Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Coming Apart, Or Holding Together?

Ethnic Defection - Balkan Style: The fate of the former state of Yugoslavia offers a tragic rejoinder to all those New Zealanders (Maori and Pakeha) who see no dangers in posing the question: "Why not apart?"

IT WAS the NZ Political Review’s most unorthodox article. Written by Roger Openshaw, then a Senior Lecturer (now an Associate Professor) of Education at Massey University, "Why Not Apart?" was published in July 1992 and called for the deliberate, carefully managed, dissolution of New Zealand’s unitary state.

In Openshaw’s utopian scenario, an implausibly disinterested "interim" government would, "invite the tending of charters on behalf of any group or syndicate for the setting up of an independent successor state somewhere within the present boundaries of New Zealand." None of these "successor states" could have a population of less than 15,000, or more than 100,000, citizens.

I was never quite sure whether Openshaw was pulling the collective leg of NZPR’s readers, or whether he was offering them a serious constitutional alternative. All I would say now is: "Be careful what you wish for!"

Because until John Key rather belatedly slammed the door in the Tuhoe negotiators’ faces, Openshaw’s deconstructed New Zealand was on the point of becoming reality.

Those same negotiators expressed "surprise" at Key’s intervention in the Treaty settlement process. According to their spokespeople, Tuhoe and the Crown were only a few days away from announcing the return of the Urewera National Park to the Tuhoe "nation". The tribe’s negotiators were also confident of securing a large measure of mana motuhake – self-government – for Tuhoe.

As one of the very few tribes not to have signed the Treaty of Waitangi, the ultimate objective of Tuhoe leaders was to oversee the creation of an independent tribal polity alarmingly akin to Openshaw’s "successor state".

Well, I’m surprised they were surprised. How’s it possible that grown men and women, living in a sophisticated, unitary and democratic 21st Century state, could seriously entertain the notion that their Government was about to voluntarily surrender its sovereignty over 200,000 hectares of national territory?

They may say they were encouraged to hope for such an outcome by the Prime Minister, or the Treaty Negotiations Minister, Chris Finlayson, or both. But that only deepens the mystery. Regardless of what was said to them by the Crown’s negotiators, Tuhoe should have known enough about their Pakeha compatriots to realise that any decision to hand back the territory confiscated by Settler Governments during the 19th and 20th Centuries wouldn’t be allowed to stand.

The fate of Yugoslavia (still in the brutal process of unravelling at the time Openshaw wrote "Why Not Apart?") stands as a stark warning of what can happen (even to a federal state) when ethnic defection is permitted to gather momentum. No sooner had Slovenia been allowed to secede from Yugoslavia, than Croatia – emboldened by its neighbour’s success – followed suit. Serbia, intent upon protecting Serb interests in the defecting entities, mobilised its superior military resources. The Bosnian Muslims, caught geographically between Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats, had no option but to declare their own independence. The cost in terms of human suffering was immense.

But can anyone doubt that something very similar would have happened here, had the National-led Government’s Treaty negotiators not been reined in by the Prime Minister?

Had Tuhoe been granted mana motuhake, could Tuwharetoa (who, like Tuhoe, never signed the Treaty) have demanded anything less? And if self-government was granted to Tuhoe and Tuwharetoa, how long would it take Tainui to reassert its rights in the Waikato? Certainly no less time than it would take the largest Maori tribe, Ngapuhi, to reassert its rights across the whole of Northland.

In their current presentations to the Waitangi Tribunal, the Ngapuhi people are already advancing the argument that, because the Northern Chiefs never surrendered their sovereignty to the British Crown, the New Zealand State’s writ should no longer, strictly-speaking, be permitted to run in Ngapuhi territory.

If such challenges to the sovereignty of the New Zealand State are not forcefully refuted – and soon – life in New Zealand is destined to take a very decided turn for the worse.

