You are on page 1of 5

UNIT 62 THE COMMONWEALTH

Introduction:
The Commonwealth is an association of independent sovereign status, almost
all of which are former territories of the British Empire. Today´s CW is an
association of 53 countries. This means 1.8 billion citizens, about 30% of the
world´s population. Members range from vast countries like Canada to small
island states like Malta.

The CW has 3 intergovernmental organisations:

1. The CW Secretariat
2. The CW Foundation
3. The CW of Learning

History:
Though the modern CW is just 50 years old, the idea took root in the 19 th
century. In 1867 Canada became the first colony to be transformed into a
selfgoverning Dominion. The Empire was gradually changing and Lord
Rosebury, a British politician, described it in 1884 as a CW of Nations. Other
parts of the Empire became Dominions too: Australia (1900), South Africa
(1910). They all participated as separate entities in the WW I and were separate
signatories to the Treaty of Versailles. After the end of the WW I, the Dominions
began seeking a new constitutional definition and reshaping their relationship
with Brtain. The Conferences of Dominions began in 1887, were resumed, and
at the Imperial Conference in 1926, the Prime Ministers of the participating
countries adopted the Balfour Report which defined the Dominions as
autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, an no way
subordinate to one another, though united by common allegiance to the Crown.
This definition was incorporated into British law in 1931 as the Statute of
Westminster.

The Modern CW:


After the WW II, the shape of the British Empire began changing drastically.
India gained independence in 1947, the new State of Pakistan was
simultaneously created, and a wave of decolonisation followed.

The London Declaration of 1949 was a milestone on the road to developing the
modern CW. India provided an interesting test case: It desired to become a
Republic yet wanted to remain a member of the CW and this posed a fresh
challenge to the entire concept: Would CW membership only be for countries
owing and allegiance to the Crown? A Conference of Prime Ministers in 1949
decided to revise this criterion and to accept and recognise India´s continued
membership as a Republic, paving the way for other newly independent
countries to join. At the same time the word British was dropped from the
association´s title to reflect the CW´s changing character.

The first member to be ruled by an African majority was Ghana, which joined in
1957. From 1960 onwards, new members from Africa, The Caribbean, the
Mediterranean and the Pacific joined.
Joining the CW became a natural choice for many new Nations that were
emerging out of the decolonisation process of the 1950´s and 1960´s. Since
then, the CW has grown in size and shape.

In 1965, the leaders of the CW established the CW Secretariat in London. A


year later, the CW Foundation was launched. 2 significant events in the history
of the CW occured in 1971. The first was the Singapore Declaration of CW
Principles, which gave the association a formal code of ethics and committed
members to improving human rights and seeking racial and economic justice.
The second one was the creation of the CW Fund for Technical Co-operation,
which advanced the idea of technical co-operation among developing countries.

Organization and Objectives:


Queen Elizabeth is the nominal head of the organization, but in practice it is
served since 1965 by a London based Secretariat. The current Secretary
General is Don Mckinnon from New Zealand.

Heads of State or government of the CW countries meet every 2 years at the


CW Heads of Government Meeting.

The CW has been considered as an international forum where highly developed


economies and many of the world´s poorer countries seek to reach agreement
by consensus. This aim has sometimes been difficult to achieve. As an
example, we can mention the Aparheid in South Africa which lead to a cooling
of relations between Britain and African members.

Nowadays the CW´s direct political and economic importance has declined. The
CW´s key activities today include training experts in developing countries and
assisting with and monitoring elections.

Cultural Diversity:
The new CW had within it sharp elements of diversity, not only differences of
race and colour, but also of language, level of economic development, relative
size of members and outlook on world´s problems. The greatest challenge to
the CW after the WW II was the assimilation of these elements of diversity.

During the 1950´s and 1960´s the old notion of unity in common allegiance to
the Crown lost meaning as more and more members became Republics and
the homogeneity of political institutions diminished rapidly as one-party
governments evolved in most of the newer members. Economical, cultural and
military ties continued to diminish in importance. Nevertheless, the CW survived
in the 1960´s because in the eyes of the members its beneficts exceeded its
costs.

Co-Operation:
The CW does not have a constitution, a central government, judicial institutions
or an administrative organization. Its activities are developed by means of
distinctive institutions such as the CW Secretariat or the special character of
High Commissioners who are envoys accredited from one CW State to another.
They have the status of Ambassadors.

The tasks of the CW Secretariat were to ensure the dissemination of factual


information between member governments, to assist existing agencies to
promote CW links in various fields, and to make preparations for meetings of
Prime Ministers and other ministers.

The most important meetings are that of the Prime Ministers´.

Development of Linguistic Varieties:


The use of English by the members of the CW has been one of the main factors
in maintaining unity. Many countries have English as their first native language
and some others have English as the practical and educated first language.

