2022 marks the 40th anniversary of the Falklands War, an event which still shapes many people’s view of the islands. However, the Falkland Islands has, over the past 40 years, looked outward to assume a role of strategic significance as the ‘gateway to Antarctica’ and has capitalised on its rich biodiversity and extensive fisheries. However, it still faces a number of threats, whether from Argentina, climate change, Covid-19 or Brexit. In response to this, and to help provide a voice for the contemporary Falklands, we at the University of the West of England have produced a series of podcasts drawing on contributions from those who know the Falklands best: Falkland Islanders old and new, and those with a longstanding relationship with this British Overseas Territory.
The Falkland Islands is an archipelago consisting of around 750 islands located in the South Atlantic, approximately 400 miles from the south-eastern tip of South America, and 480 miles north-east of Cape Horn. The islands are almost 8,000 miles from Britain. According to the last national census in 2016, the Falkland Islands had a population of 3,354, drawn from 60 different nationalities – a number of whom are represented in the podcasts.
The five podcasts were funded by the University of the West of England in Bristol and supported by the Falkland Islands Government [FIG]. The podcasts cover four substantive policy areas: politics, diversity, economics and resilience. There is a fifth podcast which provides an overview of the four, much like this briefing paper, and some further information about the methods we used to gather the data, and how Islanders define the Falklands in this period of change.
The first podcast looks at the political situation of the Falkland Islands and its relationship with Britain and the wider world. Following a referendum on self determination in 2013, it is clear that the people of the Falkland Islands want to remain British, despite the Argentinian territorial claim. Alongside the British government, the Falkland Islands undertake a range of diplomatic efforts to defend its position in the international system. Self determination is of great importance to Falkland Islanders, and it is a source of some frustration that this is not recognised by the United Nations. The podcast explores this in some detail. There are a number of different links between the Falklands and the UK, through the FIG offices in London, civil servants in Whitehall and the British Governor in the Falklands, plus the sizeable UK military presence in the islands. There are also issues of tension such as Brexit (which is dealt with more thoroughly when we look at the economy), direct representation in Parliament, and its status alongside other British Overseas Territories. Current rhetoric around ‘Global Britain’ suggests a greater focus on the Territories in the future, and this podcast explores how the mainland needs to listen carefully to the needs and concerns of the Falklands in how it is positioned.
In the second podcast, we look at the changing demographics of the Falkland Islands, and how that is impacting on different island communities. As stopping points on global voyages, many islands have frequently been far more diverse than might otherwise have been anticipated. This is certainly the case for the Falklands, which hosted residents from 60 different countries in the 2016 census. Although many of the white settlers and born Falkland Islanders consider their multi-cultural island to be well integrated, those with other heritages are not so sure. Certainly there is a degree of tolerance and acceptance of non-white/ British residents, but many people we spoke with felt that integration was still some way off. The same practice of tolerance, if not embracing, seems to be experienced by the LGBTQ+ community in the Falklands. The Islands host the world’s most southerly Pride festival; but whilst this is touted by the government as emblematic of their forward looking nature, it is not embraced by all residents. We were also interested to consider youth sub-cultures and the extent to which rebellion is tolerated on the islands. This is remarkably hard to gauge, perhaps indicating that any subcultures which do exist are hidden from our more mainstream (or less young) contributors.
Prior to the 1982 conflict, the Falklands economy was typified by large sheep farms, with overseas owners. In the years since then, the economy has expanded to include other sectors, and this podcast considers the four main pillars of the economy: fisheries, wool, meat and tourism. In 1986 a fishing zone was established around the islands, giving islanders control over their own waters. Whilst this has been extremely successful in some respects, the majority of the catch (primarily squid) are exported to the European Union. The end of tariff free trade with Brexit, and concerns about the viability of stocks represent particular challenges for the economy in the future. Wool and meat are both industries with a strong cultural heritage on the islands, but are, similarly, impacted by Brexit and concerns about sustainability. In terms of future growth, tourism is already established, but potentially can be further expanded. Hydrocarbons, fish farming, and the possibility of oil or gas extraction, are also areas for further exploration.
In the final substantive podcast, we look at ideas around resilience. Resilience is often spoken about with regard to islanders and is a source of some considerable pride for islanders in general, and many Falkland Islanders in particular. There are a number of different ways in which island communities need to be resilient: whether they are small, remote/isolated, at risk from climate change, or vulnerable to food/water insecurity. The Falkland Islands is many of these things, but, as with many islands in 2020/21, its isolation became a source of not just pride but also strength in the face of the Covid pandemic. This podcast discusses a number of ways in which islanders demonstrate resilience and respond to adversity, but it also focuses on the ways in which the FIG has supported islanders to cope throughout the pandemic by enabling quarantine, facilitating self-isolation and then, in the absence of overseas tourists, developing a domestic tourism industry.
The Falkland Islands is a distinctive community, unique and different in a number of ways, whether from its South American neighbours, the British mainland, or the other British Overseas Territories. This distinctiveness raises some interesting questions about its government and governance, exemplified by the capacities of its small population. These podcasts aim to bring their voices into the foreground so as to form part of the debate around the Falkland Islands’ place in a developing ‘Global Britain’ discourse.
Peter Clegg is Head of the Department of Social Sciences at the University of the West of England, Bristol, UK. He is also a member of the Round Table Editorial Board.
Call to papers for a special issue of the Round Table Journal on the Falklands 2022