Eritrea's national day

[Greetings given to May 22, 2010 meeting at the Melbourne Resistance Centre celebrating Eritrea's national day.]

Comrades, on behalf of Socialist Alliance I would like to extend warm solidarity greetings to this meeting celebrating Eritrea's national day.

Epic & bloody struggle

From 1890 to 1941 Eritrea was part of the Italian empire. With the outbreak of World War II, the Italians were defeated by Britain which ruled the country under a UN 'trusteeship' until the country was forcibly federated with Ethiopia in 1950.

In 1961-62 Emperor Haile Selassie dissolved the federation and declared Eritrea to be merely a province of Ethiopia. An armed struggle for independence then began and continued for three decades (even after the emperor was overthrown and replaced with the so-called 'Marxist' regime of Mengistu).

Finally, on May 24, 1991 the Eritrean capital, Asmara, fell to the liberation forces, ending the epic and bloody struggle for independence. A UN-supervised referendum two years later resulted in an overwhelming vote for independence and Eritrea formally came into being on May 24, 1993.

Conservative forces

As you may know, most Eritreans have not been able to truly enjoy the fruits of independence. Within the liberation movement, conservative, power-hungry and self-seeking elements around Isaias Afewerki came to dominate the new country. As Dan O'Connell wrote in the Spring 2006 issue of Middle East Report:

Eritrea is a nation in a perpetual state of emergency, under siege by its own leaders, with thousands of its citizens in prison for their politics, none of them charged with a crime or given a day in court to defend themselves. The rest of the population is denied the most basic rights of speech, assembly, press and religious practice, as a constitution ratified eight years ago has yet to go into effect and young people called up for short-term military duty seven years ago remain in uniform or on assignment in civilian jobs at national service pay . . . The party in power — the only one legally permitted to operate — is not even accountable to its own leadership structures or membership. [http://www.merip.org/mer/mer238/connell.html]

This phenomenon — of the independence movement falling victim to, or becoming dominated by, a new privilege-seeking bourgeois layer — is, unfortunately, far from unknown in Africa (and not only there). For instance, this is what happened in Zimbabwe, with the emergence of the Mugabe military-police dictatorship and even, it has to be said, in South Africa following the fall of apartheid.

Faced with repression under the Afewerki dictatorship large numbers of Eritreans have been forced to leave their homeland and go into emigration. Several thousand have settled in Australia, mainly in Victoria.

We can understand the sadness and pain such refugees must feel, having been forced leave the country in which they grew up and then cope with all the problems of a strange and often not very welcoming new one. All the while there is constant concern for family and loved ones who have remained behind.

Racism & discrimination

Unfortunately, many migrants and refugees in Australia suffer racism and discrimination. Stupid and hateful prejudices are whipped up by the media and right-wing forces in order to create scapegoats and stop people uniting to fight against the capitalist system that is ultimately responsible for all our problems, from climate change to jobs and housing.

And this looks like getting even worse. It's an election year and kicking the most vulnerable sections of our society appears to be simply irresistible for Lib-Lab politicians racing for the trough of public office.

Socialist Alliance stands with all those who are victims of racism and works actively to build all movements against it.

Long collaboration

In conclusion, comrades, I would stress two things:

Firstly, we value our long collaboration with our Eritrean brothers and sisters, especially with comrade Tewelde who is an active member of Socialist Alliance.

In spite of all the obvious difficulties, it is extremely important that progressive forces in the various migrant communities become involved in Australian politics. All the victims of the neoliberal capitalist system here need to unite and fight together for something better — for a system that puts people's needs before business profits.

Secondly, we are very happy to join with you in celebrating Eritrea's national day and look forward to the time when your homeland is truly free and ordinary people there can build a better life in freedom, peace and wellbeing.

Thank you.