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Monday, 9 March 2009

The Commonwealth at 60

The Queen today marks the 60th anniversary of The Commonwealth - an affiliation of nations once part of the British Empire, still nominally ruled by Her Majesty. However, as the BBC report notes, most people in the UK could care less about it. As a Canadian, who grew up singing "God Save The Queen", and learning all about British culture, history, and tradition, as a boy, The Commonwealth was a significant link to the mother country, and to a great (and heroic) past. Obviously my childhood education was not informed by post-colonial discourse - and as an Anglophone in a mainly Francophone province (Quebec) all ties to the English Tradition were welcome, and encouraged. Still, despite all I now recognise about the Empire's many faults and crimes, I do respect some of what British Rule bequeathed to Canada - not least a direct link (if one wants it) to some of the greatest poetry and drama ever written. So it is, I have long felt affection for The Commonwealth, its Games - and the sense that it connects various cultures through the original sin of having been conquered, or settled, by the same major power. Through time, the smaller nations that form this body have divested themselves of much of their "Englishness" and moved on, but by retaining their links, also acknowledged a continuity worth considering - a very Eliotic solution. The fact that most British people don't see the value of this Commonwealth is not surprising. Britain is a victim of its media, which has a stranglehold on the hopes and desires of most of its people, and the current media messages tend to downplay any relationships that Britain may have beyond those between America and Australia. Canada, an extraordinarily rich, beautiful and culturally complex nation, rarely gets mentioned in the British press, nor do most of the other smaller Commonwealth countries, except during disasters, test matches, or elections. Something great if sometimes terrible has been lost in the process.
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