Calder Theatre Bookshop: Stealing a Nation (John Pilger)

Chagossians

You may have heard it casually referred to by journalists as an uninhabited British Island where Americans have a huge Military base that had a specific role in the war on Terror and Iraq. You will almost certainly have not heard of Diego Garcia as part of the Chagos Archipelago- that was once home to 2000 Creoles- British Citizens and loyal subjects- who had lived there for at least 200 years but whom, in 1961, were mysteriously turned into a ‘floating people’ or British Colony (BIOT) and annexed from their homeland by the British Government by the force of a special decree called the Order of Council, which conveniently bypasses parliament and is a bill only agreed to by the Monarch in a private ceremony.

The reason, according to John Pilger’s superb and hard-hitting 2004 documentary, was the Americans, and presumably, Britain’s obsession with power. The 1960s and 70s were turbulent times; the US military wanted a base outside its own country and Diego Garcia- part of the self governing British colony of Mauritius (1,000 miles away) fitted that purpose. Thus the UK agreed to lease the Islands to the US and take part in an act that would ‘sweep and sanitize’ the beautiful and exotic Indian Ocean Territories and make homeless thousands of its people. By 1973 all of the Islands’ inhabitants had been deported to Mauritius and forced to live in quarters that had previously been occupied by animals in order to make way for the US base that is still  home to 2000 military personal and civvies. Ironically, it’s called Fantasy Island.

header3

John Pilger’s documentary reveals the affect the now commonly recognised ‘crime on humanity’ [by the UK’s own Royal Courts of Justice] committed by Harold Wilson’s government had on the Creole people. ‘She died of sadness’ one man says of his late wife. It is the sadness that a person can break into when forcibly removed from their homeland and is a common reason given by Creole families whose elders and children die because their hearts are broken. Suicide is also rife in the exiled communities, even now.

Pilger’s film feels current, even screened 10 years on from its making. It is interested in history only to the extent of how it affects the present and does not only concentrate on the period between 1961 and 1973, it looks at the conscience of successive governments… government after government, including Tony Blair’s New Labour, refusing to allow the Creoles to return, even after the Royal Court’s reckoning. One of the reasons cited is cost- the bill would cost around 11 million, a bill too large for the British tax payer, although it is content to fund the houses of UK ambassadors in Mauritius to the tune of the same amount. Houses situated not far from Creole slums. Not only is the tyranny of the likes of Dennis Healey exposed by his and his government’s social amnesia over the issue, but the refusal to empathize by our own present politicians is also scrutinized.

J

The documentary also successfully illustrates several successive ironies. The fact that nearly ten years after the deportation of its own citizens to serve the interests of the Cold War and the US, the UK were defending another group of its citizens in the Falklands against the Argentinean invasion. Unfortunately no one was there to defend Diego Garcia when the UK technically invaded itself. That when the Royal Court issued its decree and the protesting Creoles finally thought they were going home, the Government issued a feasibility test, maintaining that the islands were uninhabitable, despite being home to a huge US population. They also created a marine conservation area the size of one of our National Parks, another reason to prevent the Creoles from returning. Currently the Mauritian government is challenging this creation of the parks at a UN tribunal. Its decisions are binding, and if it rules in Mauritius’ favor, this could directly challenge the UK’s sovereignty and the legality of the US’ lease of the Islands.

Stolen Nation is part of a trilogy of films being shown, for free, at the Calder Theatre Bookshop in Waterloo, London. The first of the trilogy was Utopia, the third, next Friday, is, rather pertinently, Breaking the Silence: Truth and Lies in the War on Terror. After the film showing, expect a well-informed discussion.

For more information visit www.calderbookshop.com

For more information on Chagos Islands

verity is a writer, filmmaker & workshop leader with an avid interest in all the arts, but particularly film & theatre. She writes about theatre for theatrebubble and short stories for Unintentional Hermits.