If August 31 is the day that marks the birth of our fully independent nation, then Republic Day, which is being celebrated today, marks our coming of age.
Today’s commemorations, taking place without pomp or ceremony because of the COVID-19 restrictions that are still in place, come exactly 45 years after T&T took the major step of abolishing the monarchy to become a republic within the Commonwealth.
Although the new Republican Constitution was promulgated on August 1, 1976, the celebrations take place on September 24 because that was the date on which the first Parliament met under the new Republican Constitution.
For citizens of this country, having two national events of such significance in less than a month provides opportunities for patriotic commemorations and reflection on our evolution as a nation.
September is now designated as Patriotism Month, a period when buildings and major landmarks across the country are draped in the national colours and activities are held that put the spotlight on T&T’s history, heroes and national achievements.
Unfortunately, the significance of our republican status and the responsibilities vested in all of us as citizens are often overlooked.
The word republic comes from the Latin word rēs pūblica, which means “public thing,” characterising that this is a state that is run by its people. We are in control of our destiny, no longer under the rule of a European monarch but with an indigenous head of state and leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives that we elect.
However, the extent to which we have fully embraced this reality and our state of maturity can still be questioned.
This country has changed since 1976, but whether T&T is now in the place where it should be, developmentally and otherwise, is a matter for debate.
In 1976, historically the year of this nation’s coming of age, the countdown to Republic Day was just one of the major events taking place.
In July, at the Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada, Hasely Crawford brought pride and joy to the country by winning T&T’s first-ever gold medal at those international games. It was also an election year with at least ten opposition parties lined up against the People’s National Movement (PNM) for the September 13 polls.
The PNM, then led by its founder Dr Eric Williams, won 24 of the 36 seats contested with the United Labour Front (ULF), the forerunner to the United National Congress (UNC) and led by Basdeo Panday, forming the opposition after winning ten seats.
This was a nation just six years past the Black Power uprisings of the 1970s, just 14 years old as an independent nation but enjoying economic prosperity as an oil-rich nation.
For better or worse, these and other events have defined the nation that we are today, a country no longer flush with petrodollars, with no victories to celebrate from the recent Olympic Games and struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this 45th year as a republic, with events within and without that test the very fabric of our existence, the challenge is for T&T to live up to the state of maturity that we should have achieved by now.
Is T&T living up to its full potential? An issue to ponder deeply on this Republic Day.