Not that Pakeha should blame Maori for attempting to recover what was taken from them by force or fraud over the course of the past 170 years. On the contrary, they should ask themselves what they would do if a foreign power began buying-up their turangawaewae: farm by farm, mine by mine, business by business? Wouldn’t they resist?

Interestingly, Openshaw’s argument in "Why Not Apart?" is that the unitary state constructed by Pakeha New Zealanders since 1840 is simply not worth defending:

"[I]f we should indeed decide to dismantle our failing unitary state, we will be able to exploit the one considerable advantage New Zealand has over other countries; namely that there is no strong national culture. There is no genuine New Zealand nationalism nor is there any New Zealand people in the sense that there is a French people, an American people or even an Australian people."

This view is more common among the deracinated left-wing intellectuals of New Zealand academia that many of their compatriots may realise. And it is matched on the Right by the neoliberal conviction that the unstoppable processes of globalisation have made the nation-state a historical anachronism. In the current round of Treaty negotiations these two world-views have come together – with potentially disastrous results.

Because, as the Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, who reportedly led the charge in Cabinet against the signing away of the Urewera National Park, understands – there is a New Zealand people, and they do have a national culture, and they will not sit idly by while their country and their culture is casually dismembered and thoughtlessly destroyed.

The Prime Minister is to be congratulated for heeding the advice of his more experienced Cabinet colleagues. And his party was no doubt hugely relieved to hear him say: "there is no room for separatism in New Zealand".

Now all he has to do is convince his allies in the Maori Party that they have reached the outer limits of what is politically "workable".

For make no mistake, if New Zealand is Yugoslavia, then the Pakeha are the Serbs. And just as Yugoslavia was the historical achievement of the Serbs, New Zealand is the historical achievement of its settlers and their descendants who built it, and defended it, and who still, in spite of separatists and globalisers, love it.

Why not apart?

Because New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha, only have a future – together.

This essay was originally published in The Independent of Thursday, 20 May 2010.


Lew said...

I agree with your last line, Chris. The trouble is, your customary argument requires that future to be constructed your way rather than our way.


Chris Trotter said...

But who, exactly, is this mysterious "our", Lew?

Describe for us the constituents of this wonderfully reassuring (if undefined) collective pronoun.

Give us all a glimpse of New Zealand's future constructed "our way".

Lew said...

It's what's developing at present, through the institutions and practices of which you're so critical. As much as you like to mutter dark prognstications about native capture of the country's civic and political and legal institutions, the rate of change remains very much within the control of the settler majority.

My position is that that process should be permitted to continue, and the negotiations and horse-trading accepted as a lass-bad alternative to outright repression and ultimate rebellion. This should happen without undue scaremongering or excessive reactionary control being exerted by either side, and at present the only side in a position to exert that control is the settler majority.

That way it really will be together, rather than the larger party dragging the smaller, bodily and unwilling, into a future essentially of the larger's choosing. That's not togetherness.


Chris Trotter said...

That's a fair reply, Lew.

I guess the point I would reiterate is that after thirty years we (the Settler majority) have exhausted our stock of "workable" solutions.

Beyond this point we enter the realm of zero-sum negotiations (as in returning vast tracts of public and/or private land) for which our political leaders and bureaucrats have no mandate, and which, if pursued, will unleash a devastating backlash.

This is exactly what McCully and Steven Joyce discovered when they tested Finlayson's generosity on a "Settler" focus-group. It's why they prevailed upon Key to intervene.

As I say in the posting, I don't blame Maori for testing the boundaries of the "workable" - I have nothing but admiration for Tamati Kruger's negotiating skills. But there is no disputing that the "easy solutions" (language, education, monetary compensation, co-management) have now been exhausted.

We're now at the point where the dispossessed stand at the boundary of what was formerly theirs and demand its return - and where the dispossessors reply with an emphatic "No."

Beyond this point, numbers - either of votes, or of guns - decide the issue.

Lew said...

