In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • New Caledonia
  • David Chappell (bio)

This year will be remembered for what happened in Noumea and nearby towns in the populous, multiethnic Southern Province soon after Bastille Day (14 July), the French national holiday. First, next to the Mwâ Kâ statue on the Baie de la Moselle (which has become a site for annual celebrations of the “common destiny” of the country’s diverse cultural communities), [End Page 476] two flags were hoisted up simultaneously: the colonial French tricolor and the flag created in 1984 as the emblem of the revolutionary Republic of Kanaky. That same day, at the Customary Senate in Nouville, the event was repeated, and two days later, the flag of Kanaky was raised alongside the tricolor at the French High Commission in the presence of visiting Prime Minister François Fillon, making the policy of coequal “double legitimacy” of indigenous and immigrant blocs official. Similar ceremonies followed in Dumbea, Mont-Dore, and Païta. For residents who support the Kanak independence movement and recalled the deaths suffered in the violent 1980s, as well as for French loyalists who believe in autonomy and reconciliation, the raising of the Kanak flag in the South was a deeply moving gesture of both closure and hope.

But in the Northern Province, President Paul Néaoutyine of Palika (Parti de Libération Kanak) said it was nothing new, since the Kanak-ruled North (and Islands) provinces had flown both flags together since 1988. Rather than a big step forward, he saw it as a belated act that might actually hinder the creation of a common, single flag, as the 1998 Noumea Accord proposed. The man who suggested the idea of raising both flags in the South, after earlier regarding the Kanak flag as a terrorist symbol, was loyalist Pierre Frogier, president of the Southern Province and a deputy to Paris. He had lobbied French President Nicolas Sarkozy to support the dual emblems, since neither bloc could recognize itself in the other’s flag. He also speculated that once raised, the Kanak flag would never come down, and neither would the tricolor; hence, the country would remain autonomous within, rather than becoming independent from, France (nc, 1 July 2010). Legal scholar Guy Agniel pointed out that former French President Jacques Chirac had given a speech in Noumea under both flags in 2003, and since local loyalists lacked a flag of their own because of their ambivalent identity (one foot in New Caledonia and one in France), the flag of Kanaky would likely become, by default, the only “common flag” (nc, 16 July 2010). Kanak leader Rock Wamytan agreed: “This is no longer a flag of exclusion, it’s a flag that can bring us together ... to build a common destiny together” (Maclellan 2010b). Yet Palika, and others like President Philippe Gomès of the government executive of New Caledonia, still regarded one flag as the ultimate goal, and even Sarkozy said that flying both flags was “only one stage in a long process that should result in choosing a single flag” (nc, 1 July 2010).

At this point in its political evolution since the Noumea Accord, the country is increasingly self-governing, under the flexible rubric of “autonomy,” so the difference between that status quo and complete independence is gradually narrowing to debates over identity symbols, rhetorical semantics, and specific devolutions of authority from Paris to Noumea. Which of those debates is more important? Some might say the last one, but the other two are equally significant in decolonization, which, as Frantz Fanon once said, “is the veritable creation of new men” (1968, 36). In fact, there is no legal definition of New Caledonia’s [End Page 477] current political status in French law; it is now a sui generis (unique) entity undergoing irreversible emancipation that is leading toward a possible referendum on full sovereignty in 2014 or soon thereafter. At present, a majority of eligible voters would likely not support complete independence. Kanak are a little less than half the population of 245,000, and some of them are loyalists. Those who oppose independence (but still support expanded autonomy) are engaged in two ongoing negotiations, one in the Congress and the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 476-483
Launched on MUSE
2011-08-20
Open Access
No
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