Anzac centenary organisers walk in PC minefield

By Greg Ansley

The centenary of Anzac Day is fast-approaching. Photo / Getty Images
The centenary of Anzac Day is fast-approaching. Photo / Getty Images

The 21st century is closing in on Australian authorities planning the centenary of Anzac Day.

Researchers have warned that celebrations could cause divisions within the nation's multicultural society, upset former enemies and inflame tensions if the nation was embroiled in an unpopular war in April 2015.

On the other hand, many Australians would be incensed if the celebrations were watered down to satisfy political correctness, failed to respect past traditions, or were diminished by gambling and boozing "like Australia Day", focus groups told social researcher Colmar Brunton.

The company was hired by the Veterans Affairs Department to judge attitudes to the centenary, which is being planned by a federal commission that has already presented the Government with a range of recommendations.

"Commemorating our military history in a multicultural society is something of a double-edged sword," the Colmar Brunton report said.

"While 100th anniversaries are thought to provide some opportunity for creating a greater sense of unity, it is also recognised as a potential area of divisiveness."

The report said centenary planners did not know what recently arrived Australians thought of the idea, and there was concern about how to involve and include "non-Anglo" groups, especially those who were once enemies.

Since federation Australia has fought nationalities now well-entrenched in its society, including Chinese, Germans, Italians, Koreans, Vietnamese, Indonesians, Iraqis and Afghanis.

But the Returned and Services League has slammed the report, saying Anzac Day maintains a central place in Australian society, that Australians "overwhelmingly" want the centenary - confirmed in the report's findings - and that Turkey and Turkish communities support it.

Turkey has recognised the name Anzac Cove for the site of the Gallipoli landings, and works with Australian and New Zealand officials on ceremonies there. The Kemal Ataturk Memorial in Canberra says: "You the mothers ... wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace."

Beyond cultural sensitivities, the report says support for Anzac Day remains strong even among people who staunchly oppose violence and war, with many seeing the origins of national characteristics in the nation's military history.

"It was clear that erring by making commemorations 'overly politically correct' would generate more negative reactions from the general public," it says.

But it adds that younger members of focus groups said an "unpopular conflict" occurring at the time of the centenary could affect attitudes.

"It may be necessary to refine the events or the tone of the commemorations to minimise the risk of rejection from any segments of the community."

- NZ Herald

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