I don't agree that they have been exhausted, but I'm prepared to accept that that's a highly arguable proposition. I also don't accept your majoritarian, coercive framing, and I've argued before that the division point is not so stark as you make it out. Iwi aren't "demanding" the return of all that was once theirs -- incases where it seems so they're making bold and often hopelessly unrealistic opening bids which invariably -- and history is a good guide on this -- get whittled down to a tiny fraction. The process is neither "yes" nor "no", but both "yes" and "no".


Sanctuary said...

Lew needs to refresh himself on the politics of Ulster, and pay particular note to what happens when you get loyalist paramilitaries who declare war on moderates & seperatists.

Chris Trotter said...

Oh, Lew, you're such an incorrigible optimist!

What do you think will happen when the Waitangi Tribunal brings down its decision on the Ngapuhi claim?

Whichever way it goes - there's going to be some very aggrieved people.

Lew said...

Yes. The nature of compromise in a near-zero-sum situation like this is that people will be aggrieved. This is the nature of the process, and it is a characteristic of every past Treaty claim that the claimants are unhappy with the magnitude of the settlement, but are prepared to live with it in the interests of going forward. Very few if any settlements have been substantially relitigated. The system is working.

Sanctuary, the first object is to prevent either side from becoming radicalised to such an extent. So far, so good.


Robert Winter said...

I guess that the issue for Lew's argument is whether the less-bad option will a) not descend into radical oppositional/separatist politics; b)will create new frameworks for problem-solving and agreement; c) provides settlements that have some lasting quality. We are de facto on this path at the moment and, apart from the odd insignificant flag-shooting, polarisation is broadly limited and settlements are being reached. So Lew is, in my view, broadly correct in his current assessment.

It is, however, an unstable process, which can be derailed. If its success is dependent on ignoring the elephant in the corner - the NZ Westphalian state, warts and all - it is unwordly, for it is ignoring the reality, that is, the bulk of civil society sanctions the process, for positive reasons, because some people ignore it, others grudgingly accept it. That sanction is unravelled a little every time the majority feel that a line has been crossed too far.

What might be needed in this process is an appropriate notion of 'commons' - a reversal of historical process in some ways. For example, I see national parks as commons, quite properly to involve joint governance, but not privatisation to a particular group. And a form of privatisation - quite possibly for commercial exploitation - would have been the outcome of the handing-over of Te Urewera National Park. One has only to hear Ron Mark today supporting Maori purchase of SOE assets to see where a particular future lies. What is handed over in settlements should be open to whatever use iwi wish, hence my concern about the National Parks.

Tiger Mountain said...

Oh the travails of of the long distance columnist. You worry too much Chris on behalf of some of your audience. Various other countries suffer car bombs and molotovs from the colonised and dispossessed. We still have some space here to be more hopeful, but for how much longer. What are Tuhoe expected to do now? Give them their land for chrissakes I say. What part of theft is not apparent here? A step too far for some? Well there have been many years to catch up, Government spends thousands to sell things like ‘National Standards’, what about a few bucks for Treaty issue education, Labour at least did a bit on this. The colonisation legacy is not going to go away at the whim of National led or Labour led for that matter, governments.

And now onto Lew. The MP will ultimately not solve it either. I still maintain that any ethnically based NZ parliamentary party (albeit only one at this time) will eventually fold under various contradictions. Yes, they do have the right technically, to royally stuff up. But not the moral right. The MP is not pan Maori, anymore than the National Party in reality represents the majority of New Zealanders on under $40k per annum. All the other parties that stand for parliament (bar the small Maoist Workers Party) have contradictions as well, between who they claim to represent and who they actually do.

Personally I will fight a brown boss as hard as a white boss when it comes down to it. You cannot be a “symbolic” capitalist. I have supported Maori rights since I first became educated in the 70s at the late lamented WEA about “the treaty is a fraud” and the various versions of TOW itself. Colonial takeovers, racism and exploitation do not go down well with me, whatever the country, and particularly my own. These are extra layers of capitalist oppression inflicted on Maori New Zealanders, not an exemption sticker from the resulting class struggle in my opinion.

