Fiji removing Union Jack from its flag to get rid of 'outdated' British colonial symbols

'What have the British Lion and the Cross of St George got to do with us?', the Prime Minister asked

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The Independent Online

Fiji is removing the Union Jack from its flag after almost 140 years of displaying the British colonial symbol.

The Prime Minister of the former colony, Voreqe (Frank) Bainimarama, said the symbols displayed are “no longer relevant” and a new flag is needed to assert the country’s independence.

The current flag was officially adopted when Fiji gained independence from Britain in 1970.

The light blue background, representing the surrounding Pacific Union, is dominated by the Union Flag in the upper left hand corner showing continuing links with the UK.

The flag of Fiji will be changed

A coat of arms to the right includes a golden British lion holding a cocoa pod and a palm tree, sugar cane, bananas and dove of peace separated by the cross of St George.

Mr Bainimarama, who led a military coup in 2000 and was voted into office last year in Fiji's first elections in eight years, said the new flag design would be decided by a national competition and unveiled on the 45th anniversary of national independence on 10 October.

Only four sovereign states that were once part of the British Empire retain the Union Flag as part of their national symbol – Australia, New Zealand, Tuvalu and Fiji.

New Zealand is holding a referendum on its national flag (left) and debates are also happening in Australia

New Zealand is holding a referendum later this year to choose an alternative flag and a second vote in 2016 will decide whether to adopt the new design.

Following the announcement, Australia's Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, said there was “no great demand” to change the national flag and Tuvalu has announced no intention to alter theirs.

Speaking in Nasinu, on the island of Viti Levu today, Mr Bainimarama said Fiji needs a symbol that is more in keeping with its “national aspirations in the 21st century”.

Frank Bainimarama wants a new flag to represent a modern Fiji.

“We need to replace the symbols on our existing flag that are out of date and no longer relevant, including some anchored to our colonial past.” He added.

“The new flag should reflect Fiji’s position in the world today as a modern and truly independent nation state.”

The Prime Minister stressed that the current flag is “widely loved” and inspires “warm sentiments” when raised, leading peacekeeping troops and Olympic athletes.

It will continue to have a place as an “important link to the past”, he said, but it is “time to dispense with the colonial symbols on our flag – the Union Flag of the United Kingdom and our colonial shield”.

The Fijian flag seen during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games

Mr Bainimarama called for a national symbol that Fijians can have a “truly authentic expression of who we are and where we are, rather than honour someone else’s flag”.

He emphasised that Fiji, a Commonwealth nation, was “friends” with “the coloniser” but needed to reflect its independence.

All Fijians, including children, have been invited to enter the flag design competition, which will be judged by a “panel of citizens” and a social media and text vote open to everyone.

Before being colonised by Britain in 1874, Fiji’s flag featured blue and white vertical stripes, with a red shield depicting a white dove.

A measles epidemic brought over by the colonisers wiped out one-third of the Fijian population over the next two years and British forces violently suppressed the ensuing rebellion.

Fiji has become a popular tourist destination

The country has suffered from unrest and instability in recent years caused by racial and political tensions between ethnic Fijians and the descendants of Indian labourers brought in by British authorities to work on sugar plantations.

A bloodless military takeover in 2006 was Fiji's fourth coup in 20 years and in September 2009, Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth over its lack of progress towards democracy.

It was reinstated in 2012 after scheduling full and free elections.