Monday, June 8, 2015

New Caledonia

There are still more French overseas territories for us to mock. This one, like several others, provided the French with a convenient penal colony far from home – the French like their penal colonies nice and small, where the British prefer vast spaces for the same purpose, which is why the French took New Caledonia and the British took Australia. 

As is always the case with masters and servants, the Kanaks, as New Caledonians are called, want independence, but the French like to feel they are important in the world, and owning distant countries is to a nation what having valet parking and a housekeeper is to the nouveau riche; both these latter, of course, at their "little cottage" in the country. The New Caledonians pushed through the 1980s and 1990s for independence, and the French pushed back - rather like having an unwanted lodger foisted on you and then discovering that he refuses to leave. Eventually the two sides reached a bad compromise, known as the Noumea Accord, by which the French can stretch out, over a 15 to 20 year period, the transfer of responsibility, and still not actually hand over - or perhaps hand over, but who can say in what form? That will be decided by a referendum, if one ever happens, somewhere unspecified between 2014 and 2018, but we are half way through 2015 as I write this, and no indication even of the planning of one yet. Given that the penal colony was closed down in 1904, why does France feel the need to keep hold of this territory ten thousand miles from its geographical borders? Nickel appears to be the answer – New Caledonia has about a quarter of the world’s total nickel deposits, and its population would be a great deal better off if it, rather than the French, had the right to mine and sell what is theirs.

New Caledonia is in fact an archipelago, consisting mostly of Grande Terre - known to locals as Le Caillou ("the pebble") - as well as the Loyalty Islands, the Chesterfield Islands, the Belep Archipelago (was Solzhenitsyn aware of this when he gave his famous sobriquet to the Soviet penal colony in Siberia?), the Isle of Pines, and a few remote islets, a word which should be pronounced eyelets, but never is. The capital is Nouméa, though the French still like to think of it as Port-de-France and the Americans as their military headquarters in the South Pacific, which it was throughout World War Two.

Marks for: 2018

Marks against: 2018

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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