I am sure Lew, that a number of Maori would like my attitude as much as a number of pakeha do, but such is life. For your information there are 5 main iwi in my area of Te Tai Tokerau, one of the most maligned being Ngati Kahu. “A marginalised people on marginal lands” said the Muriwhenua report of the early 90s. I live in the middle of this area and Prof Margaret Mutu helped write a great history of the Karikari peninsula, Te Whanau Moana (2003) informing many. Around the corner at Taipa beach one pakeha family, going against the prevalent “denialist” feeling in these here parts actually returned a significant coastal farm to the iwi, I won’t go into more detail.

I recognise the underlying geology and beaches in my motu and work with members of Ngati Kahu on various things. I feel the place, I know it will be here hundreds of years hence, and enjoyably rark up some of the aloof pakeha absentee mega bach owners who just “party and piss off” oblivious to the history of the area. An effective beach care group has solved a quad problem, is starting to restore dunes etc. plus we can wind up soon, and just work with Ngati Kahu if required as they will soon have joint, read total, control of the conservation areas and some resources at last. In the late 30s you know out here, fertiliser supplies were dropped off at farm gates, unsolicited, and if not paid for, land was confiscated. Some is finally to be returned with iwi having to buy back a large Landcorp block. It took action several years back to prevent this SOE selling off some prime beachfront bits and bobs ($9 mill worth). Nothing comes without a struggle.

I am a 4th gen NZer and have for a long time done a bit, Bastion Point, 81 tour, two Hikoi to Waitangi in the mid 80s, various actions in the North.

Separatism will hopefully always be here in a positive way, one’s culture is one’s culture, but until the negative separatism of inequality is dealt with, how can it be said we are “all New Zealanders”?

Lew said...

TM, thanks -- a fascinating glimpse.

But I can't help but think you've mistaken me for (either) the sort of person who thinks whitey has and can have no legitimate claim to or understanding of belonging; or the sort of wooly-headed SNAG who talks about coffee-coloured people and of "togetherness" as being akin to a sort of bland homogeneity. I'm vehemently neither.


Tiger Mountain said...

Fair enough Lew. I had not seriously mistaken you for either of the above, but have felt that your posts sometimes give more than due weight to the parliamentary realm.

I went into minutiae in my blurb for a change because it is all too easy for digital warriors to relegate real life activities in favour of polemic. Lets not go overboard on self revelatory musings though!

twr said...

Chris, your entire argument seems to be based on the indefensible premise that any people who choose should have a say in what other people do with their property.

For example: "...they should ask themselves what they would do if a foreign power began buying-up their turangawaewae: farm by farm, mine by mine, business by business? Wouldn’t they resist?"

I can't see why someone should get a say in that, purely based on an accident of birth whereby they happen to live within the arbitrarily defined borders of the same group of islands that the other people's property is on.

Surely when you sell your house you don't expect to have to get your neighbours' blessing on whether they approve of the purchaser?

If the citizenry lost the power to endlessly meddle in other peoples' affairs, and claim control over property that isn't theirs, then all the points you make above would be moot, and we'd all be better off.

Anonymous said...

"there is a New Zealand people, and they do have a national culture, and they will not sit idly by while their country and their culture is casually dismembered and thoughtlessly destroyed."

But Chris, that has already happened.

When I was growing up in Auckland there were relatively few people about who wouldn't be described as being a New Zealander. Today the situation is reversed, with it becoming steadily rarer to see anyone who is. Most New zealanders are still unaware of the profound demographic changes underway in New Zealand because they don't personally live in the locations affected thus far, while many more haven't realised this process is set to spread across the whole country.

The main reason National has backed away from devolving sovereignty to iwi is because Labour is currently unwilling to hold the same position, meaning National would be electorially exposed. If Labour did, most people would be against it happening but Labour/National would do it anyway and those who opposed would be labled rednecks and racist. Some would give protest votes to ACT but that wouldn't stop it and voters would become resigned to their fate on the issue.

