Saturday, April 12, 2008

Darkness in New Zealand

New Zealand, in the heady Sturm und Drang days of the Labour Government of David Lange, displayed a courage that many in the international community found inspiring. A policy to make New Zealand a nuclear-free zone was actually cast into law, and New Zealanders had good reasons to hold their heads high.

Of course, as is so often the case, not all was rosy in Aotearoa; and with the grandiose gestures and idealism also came a need to completely rearrange the country's ailing economy and drag it into the present. It wasn't pretty, but it was necessary. But people suffered, and Lange ultimately paid for it; though some of the causes for his ultimate political demise also had to be laid at his own feet. Those traits that made him great also made him weak and in due course Labour suffered a hiding, from which it recovered only years later when Helen Clark—a individual about whom I've nothing good to say, and so I won't say much—became Prime Minister of New Zealand in 1999 at the head of a Labour government still in power.

When she came into office, after a bout of 'conservative' government, it was euphoria in the ranks of 'lefties' and 'middlies', who saw coming at them a new epoch of righteousness, prosperity and just generally a government that would take care of those least able to help themselves, the arts, sport, the health system and so on. New Zealand took a traditional and utterly predictable anti-American stance on the Iraq war, pissing off not only the US, but also its Australian allies, in the grand tradition, or so it appeared of David Lange. His name was invoked many a time. And why not? Helen learned her craft in under his and his successors' auspices.

It took a few years to wear the shine off Helen. A majority of New Zealanders—many of whom are almost pathologically anti-American and almost equally pathologically pro-Canadian and/or pro-Scandinavian, and maybe you see the trend here—applauded her inclinations to slag off countries like Israel, diplomatically and by such devices as ensuring 'exposure' of covert Israeli operatives in New Zealand; actions that earned her the epithet 'Hamas Helen'* in some circles.

As was inevitable, years in power and repeated election wins, have habituated not only Helen Clark, but the whole Labour government to 'being in power', with all the attendant results, many of which are unpleasant and directly lead to a corruption of the very purpose—if there ever was one, beyond politicians' desire to be in government!—that they apparently brought to the 'leadership' of the country. But Labour and Helen presided over a halcyon period of economic growth and that made up for a lot of sins. But the appellation 'The Right Honourable' as applied to Helen and her cronies is becoming more and more of a farce.

A few days ago, New Zealand signed a Free Trade Agreement with Mainland China—that's that large Asian country which calls itself a 'People's Republic'—the first such agreement between China and a Western country. I'm not going to get into the details of this, but suffice to say that it's probably a good thing for New Zealand—economically speaking, that is. And since New Zealand is, right now, in the throes of a severe economic downturn... Well, you've got to feed the mouths of your people. That's 'Realpolitik', is it not?

Well, maybe, and more than 'maybe'. But...

There's Tibet. And while even G.W.Bush, that much-despised and ridiculed demon, saw fit to comment unfavorably—though unsuccessfully—on China's behavior in that land; while the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, as recently as a few days ago on a visit to China effectively told them off for their human rights abuses—also without much effect, one should add; while all that was going on and in the lead-up to the signing of the agreement between China and NZ there was what can only be described as a deafening silence from the New Zealand government and its out-of-touch PM.

David Lange would have been horrified at this public display of evidence for the ultimate corruption of the tenets of what NZ Labour once claimed it stood for.

Is it any wonder, one may ask, that New Zealanders—as we did ourselves a few months back—are leaving the country in an ever-increasing torrent? And most of them do so as 'New Zealanders'; not as, like I and most of my family, citizens of both Australia and New Zealand, and folks with a history of repeated international 're-settlements'. This is significant, because it bespeaks of the lack of faith those who are leaving have in their home-country and its future; and I know that many really have no intention of ever returning. They may change their minds, but with the future as it looms right now, I doubt it'll be anything soon.

The descent of New Zealand into a darkness of sorts—a darkness of spirit that now is being accompanied by an economic downturn that no Free Trade deal with Chine is going to stave off—might be short-term, or it may last for longer; possibly for as long as a generation. Because it started quite a while ago, when everything still appeared much rosier; and when things build up their momentum like that, they tend to be hard to stop.

For the sake of New Zealand I hope this isn't going to be as bad and disheartening as it now appears.

* The epithet is not undeserved. After all it was much more likely to see the members of her cabinet and/or party displaying themselves holding hands with the likes of the late Yasser Arafat than shaking the hands of Israeli leaders. The gentleman in the suit below is the very same who just signed the Free Trade Deal with China.I rest my case. (And, yes, I know that Arafat was Fatah, not Hamas; but that's not the point here.)

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