Thursday, March 8, 2012

To be truly independent

Published in the Fiji Times - Off The Wall With Padre James Bhagwan Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Rev. Suraj Bangera of India and Prajjawal Shrestra of Nepal
pose for the author in front of South Korean national flags in
a subway station.

Thursday last week was a national holiday in South Korea. 
The first of March is known as Independence Declaration Day. This day commemorates the March 1st Movement in 1919.
On March 1 of this year, the Korean people declared their nation's independence from Imperial Japan.
It was a catalyst for the establishment of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea on April 13, 1919.
The March 1st Movement, or Samil Movement, was one of the earliest public displays of Korean resistance during the occupation of the Korean Empire by Japan.
The movement came as a result of the repressive nature of colonial occupation under its military rule of the Korean Empire following 1905, and the "Fourteen Points" outlining the right of national "self-determination" proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919.
After hearing news of Wilson's speech, Korean students studying in Tokyo published a statement demanding freedom from colonial rule.
At 2pm on March 1, 1919, the 33 nationalists who formed the core of the Samil Movement convened at Taehwagwan Restaurant in Seoul, and read the Korean Declaration of Independence that had been drawn up by the historian Choe Nam-seon and the poet Manhae (also known as Han Yongun).
The nationalists initially planned to assemble at Tapgol Park in downtown Seoul, but they chose a more private location out of fear that the gathering might turn into a riot. The leaders of the movement signed the document and sent a copy to the Governor General, with their compliments.
"We herewith proclaim the independence of Korea and the liberty of the Korean people. We tell it to the world in witness of the equality of all nations and we pass it on to our posterity as their inherent right.
"We make this proclamation, having 5000 years of history, and 20,000,000 united loyal people.
"We take this step to insure to our children for all time to come, personal liberty in accord with the awakening consciousness of this new era.
"This is the clear leading of God, the moving principle of the present age, the whole human race's just claim. It is something that cannot be stamped out, stifled, gagged, or suppressed by any means."(Source: Wikipedia)
As I watched people carrying and waving their national flags with pride, I thought about the struggle for independence of the people of Korea, their struggle during the Korean War and in rebuilding their nation.
I reflected on our nation's nearly 42-year history and the type of struggles we have gone through and are still going through.
What does the independence we celebrate on October 10th mean for us really? Political independence? Hardly, we are still trying to forge a united nation more than four decades after we began singing of "stand united under noble banner blue", and the cry "onward march together," still rings unfulfilled.
Independence means more than self-governance. It means self-sufficiency, self-dependence, self-reliance, self-subsistence, self-support. The desire for independence is a desire for freedom.
We may have had self-governance for the last forty-one years but have we been truly free?
US President, Franklin D Roosevelt, in his State of the Union Address to the Congress on January 6, 1941 said: "In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression - everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way - everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want - which, translated into world terms, means economic understanding which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants - everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear - which, translated into world terms, means a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbour - anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium.
It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb."
This concept of the Four Freedoms is regarded as the inspiration of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in her personal mission of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
These Four Freedoms were explicitly incorporated by the United Nations into the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In a time of huge foreign social and economic influence let us not forget that freedom from want and freedom from fear are just as important as freedom of speech and expression and freedom of religion.
As we focus on political developments and political equity for a united Fiji, let us not forget that a nation that is not free from social and economic injustice is not free at all.
In a truly united Fiji each one of us has to accept the responsibility not just for ourselves and our families and friends but for each citizen of Fiji, each Fijian - regardless of our ethnic and cultural or religious backgrounds.
In this day of "human security", the call is for all of us to defend the weak and the fatherless; to uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed, to rescue the weak and the needy.
That is what it means for us to be a truly independent nation - a people who are interdependent. Only then will we be truly free.
"Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity."
* Reverend James Bhagwan is a student of the Methodist Theological University's International Graduate School of Theology in Seoul, South Korea. Email: or visit

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