There’s a birthday party going on in Buka. After years of civil war, followed by an uneasy detente, Bougainville is set to become the newest member of the comity of nations. The celebrations in its capital followed the announcement of the results of a referendum — an overwhelming 98 per cent voted to be independent from Papua New Guinea. The vote had been a long time coming: In 2002, it was part of the peace deal to end the civil war, in which about 20,000 people (out of a total population of 2,00,000) from Bougainville were killed.
The tiny nation, like the young everywhere, will be eager to take its place at the table, out in the world on its own terms. But it will do so at a time when its elders can offer it little in terms of guidance. Liberal institutional democracy, in many of its bastions from the largest to the oldest, from Washington to Westminster, is closing in on itself.
And once the heady, unifying light of their national struggle fades, the 19 linguistic groups in the country may have to find their own path to respecting plurality. Bougainville will also come to international relations at a time when might is the only principle, and market the only reason. And most of all, Bougainville will have to negotiate peace with its neighbour, the one from whom it has emerged. The Indian Subcontinent, in this regard, can be looked upon as an example to avoid.
But the pessimism of the bleak world it will be ushered into must not dampen the spirits of the young nation and its people. In fact, it must encourage them. More than ever, the world needs a country that defines greatness by its decency; by who it includes, not who it bullies. The small nation in the Solomon Sea could hold out that hope.