ETHNO-NATIONALISM VITAL NEW POLITICAL FORCE, SAYS FIJIAN ACADEMIC RATUVA

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By Ashwini Prabha

SUVA, Fiji Islands (April 10, 2002 - Wansolwara Online-USP Journalism/Pasifik Nius)---Ethno-nationalism is going through fundamental changes in Fiji and is a powerful new force at the basis of political conflict in the country, says a leading Fijian sociologist.

Dr. Sitiveni Ratuva, research fellow at the Australian National University, made the comments yesterday during a seminar at the University of the South Pacific entitled "The Anatomy of a Frankensteinian Monster: Rethinking Ethno-nationalism and Political Conflict in Fiji."

"This is a complex issue that has to be understood in the political, social, economic and social context," said Dr. Ratuva, who is seconded to ANU's Research School of Asian and Pacific Studies after lecturing in sociology at USP.

The seminar focused on political violence, coups and the putsch manifested as nationalism.

Fiji had two successful coups in 1987 followed by an attempted coup in 2000, which were preceded by Taukei (ethno-nationalist) demonstrations.

The 1987 Taukei demonstrations were led by famous nationalist Apisai Tora, who later became unelected Minister for Agriculture in the post-Speight coup interim regime.

Fiji has a number of nationalist bodies and organizations that play an important role in society, the most prominent being the Great Council of Chiefs.

"Ethno-nationalism cannot be ignored. We can’t destroy distinctive identities," said Dr. Ratuva.

"We should try to promote positive relationships between races."

He said "various expressions of emotion and loyalty for one’s country over the years have been played down and dismissed by those in the political arena."

"These issues should not be dismissed," Dr. Ratuva added.

Similar concerns were echoed by Robert Nicole, lecturer in history/politics. He said, "Nationalism is often dismissed as people's emotions and fears, but it is more then that."

Dr. Ratuva said there were two types of nationalism -- one at state level, which was directed towards a multi-cultural society, and the second being ethno-nationalism, where people stood for their distinct identity.

"This concept could be very useful in peace building in Fiji," he said.

"Government and non-government organizations promote state nationalism, but there is a need for communal mobilization of this," he said.

The seminar was attended by academics and students, and also by co-author Akosita Tamanisau, who wrote a book about the 1987 upheaval: "Fiji: Shattered Coups."

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