Back in the 90s there was strong public opposition to National's money-minded stance on mass migration. But Labour's unwillingness to follow the public mood left voters no option on the issue except to give a protest vote to that unpalatable party from Tauranga. Voters became resigned to their fate on the issue and were silenced from expressing their concern for cultural solidarity in the face of being labled "racist".

In time, internal changes in Labour will probably see it supporting the devolution of sovereignty to the tribes, in practice if not in name. Political expediency could see them get into a bidding contest with National. But if this happens, it will happen slowly over decades. I don't think there would be any great groundswell against it because few beyond those personally affected by the process would realise its extent and meaning until none are not personally affected.

Politicians have moved toward seeing New Zealand as an economic unit and not as a social unit, often defining themselves from each other only on monetary issues. The Labour and National parties of the last two decades have respectively placed a low and very low priority on New Zealand's "national culture". At least one of the two main parties would have to undergo a paradigm change for the governance of New Zealand to include that as a concern.

John Laurie said...

Being married to a Serbian I have taken a great interest in Serbian/Yugoslavian, and more broadly, Eastern European, history. Our history in New Zealand had always confined itself to the ethnically almost homogenous nations of Western Europe, to the point that, when I first encountered stories of Stalin's particular area of expertise as being the "nationalities problem", it seemed to me a peculiar specialty of little general interest.

Now we have our own ethnic nationalist party in New Zealand, dedicated, like others of its ilk, to propounding the historical grievances, real and imagined, but always exaggerated, of its ethnic group. Ethnic-nationalist parties sounded the death knell of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia and led the rapidly democratising and multinational Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires to dissolution in a maelstrom of ethnic cleansing, and genocide of their Jewish populations. -- "The worst are full of passionate intensity" as Yeats wrote about similar events in Ireland.

The logic of the situation in New Zealand is that the Maori party will continue to make unacceptable demands on the national estate. Their intransigence over the foreshore and seabed is only a foretaste of things to come. As Peter Sharples has said publicly, he believes that current settlements have been less than 1% of what was taken. Having been involved in Maori circles in several situations I have heard the same sentiment expressed three times in a more vulgar idiom: "They stole our car and now they're offering us back the windscreen wipers." (As a matter of interest, I also heard a well-known lecturer in a third year Maori Studies course at the University of Auckland tell his pupils that the New Zealand Government had deliberately poisoned large numbers of Maori(s) in the nineteenth century and this was why so many hapu were now extinct.)

New Zealand has spent 25 years digging up and airing the downside of colonisation without giving any public attention to the advantages - starting with the cessation of inter-tribal warfare and the huge increase in literacy, life expectancy and living standards that membership of a first-world country has entailed.

To end with a note on Tuhoe (and I have read Judith Binney's several books) - hapu of this iwi were still confronting eachother at gunpoint at Te Whaiti as late as the 1890s when the Urewera Commission commenced its sittings. Rua Kenana told his followers to sell their land and come and live with him at Maungapohatu, to avoid a great flood that would wipe out the lowlands. Tuhoe may not have sold their lands as an iwi but many (most?) members of Tuhoe were quite happy to raise some money this way once they were allowed to. And why not? As I heard an old lady say in a meeting house at T---, "Yes, I sold my land. I didn't want to be a farmer. I used the money to buy a house."

It is also a fact that turning fern and bush into basic pasture or arable cropland cost around three to six times the price charged to the settler for the land by provincial governments in the nineteenth century. The land itself was worthless in the economic sense without this further investment.

We need some more books by writers like Paul Goldsmith, on Te Hemara Tauhia to counteract the one-sided history we have lived on since Keith Sinclair's History of the Maori Wars - a necessary corrective at the time but has now gone much too far.

The Labour Party has also surrendered to identity politics, while unemployment and family-splitting weekend work have become the norm, overtime rates have disappeared and a de-unionised and demoralised working class wait on the restaurant tables of the bourgeoisie.