Civil society was the victim of 28 barren years
May 30, 2002
Letters on civil society
I write in response to a letter by Mr Deryck M Bernard (SN, 16 .5.02), in which the key PNC figure elaborates on the lack of a strong voice from the non-political civil society of Guyana. "Civil society in Guyana is a grave disappointment," he wrote, alluding that this reflects the need for stronger collaborative politics (i.e., power-sharing) or what some refer to as the "indigenous solution." By collaborative, he means, naturally, that which is dictated by and satisfying to the PNC.
Social expression is never a fly-by-night phenomenon; it has to be cultured, especially in a repressive climate such as that which existed under the PNC regime. It is not only the broken roads, empty stores, and such like that transform a country into a wasteland; it is the psychological breakdown that accompanies this transformation, which kills the national spirit that usually operates in these civil societies. Everywhere, there is a sign of decadence that has its roots in a quarter century of human suffering and national disrespect, which will not be removed unless some adequate period of renaissance is allowed.
As it is, as long as Guyana exists within a noose held by the very hand that strangled civil societies generations ago, there will be no substantial revival.
It is peculiar but not surprising that Mr Bernard writes about our civil society, without substantial commentary on its root cause. However well intended his remarks were, any criticism of today's societies without inspection of their past, origin, and longevity, is inherently short-handed and works to the death, rather than the revival of these struggling societies. It defeats the whole purpose of writing to the public because it misguides more than it directs. Mr Bernard may be telling the truth in saying that Jamaica and Trinidad have stronger civil societies, but it is truer that they never endured our crippling history or mass migration of raw talent. When one writes like this, the reader is likely to assume that such a writer is ignoring the desolation 28 years of barren political rule has left behind.
Regrettably, the PNC is not fully aware of the extent of its damage to the Guyanese psyche, possibly for two simple reasons; firstly, it regards the woes of its rule as having ceased in 1992. Secondly, that the extent of this damage existed primarily in the Indian community, where things ought to be great now that the supposed 'Indian' government is in office. The crime statistics in this country today say the contrary. For starters, Mr Bernard ought to recognize that all Guyana (including civil societies and especially the entire black community), was severely dehumanized by the PNC reign, and the after-effect of this dehumanization process continues despite a change in government. This in no way means that the current administration has not created its share of blunders.
But Mr Bernard's primary concern is not "civil society," at least not if he interprets it as a racial entity, that is, Indian society, which he sees as becoming "interested in dialogue when it threatens their business and security" ("it" meaning extinction). I was not under the impression that Guyana's civil society is under these particular threats; I know for a fact that these are the problems particular to the Indian community, which is part of our civil society.
I see no logical reason for the exclusion of the Portuguese, Chinese, Amerindian, Black, and European (or special emphasis on the Indian) aspects of Guyana's civil society. This is not a good example of being "indigenous."
Whether it is true that a compromise government is not a good government necessarily, or necessarily the result of good government, my first civilian belief is that the government of a majority electorate, if allowed to govern without the usual gridlocks we continue to experience, will most likely result in strong societies of numerous types.
In any event, while I agree with Mr Bernard that Guyana needs a charismatic leader, I want to stress that none exists in the PNC hierarchy. I would go further to suggest that despite a few creditable items on its agenda, PNC leadership has been harmful, especially to its own supporters whose continued silence about this leadership, is one example of a weak civil society. But their fate is theirs - that of this country is mine. It is for my fate that I write.