Managing Editor of The Lithuania Tribune, Zarema Plaksij, has met with representatives of Falkland Islands who came to Lithuania to meet with members of the Lithuanian Parliament, academia and media.
The Hon. Roger Edwards, Member of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands and James Marsh, Travel Coordinator for the Falkland Islands Government, have presented their vision of the future of the Falkland Islands after the referendum that took place in March 2013, during which the Falkland Islanders have overwhelmingly decided to keep their status quo as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom.
The Lithuania Tribune (TLT): If someone asked where you were from, what would you say?
Roger Edwards: I would say I am from the Falkland Islands. I live and work in the Falkland Islands, my family lives in the Falkland Islands and that is where my heart is – in the Falkland Islands.
TLT: The Falklands have been inhabited for 200 years now. Would you agree that the islanders have developed a unique sense of identity?
Roger Edwards: I believe they have. When the islands were first discovered, they were uninhabited, there were no indigenous people. But the United Kingdom has peacefully settled the islands over the last 180 years and passing whalers, sailors and visitors immigrated. Today it is a very diverse nation, consisting of 39 ethnic groupings recognised in our centres. That has made the Falkland Islands a very unique place with its own accent and identity.
TLT: How similar is this identity to the British identity, and how different is it?
Roger Edwards: I think, based primarily on the freedom of life in the Falkland Islands, and not in a political sense, but talking from the open space, which is free from laws and interference, perspective – people really think they can do their own thing in the Falklands. It is a wonderful place to bring up the family knowing they are going to run out in the morning and be safe as the crime rates are very low in the Falklands. They might fall and hurt a knee, but they will not be abused or taken away – it is a very safe and very natural environment.
James Marsh: If I may add, we have a small population of only three thousand and a very friendly attitude towards visitors and guests – we welcome the opportunity to talk to everyone and to welcome them into our homes. I think a part of that comes from the fact that, historically speaking, we have been very remote and low in number. So everyone you meet means a new opportunity, especially in recent times when we try to get our message out in political terms. Great Britain is a big country that can stand on its own.
Roger Edwards: It is true. If you come to the Falklands for a week and visit various settlements, wherever you go you will be invited and offered a cup of tea or coffee, and the cake and biscuit tins will come out on the table. I think that sums it all up – the islanders are very hospitable people.
TLT: Talking about people and with regards to the recent referendum, it is obvious that the Falkland Islanders have chosen to keep the existing status quo. How could Argentina persuade the islanders to change their minds? What options does the state suggest in order to resolve the confrontation?
Roger Edwards: Argentina does not offer us any options because the state does not recognise us – we do not exist according to them. They are only interested in “discussions” with the United Kingdom over the sovereignty of the Falklands. Ever since it was put back to their constitution table back in 1994, the only outcome of any negotiations that is acceptable to Argentina is the transfer of sovereignty from the United Kingdom to Argentina and they are not happy in any other outcome and, therefore, offer no options.
Since the conflict in 1982, a new generation of islanders has grown up not trusting the Argentineans because every single week there is something new put in our way of progress and our future. We are under an economic blockade from the Argentineans and every single week there is something new. There are no options offered.
James Marsh: I would like to contrast that with what we would wish to see in an ideal world – we would actually desire relationships with Argentina. We would like to talk to them about various matters such as fishing, conservation, working together on tourism, import, and export – there are a lot of possibilities out there.
However, there are various delays of cruises from Argentina to the Falklands, which have a negative effect on tourism in Argentina itself – this costs the Argentineans a lot of money. There are a lot of possibilities and positive changes to be taken up, but they are not due to their attitude towards the islands. We want better relations with Argentina and South America, but for them there is no middle ground – it is all or nothing.
TLT: What lies behind the resistance of the islanders themselves? Perhaps you could negotiate a favourable deal that could bring positive changes to the Falkland Islands? Is there anything you are afraid of?
Roger Edwards: We, the people of the Falkland Islands, have shown very clearly in the recent referendum that we do not want to be a part of the brutal Argentinean organisation. The islands are perfectly content to remain as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom supports the islanders and their right to determine their own future.
At the moment, 99.8 per cent of the islanders are those who voted and said that they wish to retain that status. So why would you want to leave the sovereignty of the United Kingdom when the United Kingdom provides us with advice on foreign affairs and our defence against Argentina? Although the Argentineans say they would not use force to recover the islands, I would very strongly suspect Argentina would do that if the British forces were not there.
There is nothing Argentina could offer what we do not already get from the United Kingdom.
