Some time ago, I interviewed a former intelligence officer, who had lived for many years in Fiji.
He gave me some useful background information on the key players in Fijian politics at the time.
He also shared some of his knowledge of Soviet and communist activities on the island.
Below is some of what he told me. I have added a little of my own information, to flesh things out.
From the moment of independence in 1970, the Soviet Union requested permission to open an embassy in Suva.
Fijian president, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, a conservative Catholic and staunch anti-communist, wouldn’t have a bar of it.
He kept the Soviets at arms length, dealing with them, only through their embassy in Canberra.
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Soviet ships were banned from Fiji for several years.
During the 1982 Fijian parliamentary elections, a scandal blew up.
Ratu Mara received confidential information that the Soviet Union had secretly paid the pro-Indian, National Federation Party, one million dollars for their election campaign.
A Royal Commission was called to investigate the claims, but the source of Ratu Mara’s information was too sensitive to divulge.
However, a female Indian diplomat was declared “persona non grata” and was told to leave the country. It was suspected that her husband had been used as a courier in transferring the funds to the NFP.
Bavadra and the Fiji Labour Party
While the Soviets were unwelcome in Fiji, a few Polish doctors were allowed in, under the auspices of the World Health Organisation.
It is believed that this Polish doctor, recruited Bavadra to the Soviet cause. Bavadra had been president of the Fiji Public Servants Association for several years, but resigned his government job to enter politics.
In 1985, Dr Bavadra, though an ethnic Fijian, established the trade union backed and Indian dominated, Fiji Labour Party.
Around this time, three senior FLP members, led by Krishna Datt (later Bavadra’s Foreign Minister) travelled to the Soviet Union.
In October 1986, Datt and current Fijian Finance Minister, Mahendra Chaudhry also travelled to East Berlin for a conference of the Soviet front, World Federation of Trade Unions. This was possibly the same trip.
Before the 1987 election, Bavadra and Chaudhry, spoke of opening a Soviet embassy in Suva, if the FLP won power. This was seemingly forgotten as the election drew closer.
The pro-Soviet communists of the NZ Socialist Unity Party also began to show interest in Fiji around this time.
Senior SUP member, Mike Jackson travelled to Fiji just before the 1987 elections. After the 1987 coup, leading Party member, Bill Andersen led the first demonstration outside the Fijian consulate in Auckland. SUP General Secretary chaired meetings of the Coalition for Democracy in Fiji in Auckland and Wellington. Prominent SUP members, Don and Jan Farr were also involved in CDF activities.
Until the end of March 1987, the ruling Alliance Party was certain of victory. However, 6 weeks out from the election, The FLP and the pro-Indian, National federation Party formed a Coalition.
A former Alliance Party minister, removed by Ratu Mara for corruption, then offered his services to the Coalition and was later offered a high post. The Coalition splashed around seemingly unlimited funds, even plying gangs with food and drink.
The Coalition won, by four seats, even though the Alliance Party gained more votes.