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After 396 years, the sun has set on the reign of the British monarchy on the Caribbean island of Barbados, with a handover ceremony at midnight Monday marking the birth of the world’s newest republic.

As the clock struck 12, the Royal Standard flag depicting the Queen was lowered over a crowded Heroes ‘Square in Bridgetown and Carol Roberts-Reifer, Executive Director of the National Cultural Foundation, declared Barbados’ transition to her new constitutional status.

Guests in the square cheered as Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as President by the Chief Justice and pledged allegiance to her country. Hundreds of people along the Chamberlain Bridge in the capital cheered and a 21-gun salute was fired as the national anthem was played. Barbadian singer Rihanna also attended the ceremony and was declared the national heroine.

Prince Charles was present to witness the transition. “The creation of this republic offers a new beginning,” he said in a speech at the ceremony. “From the darkest days of our past and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever sullies our history, the people of this island have forged their way with extraordinary strength.”

Announcing the decision to sever ties with the monarchy in 2020, Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who led the ceremony, said the time had come for Barbados to “completely leave our colonial past behind”, although some in the country said the time had come. late.

At the stroke of midnight, Barbados becomes the new republic of the world |  Barbados
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales attends the presidential inauguration ceremony at Heroes Square in Bridgetown, Barbados. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

“It undermines your dignity as a citizen,” said Sir Hilary Beckles, the country’s most renowned historian and vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies, of the monarchy’s continuing role in the country.

“It reduces you psychologically in terms of being a citizen of your nation, and then you have public officials who have to pledge allegiance to this ruler who is not part of their reality.” A comprehensive survey of Barbadians’ attitudes towards the royal family – the first results of which were shared with the Guardian – suggested that over 60% of Barbadians were in favor of becoming a republic, half of them enthusiastically, while about one in 10 preferred to maintain the status quo.

“A significant number of people were not interested in one way or another,” said Cynthia Barrow-Giles, professor at the University of the West Indies and lead investigator of the poll, which has yet to be released. .

On an island which Anglophile tendencies once dubbed it ‘Little England’, where people still drive on the left, play cricket at Kensington Oval and bathe at Brighton Beach, the Republic is part of a bigger program. large, which is building steam across the Caribbean to forge a future outside the UK.

The last time a series of former colonies in the region severed their ties with the monarchy was in the 1970s, at the height of the era of black power. It was in the midst of another account on the race last year, following the murder of African American George Floyd, that Barbados reported its own breakup with the Queen.

Barbadian leaders have spoken of a republic since the pre-independence period in 1966, when the country’s first prime minister, Errol Barrow, told a British minister that his nation “would not hang around colonial properties after the hour of the day. closing”.

At the stroke of midnight, Barbados becomes the new republic of the world |  Barbados
Sandra Mason, President of Barbados. Photograph: Tim Rooke / Rex / Shutterstock

But in a world still shaped by colonialism, this has proven to be a daunting task that successive Barbadian governments have avoided, seeing it either as a source of division, a distraction or a potential source of worry in Britain – d ‘where more than a third of the country’s tourists hail.

It wasn’t until Independence Day in November 2020 that the Mottley government announced the transition, shortly before she presided over a ceremony to remove a statue of British naval hero Horatio Nelson from a town square. , in defense of the colonial slave trade.

A planned demonstration in Bridgetown against Prince Charles’ presence at the handover ceremony was refused permission on the grounds of preventing the spread of Covid-19.

Aside from the Black Lives Matter protests, questions about the Queen’s role in Barbados may have grown in light of the Windrush scandal which saw thousands of people of Caribbean descent living in Britain facing a potential deportation, said Guy Hewitt, former Barbados high commissioner to London.

“Windrush would have been one of those significant events which showed the divergence between where the Queen, as Queen of the United Kingdom, and her role as Queen of Barbados, could have been irreconcilable,” did he declare.

The Barbados Attitudes towards the Monarchy Poll suggests that any personal admiration for Queen Elizabeth who survived the colonial era has long dissipated on the island. “People aren’t here or there about it,” Barrow-Giles said.

Few of those interviewed could name other members of her family, she added, with the exception of one member. “As far as Prince Harry is concerned, in terms of the royal family besides the Queen, he has the greatest level of favor,” Barrow-Giles said. “People love him.”

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