An intolerance we can well do without!
It is a sad commentary on the divisive nature of party politics, as practised in the English-speaking Caribbean, and also a poor reflection on the level of maturity of our democracies when societies find themselves needlessly polarized because of partisan fervour taken to an extreme.
It is regrettable that this predicament has befallen a number of countries in our region. The fierceness of partisan politics has caused populations in some instances to be split down the middle, mostly into two opposing camps. They are constantly at war with each other, in which each side considers itself right and the other side wrong.
Hostilities peak at election time when political rivalry is at its highest. Sometimes, it triggers violence which, regrettably, can culminate in death as happened in Jamaica during the infamous general election of 1980 when over 800 people were killed. Jamaica seems to have learnt from this painful episode, as it has not been repeated.
Closer to home, St Kitts and Nevis probably stands out the most because of the tribalism of its politics. Persons visiting the twin island federation can almost immediately sense how deeply divided the country is. They only have to read the weekly newspapers of both major parties to experience the political venom which has been constantly served up over the years.
In Barbados, we have always taken pride in a peaceful tradition where political rivals are able to have disagreements, but still treat each other with courtesy and respect and, otherwise, get along well with each other. Political disagreement, though fierce at times, was historically seen as nothing more than a difference of opinion; not something to cause division and rancour.
Are we beginning to move away from this tradition? There are a few trends which have emerged of late that are cause for concern because of the long-term implications if they are allowed to get out of hand. One issue involves increasingly noticeable signs of intolerance of opposing views, especially on the part of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP), as it grapples with a protracted economic crisis.
It seems these days that anyone who dares to criticize the Government or take a public stand against its policies, using available legal avenues, runs the risk of being excoriated in the meanest fashion and being portrayed as “unpatriotic”. Such actions go against the spirit of democracy and, more so, the Constitution Of Barbados that guarantees every citizen freedom of expression.
Political zealots, for whom their party can do no wrong, rejoice when such intimidatory and high-handed tactics are used. They see such actions by the political directorate as a show of strength in support of their party’s cause. What they fail to realize, in their glee, is that these types of actions help to widen divisions which can become progressively worse.
It is unfortunate that the recent dispute involving the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and the Barbados Investment & Development Corporation (BIDC) had to be politicized in the way it was. Whether we agree or disagree, the fact of the matter is that the NUPW, in calling a general strike, was opting to pursue a course of action which trade unions have always taken. Strike action in Barbados, though rarely used, is not new.
Naturally, we are pleased that common sense prevailed and the strike was averted. It would have been devastating for the struggling economy at this time. The brazen attempt to intimidate the union’s leadership immediately following the resolution of the dispute was a most unwelcome development. It must be roundly condemned by every right-thinking Barbadian.
We cannot apportion blame on anyone because we have no evidence. However, the highly charged political environment cannot be discounted as a facilitating factor. Sending suspicious packages, either to intimidate or cause harm, is alien to our way of life and has no place in a free and democratic Barbados. We urge the leaders of society to voice strong disapproval. Failure to do so may well open the door to bigger and more serious problems in the future.
We believe that differences which are the source of tension in key relationships can be thrashed out –– and resolved –– through open and frank dialogue on the critical issues facing Barbados. We need to start talking more with each other, in an atmosphere conducive to promoting tolerance, respect and cooperation, to identify the things which bind us together in the quest for a better Barbados, instead of dwelling on differences which only serve to keep us part.