Standard British English is kept as the common language for Administration,


Education, Law and International Affairs. But each country possesses distinctive
language features in pronunciation as well as in vocabulary.

Language use also reflects changing attutudes and social values. During the 60
´s the term coloured was used, at the end of the 70´s the word black was no
longer peyorative, and nowadays, the term ethnic man or woman is used.

After the WW II the British Government encouraged the establishment of new


universities in dependent territories, there was an intercourse between CW
universities and the more experienced CW States provided special facilities for
students from the underdeveloped members.

Intercultural Influences and Manifestations:


The CW also funtions as an international organization that represents significant
cultural and historical links between wealthy first world countries and poorer
developing nations.

As a result of their history of British rule, many CW nations share certain


traditions and customs that are elements of a shared CW culture. Some
examples are: sports such as rugby, driving on the left, Parliamentary and legal
traditions, etc. Non of these are universal in CW countries, or exclusive to them.

The CW countries share many links at non-governmental levels. For example a


multi sports championship called the CW Games which is held every 4 years.
But within the CW we can also talk about CW Literature:

Edward Morgan Foster (1879-1970)


He was an English author and critic. He was born in London and for most of his
life he was under the influence of his mother and aunts. He was a member of
the Bloomsbury Group and friend of Virginia Woolf. After gaining fame as a
novelist, he spent his 46 remaining years publishing mainly short stories and
non-ficton. Of his 5 important novels 4 appeared before WW I. Foster´s major
concern was that individuals should connect the prose with the passion within
themselves.
He wrote Howards End in 1910. It is a story centred on an English country
house and deals with the clash betwen two families, one interested in art and
literature and the other just in business. The novel brings together the themes of
money, business and culture. The novel established Foster´s reputation as a
writer.

Between 1912 and 1913 he travelled through India. In 1921 he returned to


India, working as a private secretary to the Maharajah of Devas. The land was
the scene of his masterpiece A Passage to India. It is an account of Indian
under British rule. The novel is dominated by the theme of the barriers between
individuals of the same or of different races. It is a picture of society in India, of
the clash between the East and the West, and of prejudices and
misunderstandings. At first it was criticized for anti-British and then it has been
praised as a superb character study of people of one race by a writer of
another.

Other Foster´s works include:


Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905)
The Longest Journey (1907)
A Room with a View (1908)

Doris May Lessing (1919- )


She is a Persian (Iranian) born writer, whose novels and short stories are
concerned with people caught in the social and political upheavals of the 20 th
century. Central themes in Lessing´s works are feminism, the battle of sexes
and individuals in search of wholeness.

Both of her parents were British. The family moved to Rhodesia (Zimbawe)
where she was brought up under her mother´s hard discipline. She has
described her chilhood as an uneven mix of some pleasure and much pain. At
13 she left her formal education, but she made herself into a self-educated
intellectual. She read Dickens and Tolstoy among others.

At the age of 15 she left home and took a job as a nursemaid. By 1949 she had
moved to London with her young son. That year she also published her first
novel: The Grass is Singing.

Her fiction is deeply autobiographical. Drawing upon her childhood memories


and her serious engagement with politics and social concerns, Lessing has
written among other things about the clash of cultures and the struggle among
opposing elements within an individual´s own personality. Her stories and
novellas set in Africa published during the 50´s and 60´s criticize the
dispossesision of black Africans by white colonials, and expose the sterility of
the white culture in Southern Africa. In 1956 she was declared a prohibited alien
in both Southern Rhodesia and South Africa.

She wrote The Children of Violence series, a buildungsroman about the growth
in consciousness of her heroine, Martha Quest. The series is composed of the
following titles: Martha Quest, A Proper Marriage, A Ripple from the Strom,
Landlocked and The Four- Gated City.

In 2001 she was awarded the Principe de Asturias for literature. She also
recived the David Cohen Brithish Literature Prize.

Her most recent novels include: The Sweetest Dream, The Grandmothers: Four
Short Novels, and The Story of General Dann.

Nadine Gordimer (1923- )


She is a South African novelist and short story writer who received the Nobel
Prize for Literature in 1991. Most of her works deal with the moral and
psychological tensions of her racially divided home country. She was a founding
member of the Congress of South African Writes.

She was raised in a segregated town outside Johannesburg and has remained
in South Africa throughout her career. Nadine focuses proncipally on the
complex human tensions that result from Apartheid. one of her most compelling
achievements has been to give the world and understanding of the terrible cost
an effect of racism in her country. She also became a member of the National
Congress. 3 of her works were banned in South Africa, including The Late
Bourgeois World.

Hert strories portray individuals who struggle to avoid, confront or change the
conditions in which they live.

Among her works we can mention:

Jump and Other Stories.


July´s People.
The House Gun.
Nadine´s work has grown into a profoundly psychological and social chronicle of
half a century in South Africa. She is both its archivist and lighthouse keeper.