A new republic is born: Barbados ditches Britain's Queen Elizabeth

A new republic is born: Barbados ditches Britain's Queen Elizabeth
© Provided by WION

The Caribbean island nation of Barbados is set to sever its centuries-old ties to the British monarchy by displacing Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and declaring itself the world’s newest republic.

Barbados will remain a member of the Commonwealth, a grouping of 54 nations across Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe.

Dame Sandra Mason was inaugurated as the first president at midnight (0400 GMT/0930 IST) with the Royal Standard flag representing the queen lowered in the capital Bridgetown.

Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, stood somberly as Queen Elizabeth’s royal standard was lowered and the new Barbados declared, a step which republicans hope will spur discussion of similar proposals in other former British colonies that have Queen Elizabeth as their sovereign.

In Barbados, the removal of Elizabeth II, who is still the queen of 15 other realms, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Jamaica, is seen as a way to finally break free of the demons of its colonial past.  

Barbados’ new era has sparked debate over colonialism, Britain’s centuries of influence and more than 200 years of slavery until 1834.

In 1966, Barbados, known for its idyllic beaches, love of cricket, and as the birthplace of singer Rihanna, gained independence from Great Britain.

Watch | Barbados about to become the world’s newest republic

“I remember in the old days we would be really excited about the Queen and Prince Charles and Princess Diana and royal weddings,” says Anastasia Smith, a 61-year-old nurse.

“But I don’t know if we ever quite saw them as our royal family. Now, everybody is talking about a republic. I’m not sure that anything about my life is going to change. But I think we’re doing the right thing and it’s a proud moment for Barbados.”

Many Barbadians disagree that replacing the queen is the most pressing issue, citing the economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, which has exposed the country’s overreliance on tourism — which is, ironically, dependent on British tourists.

“I know it is something that we were going towards for a very long time, but I think it came at a time which is not necessarily the best time considering our economic situation and the Covid situation,” said 27-year-old office manager Nikita Stuart.

The eerie calm in usually bustling Bridgetown, the lack of tourists at popular attractions, and the dead nightlife scene all point to a country struggling after years of relative prosperity.

Also read | Barbados establishes world’s first metaverse embassy

The unemployment rate has jumped to nearly 16 per cent from nine per cent recently, and the country has just eased a longstanding curfew imposed by Covid-19, shifting it from 9:00 pm to midnight.

Some see the end of the queen’s reign as a necessary step towards financial reparations for the historical consequences of the use of slaves brought from Africa for work on sugar plantations.

In many Barbadians’ eyes, replacing the British monarch is merely a matter of catching up with how the nation has felt for decades.

The last time the queen was removed as head of state was in 1992 when Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean, proclaimed itself a republic.

Other former British colonies with Queen Elizabeth as their sovereign, such as Jamaica, Australia and Canada, may consider similar proposals in light of this change.

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