James Marsh: My family, for example, have been in the Falklands for over 150 years. They forged their lives when times were not as easy as they are now; they worked very hard to create the environment we enjoy today. So, for us to look around and ask “what could you give me” would be a betrayal of everything what our ancestors worked for and what they devoted their lives for.
150 years in the islands means nothing to Argentina, apparently. Meanwhile, the grandparents of Argentina’s President de Kirchner were Spanish, she is a second generation Argentinean while I am a sixth generation Falkland Islander and yet her government would not recognise me.
TLT: There is a possibility that the Falkland Islands have oil reserves, which could be soon extracted. How will that change the lives of ordinary Falkland Islanders?
Roger Edwards: I very strongly suspect that it will not change their lives very much. What the government of the Falklands would like to do is to put in the infrastructure that will benefit everybody. We have already stated that our current infrastructure, including water and power supplies as well as roads, needs massive investments.
Back in the late 1980s, when we were selling fishing licences to fish around the Falkland Islands, our income grew tenfold. Everybody in the islands benefited from better communication, power supply, all-weather tracks – the overall communication between settlements became much better.
We subsidised the internal government-run air service and ferries, so people could travel between settlements. There is a lot what we have already done, so, I think, we will continue doing that, rather than suddenly waking up and finding that we have an awful lot of money.
In the Battle Day Letter, which was signed before oil was discovered around the islands, we said that we will contribute to our defence. We do contribute already by building houses for the British military so that they could be based on the islands for a longer period of time. Our vision is already laid down and I do not think oil can make a huge difference, but it would make life a lot easier for the people – that would assure our future.
TLT: Possibly, Lithuania has significant shale gas resources. However, there is a tiny but well-organised opposition to its extraction. Was there opposition to oil extraction in the Falklands and how have you dealt with it?
Roger Edwards: There have not been opposition to oil because the only oil and gas resource that has been found so far is offshore. The current, the Sea Lion, field is about 60 miles north of the islands and all the production will be conducted offshore. There will be very little onshore oil activity such as certain amount of logistics but that will involve very few people in a very small area in comparison to the size of the islands.
We also assure that for every single step of oil exploitation every possible safeguard is put in place in order to conserve the sea life and the waters around the Falkland Islands. Conservation is one of the high points of the Falklands’ legislation. If something is going to affect the wildlife of the Falklands, forget it, it will not happen.
James Marsh: Indeed. Part of the reason why possible objections are insignificant is, giving the small nature of our community, the fact that such decisions are put to the public and, if a person on a street has a problem with something that the government is doing, you will surely hear that from many people because everyone knows everyone.
I think we are in a very fortunate position that we do not have to rush this; we do not need to find oil tomorrow or next week. We can do things properly, carefully and take every necessary precaution. The government has been very cautious and very wise in not relying on that aim and making sure that every safeguard is in place. Everything is done carefully and in the right manner, that is why there is no opposition.
TLT: In what ways can Lithuania support the course of the Falklands? And in what cases do you need our support?
Roger Edwards: We do not expect, but we have earned the support and, certainly, I have learnt from our visit, which has been far too short, so much of the conviction of people of Lithuania. This morning, when we met the second year university students in international relations, those youngsters impressed me – they were bright, had great knowledge and a vision for the future. They strongly support our views in the Falklands and I respect those students, they are seriously good. All we ask of you, and this is one of the question I have been asked this morning – they asked what we want Lithuania to do, I said all we wish you to do is to recognise that the people of the Falkland Islands have their own future.
When the Argentineans come out and ask if you support their right to negotiate the sovereignty of the Falklands to the United Kingdom, such an innocent question truly asks whether you support the transfer of the sovereignty to Argentina. This is the problem. We do not wish to leave the United Kingdom which is there to help us. We do not want to become a colony of Argentina. We have stated that many times, as they do not care about the people, all they want is the land and the resources around it.
So when they ask you, the Lithuanians, what you want to do for us, simply say that you support us and the wishes of the people of the Falkland Islands to be recognised. This is what the recent referendum was all about – it was a wish of the Falkland Islanders to determine their own future.
James Marsh: Absolutely, we do not ask for grand displays of support, we are only asking that we, as people, were considered and remembered. It is ridiculous if any decision on the future of the islands excludes us, the people who live there. I do not know what will happen in the future but, surely, we should be at that table discussing the future. It is very sad that Argentina refuses to talk to us. It is a very healthy thing to want to talk, but Argentina completely neglects that and goes around it.