Saturday, December 4, 2021

Barbados Abolishes its Monarchy, Firing Queen Elizabeth

Map countries with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, which are known as the Commonwealth realms. Includes the UK, Canada, Australia, and a number of small countries in Oceania and the Caribbean. Also shows former Commonwealth realms, including large parts of Africa and South Asia. Colorblind accessible.
Updated map of the Commonwealth realms (independent countries that share the monarchy with Britain). Click to enlarge. Contact us for permission to use this map.

Map showing the location of Barbados in the eastern Caribbean. A string of islands extends east from Cuba then south to the northern edge of South America, with the island of Barbados located off to the east side of the string near the southern end.
Location of Barbados in the eastern Caribbean (circled, at far right). Public domain graphic (source).
Barbados Stops Being a Commonwealth Realm

As long-time readers of PolGeoNow know, Queen Elizabeth II isn't just the queen of England and the UK, but also reigns separately over quite a few other countries known as the "Commonwealth realms". 

Until Tuesday, there were 16 independent countries recognizing Elizabeth II as their queen. But now, after the legislature of Caribbean island country Barbados voted to remove the monarchy from its constitution - effective November 30, 2021 - that number has fallen to just 15.

Becoming a Republic - What's Actually Changed

Former flag of Elizabeth II, Queen of Barbados. The background of the flag is bright yellow, and the queen's gold and blue personal symbol (a golden letter E with a crown above it, surrounded by a golden garland of flowers with a dark blue background) is featured at center, with the leaves and hanging roots of a bush extending out from behind it. At the upper left and upper right are two identical simplified drawings of a red tropical flower.
The now defunct "personal flag" of Elizabeth II, Queen of Barbados (source).
With the queen gone, Barbados is said to have become a "republic" - in modern days a sort of catch-all word for democratic countries that don't have a monarchy (the full official name of the country, which was already just "Barbados", hasn't changed).

The main revision to the country's constitution is that the queen's representative, who held various mostly-ceremonial duties within the country's government, has been replaced with a still-mostly-ceremonial "president" selected by the Barbadian parliament.

Queen Elizabeth herself, for her part, doesn't seem to be upset about it. She actually went out of her way to congratulate the new president "and all Barbadians" on this turning point in their country's history.

Barbados was Already an Independent Country

Flag of Barbados: Three equal vertical bars of dark blue, gold, and dark blue, with a large black trident in the middle of the gold bar
Official Name:  
• Barbados*
*Barbados has no long name, and its official language is English

If you're asking yourself, "Does this mean Barbados just became independent?", the short answer is "no". Like the other Commonwealth realms, including major world players like Canada and Australia, Barbados was already considered independent by the United Nations and the rest of the world's countries since 1966. 

Though it had the same queen as the UK, and her line of succession was coordinated with the UK, the actual British government had no authority over Barbados. Legally, Queen Elizabeth II's role as Queen of Barbados was considered completely separate from her role as queen of the UK - as if the two countries just happened to have chosen the same royal family to be their monarchs. 

So, while some critics of the Barbadian monarchy might say it was an inappropriate throwback to colonial rule, few would argue that Barbados wasn't already an independent country.

Barbados is Still Part of the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth: Who belongs to it? Map of current and former member countries of the Commonwealth of Nations (British Commonwealth) as of March 2018 (colorblind accessible).
Map of the full Commonwealth. Click for bigger map and explainer article.

Though Barbados isn't one of the Commonwealth realms anymore, it's still a member of the Commonwealth. The "Commonwealth of Nations", as it's officially called, is a broader club open to all countries that used to be part of the British Empire, whether or not they still have a monarchy. 

To see a map of all the whole Commonwealth, and to learn more about its relationship to the queen, check out our article "What Are the Commonwealth Countries?"

This Doesn't Happen Very Often

Barbados's change from a monarchy to a republic has been a long time coming, after a 2007 referendum on the topic was called off and a new initiative in 2015 never gained traction. The change only legally required a two-thirds vote of the Barbadian parliament, not a popular vote, but even a legislative majority was hard to get until recently.

Now that it's really happened, it's kind of a big deal: Though over a dozen countries removed Queen Elizabeth's royal house from their constitutions during the 1960s and 70s, the last ones to do it were Fiji in 1987 and Mauritius in 1992. Barbados's neighbor country Saint Vincent and the Grenadines voted against abolishing the queen in a 2009 referendum. [Edit: Australia and Tuvalu also voted to keep the queen in 1999 and 2008 respectively.]

The only other recognized independent country to abolish a national monarchy in the last 30 years is Nepal, which fired its King Gyanendra in 2008. There's speculation that more Commonwealth realms could be next now that Barbados has broken the dry spell, with Jamaica possibly next in line. But changing a country's constitution isn't easy, and it's really anybody's guess.

Will more countries follow Barbados's lead? If they do, you'll hear about it here on PolGeoNow! In the meantime, you can always find the most up-to-date map of which countries Queen Elizabeth still has on our Commonwealth Realms explainer page!

Graphic of the Barbadian flag is in the public domain (source).