Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

Springtime of Nations: Bougainville

By Charlie Lee, Springtime of Nations

All of our previous entries in this series have discussed current and therefore not yet successful struggles against imperialist states. Today however, we get to talk about a movement that fought for secession and won. This week, Bougainville.

You probably haven’t heard of Bougainville before, but you have heard of Papua New Guinea. Papua is an incredibly diverse country with over 800 different languages spoken in it and hundreds of distinct ethnic groups. After decades of Australian rule, in 1975 it finally became independent. Since then however, those living on the large island of Bougainville, over 500 miles from the main island of New Guinea, have pushed for their independence, in some cases violently. What are their reasons, and how did they eventually win against their former masters? Let’s go back to the beginning

Bougainville, along with the neighboring Solomon islands was first colonized by the German Empire in 1899 as part of their pacific colony based in New Guinea. The Germans found little use for the island, and the natives were mostly left alone other than some small attempts by the colonial administration to found cash crop plantations. When World War One broke out, Australian forces occupied Bougainville along with the rest of German New Guinea, being granted the territory by the League of Nations after the war. The territory still had little economic value, but had some strategic value, and during World War Two the Japanese invaded it as part of their plan to attack Australia. The Bougainville Campaign raged until the end of the war in 1945, and up to a quarter of the native pre-war population of 50,000 died during the occupation.

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