Fiji marks 53rd anniversary with a message of ‘unity in diversity’

Fiji Day 2023
Fiji Day 2023 . . . Students from Labasa College attend the celebrations at Suva's Albert Park. Image: Fiji Govt/RNZ

By Finau Fonua, RNZ Pacific journalist

Fiji independence day celebrations — “Fiji Day” — this week was a jovial occasion with thousands of flag waving citizens accompanying the Republic of Fiji Military Forces Band as they marched through the streets Suva towards Albert Park for a flag raising ceremony.

October 10 marked the republic’s 53rd year since it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1970.

Fiji’s chiefs volunteered to cede their sovereignty to the British realm in 1874, gathering in Levuka — Fiji’s old capital — to sign a Deed of Cession. There was a re-enactment of that historic moment with young Fijians dressed in 18th century outfits of British diplomats and Fijian and Tongan chiefs who signed the deed.

“We must remember with gratitude all of those [who] contributed to the development and modernisation of our beloved Fiji,” Fiji President Ratu Wiliame Katonivere said in a televised state address.

“Among the many important decisions taken by our forefathers embracing Christianity was and will continue to be our guiding light, we have continued to embrace and respect our multiculturalism and our diverse cultures and religions, our differences make us unique as one people,” he added.

Ratu Wiliame Katonivere
Fiji President Ratu Wiliame Katonivere . . . “we have continued to embrace and respect our multiculturalism and our diverse cultures and religions.” Image: Fiji Govt/RNZ

In Albert park, a military parade took place with formations of decorated officers marching around the park to the tune of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces Band.

Fiji’s elite were in attendance from the park stands led by Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka. A gun salute from three Howitzers artillery guns topped off the occasions soon after crowds stood attention to the Fijian anthem.

‘Uncertain times’
Ratu Wiliame outlined some of the challenges faced by the country — re-iterating the same concerns raised by Rabuka at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York last month.

“We are living in uncertain times,” Ratu Wiliame said.

“Climate change has resulted in frequent tropical cyclones, longer dry spells, floodings and sea level rise for us in the Pacific — it has displaced communities resulting in relocations and loss of culture.

“Like the rest of the world, we cannot turn a blind eye to the current war of aggression in the Ukraine, our nation like other nations in the world are facing supply change disruptions and threats to food security being heavily reliant on food imports.”

21 Gun Salute at Albert Park, Suva, 10-October-2023
The 21 Gun Salute at Suva’s Albert Park. Image: Fiji Govt/RNZ

The anniversary is the country’s first under the leadership of Prime Minister Rabuka who was elected in the general elections last year, ousting the 16 year long reign of his predecessor Voreqe Bainimarama, regarded by his opposition as a democratically elected dictator, who imposed autocratic policies restricting freedom of the press and for oppressing political opponents from scrutinising his FijiFirst government.

For many Fijians and pro-democracy advocates in the country, the 2022 general election symbolised a return to democracy, following a peaceful election. Fiji has a history of political turmoil, having experienced four coups in the space of four decades.

Rabuka himself led the first coup in 1987 — a notorious event which saw racially motivated attacks and rioting against Fijians of Indian heritage. In May this year, he offered a public apology to the victims in a special ceremony.

‘Peace a cornerstone’
“In our multicultural society, peace serves as the cornerstone that nurtures unity and drives progress,” Rabuka said.

“Together, as one united people, we will continue to build a Fiji that thrives economically and stands as a shining example of unity in diversity.”

Re-enactment of Fiji's Deed of Cession to the United Kingdom, Levuka, 10-October-2023
Reenacting the signing of Fiji’s 1874 Deed of Cession. Image: Fiji Govt/RNZ

President Ratu Katonivere called on Fijians to “focus on the future”.

“We have had our share of pain and heartaches, we have paid highly for some decisions and actions that were taken in the past,” he said.

“We must continue to remind ourselves that lessons we have learnt from the past so that we can build a better future for the next generation.

“We must embrace our strengths and achievements, and be forward looking.

“As we reflect on our history, I urge all Fijians to celebrate the triumphs we have achieved and focus on the future.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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