Unite not divide

Stabroek News
February 28, 2000

The message of Mashramani 2000 was as audible as it was evident in the enormity of its manifestation. Guyanese and civil society have little time for the politicisation of truly national, people-oriented events like Mash.

Heavily advertised prior to February 23, the People's National Congress (PNC) organised a separate Mashramani programme that comprised a flag raising at the 1763 monument and a PNC band which would diverge from the main procession towards the party's headquarters at Sophia.

On the issue of the flag raising, the PNC may stand on firmer ground than the Mashramani procession. Changing time-honoured traditions in a society like Guyana's with myriad sensibilities is like wading through a minefield. The republican anniversary has become synonymous with the midnight flag raising at the National Park. Whether its continued observance in this manner is a symbol of PNC rule or associated with the image of Guyana's first executive President, Forbes Burnham is immaterial. Changing this tradition and others associated with the event requires some plausible, convincing reason which the ruling PPP/Civic has not yet provided. Hoisting the flag at midnight at the National Park isn't about rigged elections or party paramountcy. It is simply the symbolic re-enactment of a crucial date in the country's fragile history. It shouldn't have been tampered with in the first place.

Nevertheless, holding a parallel flag raising event should not be the PNC's response as it unfortunately spawns a deeper and more corrosive division between the two main parties and their respective constituents at a time when the country should be celebrating cohesion. Would it not have been just as powerful to have those who attended the Square of the Revolution wave PNC flags or symbols at the State's Parliament Buildings event? How these national events are marked must surely be an issue for discussion between the two parties at the quiescent Herdmanston political dialogue.

On the Mashramani parade the PNC simply miscalculated. With the state able to muster a robust response from its own ministries, agencies and the private sector, those gathered on the streets were feted and got caught up in revelry. For the first time in many years Mashramani threatened to be an event that can be worked on next year (political calm permitting) as the centrepiece of a much larger celebration. The PNC gathering entered the Mashramani route as the final "entrant" and since there were no other floats to follow swept up those lining the streets who were ready to party at Sophia.

To have a separate band that would march off to Sophia and not enter the official viewing gallery at the National Park was an attempt by the PNC to divide Mashramani celebrants into PPP/Civic and PNC camps. Would the PNC band in the National Park translate into support for the ruling party or convert them into sympathisers with the government? Certainly not. It was petty politics at best and at worst enormously divisive. It has set an unwelcome precedent which must not be repeated.

National life has become so contaminated by these expressions of bitterness and small-mindedness that there is a genuine yearning for politicians to step far away from events like Mash. There was nothing wrong with the PNC participating under its own banner on Mash day. However, its actions proved that it is not yet willing to lend to a healing atmosphere in which the average Guyanese could sit back, relax and forget - just for one day - the political unease in the land.