Does independence imply freedom? | Sunday Observer

Does independence imply freedom?

30 January, 2022

“We seem to have forgotten that the expression “a liberal education” originally meant among the Romans one worthy of free men; while the learning of trades and professions by which to get your livelihood merely, was considered worthy of slaves only. But taking a hint from the word, I would go a step further and say, that it is not the man of wealth and leisure simply, though devoted to art, or science, or literature, who, in a true sense, is liberally educated, but only the earnest and free man.” –Henry David Thoreau

74th anniversary

Sri Lanka is gearing up to celebrate the 74th anniversary of her independence, or at least what we have come to accept as independence, from the British colonial rulers. Whether we call February 4 the Independence Day or the National Day wouldn’t make much of a difference to the average citizen as long as their understanding of it as well as what they do in celebrating it stay the same.

Irrespective of whether the illusion of independence they have in their minds was achieved through an armed struggle against an oppressor or not, most of the countries conduct ceremonies displaying their military might as the main part of their Independence Day celebrations.

If the main focus of the celebrations of one’s independence is the defense against enemies, foreign or domestic, then could it be an indication that the ‘independence’ they are celebrating depends very much on the strength of those defense forces?

In the Cambridge Dictionary, the word “independence” is described as, the state of wanting or being able to do things for yourself and make your own decisions, without help or influence from other people. In the context of relationships between countries, independence refers to the freedom to make laws or decisions without being controlled by another country or an organisation.

Independence is a condition of a person, nation, country or state in which its residents and population, exercise self-Government, and usually sovereignty, over its territory. It may not be a difficult task to find out whether or not Sri Lankans can claim such independence with territorial sovereignty and/or possibilities of self-Government. That may be a common observation throughout all the countries that have supposedly been granted “independence” by their colonial rulers.

History shows that there was a systematic decolonisation process, ending colonialism as was known at that time, especially after WWII, due to several reasons, none of which perhaps was a genuine interest to see the well-being of the citizens of that newly formed nation.

The United States, Germany and Great Britain were all doing well, economically and had similar rankings as exporting countries at the beginning of WW I. However, Great Britain ended up selling majority of its investments to the US in order to finance the war.

The US tactfully kept a constant pressure on all other colonisers to give their colonies up since it was in their best interest to do so. This did lead Britain’s economy in a downward spiral bringing their military power also down with it. They had to increase exports and/or decrease imports and develop new lines of production and increase the market share.

They were not hesitant to consider the rising standards of living in other countries as an indicator of expanding markets. Therefore, it is in their best interest to help the people in those decolonised nations even further, to improve their living standards while controlling the international markets.

The United Nation defines an independent nation as a nation with a self-governing system. Even after 76 years of its existence the UN still recognises 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs) with a population of about two million people.

Colonial powers

They are still living under colonial powers such as the US, UK, and France. After lengthy discussions with 193 member countries over several decades the UN has done something very important. Instead of referring to these invading countries as ‘colonial powers’ the UN officially changed the phrase to “administrative powers”.

Some of these NSGTs such as Cayman Islands and Bermuda are leading financial centres in the world. Some others like Gibraltar and Falklands have become pawns in territorial disputes between those ‘administrative powers’ and therefore they have no hope of relinquishing their NSGT status.

Macau, another territory in this category, became a Special Administrative Region under the Chinese Government in 1999 as Hong Kong did when the UK handed it over to China in 1997. It is clear that the rich countries have the power to keep these territories under their control as long as they have a positive gain.

Increasing economic prosperity, as evaluated by per capita GDP and other common indices, is being used as a positive impact of being territories of so called “administrative powers”. Another example of “end justifying the means”.

With such a background in independence, a developing country like Sri Lanka would be better off if we analyse the type of independence, we supposedly enjoy instead of spending taxpayers’ money on just putting on shows for mere instant entertainment.

Are we really a self-governing nation? Are we citizens of a ‘free’ nation? If one feels that he is a part of a self-governing system, then he cannot blame anyone else for any problem he faces due to wrong decisions by that governing system.

If one is a citizen of a ‘free’ nation, then he should have at least some of these such as “freedom of speech”, “freedom of press”, “freedom of choice” and “freedom from slavery” that have been drilled into their brains by such systems.

Countries with so called “democratically elected Governments” boast about the freedom their citizens enjoy compared to people in other countries.

Billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch once answered the question “what do you think about the freedom of press?” at a news conference saying “well, you don’t have any such freedom, but I do, because I own the media”.

That pretty much explains the illusory nature of all other freedoms people assume that they have achieved.

Therefore, it is important for the people in developing nations like ours, to understand the bigger picture and not assume a false sense of independence and/or not to be intoxicated with the blind arrogance of nationalism.

The biggest contribution people can make to their own development as well as their nation’s development is to be true patriots who would prioritise country above self, contribution above consumption, stewardship over exploitation, freedom with responsibility, purpose through sacrifice and service, pragmatism, a fair shot for all and are willing to get involved in the decision making process in whatever the capacity needed, while appreciating each and every other citizen’s contribution irrespective of their caste, creed, religion and race.

The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic over twenty years in the USA and fourteen years in Sri Lanka and he can be contacted at [email protected]