Rann Nu Diego (Give us Back Diego)

Posted on: 27 February 2019

Written by: Adrian Jackson MBE

Cardboard Citizens Artistic Director Adrian Jackson MBE writes:

When I wrote a play for Cardboard Citizens on the plight of the Chagos Islanders in 2012 - A Few Man Fridaysin the introduction I cited James Joyce describing Daniel Defoe’s semi-fictional creation Robinson Crusoe as "the prototype of the British colonist…the whole Anglo-Saxon spirit is in Crusoe: the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence, the slow yet efficient intelligence".

Today, it looks like that slow intelligence, abandoned by fair-weather international friends, in the light of UK’s diminishing stature pre-Brexit, has finally lost its efficiency, as the Chagos Islanders celebrate victory in the international courts, with the recognition that they suffered a terrible injustice nearly fifty years ago. Hurrah for the persistence of Olivier Bancoult and others.

This disgraceful postscript – actually a very conscious cruelty – of our brutal colonial history was ignored for many years, both literally unknown to most of the UK population and wilfully disregarded by politicians who should have known better; amongst the few honourable exceptions was a certain Jeremy Corbyn, who for many years whilst on the back benches campaigned on the Chagossians behalf. Jeremy sat one of the panels we organised after the show at Riverside Studios, along with the lawyer who has brought about this victory, Philippe Sands.

It might not seem obvious what Cardboard Citizens would have to do with such a story – but this was an example of a whole nation made homeless, as pawns in an international game of cold-war chess; the lasting trauma suffered by the people and their descendants is not at all dissimilar to the enduring pain and damage experienced by homeless people in a domestic UK setting, albeit for some lacking the obviousness of the defined oppressor – which is arguably in both cases, the British state.  For those who do not know the background, in brief,  the thousand five hundred strong population of a tiny group of islands was craftily and then brazenly removed from its homeland, by strategies as devious as being offered one-way holiday tickets and as barbaric as gassing their much-loved dogs to set the fear of God into them. The islands were subsequently rented out to the U.S. military, in which guise they continued to play a dishonourable role in many world events, from the bombing of Iraq to illegal renditions of the likes of the British citizen Binyam Mohammed.

When we set out to do this play some 10 years ago, I was privileged to meet some of the key players as part of the research. In Mauritius I met up with some redoubtable senior women, including Lisette Talate (played in our production by the equally redoubtable Sharon Duncan Brewster) who sadly died before our production saw the light of day, and the determined leader of the Chagossians in that country, Olivier Bancoult. In this country we worked with the descendants of the original islanders, most of whom live in Crawley, a quirk of settlement to do with the first group arriving and staging a sit-in at Gatwick Airport in the 90s, only to be rehoused close to the airport. Many of the young people took part in our production at the Riverside Studios, recreating some of the dances and songs which proved the depth of their attachment to a well-developed and much loved culture, in spite of legal protestations about the status of the original deportees. Throughout the process, we were struck by the bravery and persistence of these people, young and old, whether staging hunger strikes or just sticking to their guns in a community centre in Crawley by celebrating their traditions and electing a government in exile.

So it is with great joy that we at Cardboard Citizens hear of this latest victory in the courts – we hope that it will lead to a swift and satisfactory resolution to this dishonourable saga, with the longed for resettlement made a reality as soon as is practicably possible. There are not so many happy stories in the world today – but this is the best (only) Brexit dividend yet to be seen! Cardboard Citizens salutes your courage,  Chagossians here and abroad, and awaits the joyful pictures of your return to your little paradise islands.

- Adrian Jackson, 27 February 2019