Skip to main content

Stealing A Nation - John Pilger, Calder Theatre Bookshop, Waterloo, London

You may have heard it casually referred to by journalists as an uninhabited British Island where the Americans have a huge Military base that had a specific role in the war on Terror and Iraq. You will almost certainly have not heard of Diego Garcia as part of the Chagos Archipelago- that was once home to 2000 Creoles- British Citizens and loyal subjects- who had lived there for at least 200 years but who, in 1961, were mysteriously turned into a ‘floating people’ or British Colony (BIOT) and annexed from their homeland by the British Government by the force of a special decree called the Order of Council, which conveniently bypasses parliament and is a bill only ‘Agreed’ to by the Monarch in a private ceremony.

The reason, according to John Pilger’s superb and hard-hitting 2004 documentary, was the Americans- and presumably, Britain’s obsession with power [‘power is right’]. The 1960s and 70s were turbulent times, the US military wanted a base outside its own country and Diego Garcia- part of the self governing British colony of Mauritius a 1,000 miles away, fitted that purpose. Thus the UK agreed to lease the Islands to the US and take part in an act that would ‘sweep and sanitize’ the beautiful and exotic Indian Ocean Territories and make homeless thousands of its people. By 1973 all of the Islands’ inhabitants had been deported to Mauritius and forced to live in quarters that had previously been occupied by animals in order to make way for the US base that is still  home for 2000 military personnel and civvies. So much home, it is called Fantasy Island.

John Pilger’s documentary reveals the affect the now commonly recognized ‘crime on humanity’ [by the UK’s own Royal Courts of Justice]  committed by Harold Wilson’s government had on the Creole people. ‘She died of sadness’ one man says of his wife. It is the sadness that a person can break into when forcibly removed from their homeland and is a common reason given by Creole families whose elders and children die because their hearts are broken. Suicide is also rife in the exiled communities, even now.

Pilger’s film is a film about now, even screened 10 years on from its making. It is interested in history only to the extent of how it affects the present and does not only concentrate on the period between 1961 and 1973, it looks at the conscience of successive governments… government after government, including Tony Blair’s New Labour, refuse to allow the Creoles to return, even after the Royal Court’s reckoning. One of the reasons cited is cost- the bill would be around 11 million, a bill too large for the British tax payer, although it is content to fund the houses of UK ambassadors in Mauritius to the tune of the same amount. Houses situated not far from Creole slums. Not only is the tyranny of the likes of Dennis Healey exposed by his and his government’s social amnesia over the issue, the refusal to empathize by our own very present politicians is also scrutinized.

The documentary also successfully illustrates several successive ironies. The fact that nearly ten years after the deportation of its own citizens to serve the interests of the Cold War and the US, the UK were defending another group of its citizens in the Falklands against the Argentinean invasion. Unfortunately no one was there to defend Diego Garcia when the UK technically invaded itself. That when the Royal Court issued its decree and the protesting Creoles finally thought they were going home, the Government issued a feasibility test, maintaining the islands were uninhabitable- despite being home to the huge US population. They also created a marine conservation area [MPA] the size of one of our National Parks, another reason to prevent the Creoles from returning. Currently the Mauritius government is challenging this creation of the MPA at a UN tribunal. Its decisions are binding and if it rules in Mauritius’ favor, this could directly challenge the UK’s sovereignty and the legality of the US’ lease of the Islands.

Stolen Nation is part of a trilogy of films being shown, for free, at the Calder Theatre Bookshop in Waterloo, London. The first of the trilogy was Utopia, the third, next Friday, is, rather pertinently, Breaking the Silence: Truth and Lies in the War on Terror. After the film showing, expect a well-informed discussion.

For more information visit
For more information on Chagos Islands


Popular posts from this blog

Walking the Tightrope- Theatre Delicatessen

Site-specific set? Perhaps. In the old Guardian offices in Farringdon, Offstage Theatre and Theatre Uncut curate a cycle of 12 short plays exploring the tension[s] between art and politics, reactions to the budget cuts to the arts in the UK and debate freedom of expression controversies. Corruption, class divides, perception, blood money, gesture politics and culpability, it’s all there and recent topical events are given stage time, from The Tricycle’s controversial decision to withdraw their support for the UK Jewish Film Festival to the Barbican’s cancelled Exhibit B. The plays are entertaining- Sun City by April De Angelis, Re: Exhibit by Gbolahan Obisesan, Old Newland by Julie Pascal, Tickets are on Sale Now by Caryl Churchill and Exhibit A, by Neil LaBute, all deserve special mention for looking beyond the parameters of funding and freedom of expression in the UK arts- by which of course, I mean a theatrical London still surfing the very last trickling waves of Colonialism and it…

A Man of Good Hope: review

“The ability to have someone tell your story is so important. It says you know I was here.” Maya Angelou It’s a piece of musical theatre about having hope. It’s an urgent work which speaks of age old global phenomenons such as migration and life as a persecuted refugee. The term refugee has been part of the western world’s history since the persecution of protestants in France in 1540, the term migrant is biblical. The book upon which the show is based, an account of the life of Somali Asad Abdullahi who witnessed the murder of his mother when he was eight years old in Mogadishu during the civil war and who then fled across Africa as a boy and young man as a consequence, is in some ways so traumatic a read that the stage work has to offer more positivity than the title infers. 
In the Isango Ensemble and director Mark Dornford-May, with a little help from Stephen Daldry, the book, by Jonny Steinberg, has found the perfect stage partners. One feels that no other company could do this wor…

Safe House- art meets theatre at the Young Vic with Jeremy Herbert and Gabriella Sonabend

It starts with a journey down a narrow corridor, fist clenching wooden key.
‘Follow the yellow line’ the polite Usher says and I do, around the corner and into a foyer area, where I am met with a gust of wind from a machine that Jeremy Herbert, the designer, has created himself. As my hair blows and my cheeks and eyes are battered as if I am standing on top of a mountain, I am tempted to remain here, to continue to feel the gusts in my face and listen to the sound the wind makes. I don’t want anything else and I can’t hear anything else, only aware of a need to immerse myself in it, to let myself go in the rapid flashing lights that emanate from its surface. I’m one who craves aloneness and enjoys it all too well, but I am afraid that someone will come and disturb this brief relationship myself and the wind machine have struck up, or that my mind will interfere, the buzz of thoughts getting the better of me.. so I move on around the room, after all, there are four more ‘safes’, all a s…