the social knowledge and then comparing it to society,” Reece said.

Well known patriot and public figure, Peter “Flagman” Diaz, who flies the Trinidad and Tobago flag proudly at most national events said that Republic Day means “everything” to him. “I am a patriotic man, so living in a republic society for me coincides with Independence. We need to be proud of ourselves. This is a time to unite together and reach out to each other with love and respect. The youths need to be taught to respect the country and the environment and to be proud of this country,” Diaz is credited for implementing the first police youth club in this country – the Arima Police Youth Club, which is now known as the Crime Prevention Youth Cadet Club, where he functions as its president

Head of Trinbago Unified Calypsonians’ Organisation, Brother Resistance said, “Republicanism is another step towards true independence and to our empowerment as a nation.” President of Pan Trinbago, Keith Diaz, said he is a proud citizen of this country. Diaz noted that living in a Republic society gives him great pride. He said: “We are a young nation which is moving forward. Being a Republic nation gives us a fresh air of development; we are a proud people with our own destiny and we have charted a course for many generations to come. I hope that whatever we continue to do moving forward will uplift young people of this country for many generations to come. As a developing nation I think that we can be an example for other developed countries. Our cultural belief and the diversity of our culture is one which is recognised throughout the world,” Diaz said.

Pundit Krishna Maharaj believes republicansim is an opportunity for the nation to come together to solve the problems we are facing today. “Of course we are no longer dependent on the rule of the Queen. Republic day gives the government and the people a chance to stand on their own and work out our own situations. I am grateful for that. We need to look at ourselves as a society and aim to solve our problems together to get this country to a better status,” Maharaj said.

Newsday’s Senior Reporter, Joan Rampersad, said as a nation we have not been able to grasp the meaning of true republicanism. “Personally I am proud that Trinidad and Tobago has gotten to Republican status. However as a nation, we have not been able to grasp the true meaning of the status. Some citizens are quite comfortable following the teachings of colonialism, thus denying themselves true independence, far more Republicanism.

“ There are those that believe the government owes them everything and doing their part in whatever sphere to build a strong nation is not on their agenda. On the other hand there are those whose personal greed contributes to the stagnation of what ought to be the development towards first world status.

“Also, the lack of passion for country and patriotism of country is saddening. But how I long for the day when attitudes toward country and fellow men will change in the best interest of TT and its citizenry, “Rampersad said.

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