by Lucy Smith
“Today we are celebrating our 44th Independence Day, as a young nation of 160 million people, living in almost every country of the world.”
So it was that the Bangladesh Ambassador in Madrid, Mr Ikhtiar Momin Chowdhury, began his speech at the elegant InterContinental Hotel embassy reception on Wednesday evening, 26 March. An assortment of Bangladeshi nationals, government officials, Bangladesh’s distinguished friends in Spain, and media personnel were gathered to enjoy the occasion, try the Spanish and Bengali delicacies and wines on offer and celebrate Bangladesh’s hard-earned independence.
Mr Chowdhury went on to discuss the country’s rapid economic and social growth since its independence was won in 1971, with an obvious tinge of pride to his voice:
“Some of our friends call Bangladesh the country of expatriate workers. Some of them call Bangladesh the country of peacekeepers, since Bangladesh is one of the largest contributors to UN peacekeeping costs.”
He – and the rest of the Bengali community – certainly has a lot to be proud of, considering the country’s progress. After colonial British rule ended in 1947, the state of Pakistan was established, divided culturally and linguistically between the West and Bengali East. Both divisions were roughly of equal population, but West Pakistanis held most of the governmental power and benefited from the taxation system. In 1970, when a flood killed 300,000 Pakistanis, the government was accused of delaying food and relief supplies to victims, which heightened the national discord. The electoral success of East Pakistanis in the same year created more tensions, as West Pakistanis refused to accept the result. In response, East Pakistanis organised strikes and demonstrations.
On March 25, 1971, the Pakistani Army launched violent pre-emptive attacks against the people of East Pakistan. This prompted the leader of the Awami League, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to make the official Bangladeshi Declaration of Independence. That day is now celebrated as the Bangladesh Independence Day. A civil war, known as the Bangladesh Liberation War, ensued, and on December 16 the war was won by Bangladesh.
Post-independence, the Bangladeshi economy struggled under a socialist system. Poverty was widespread. It still is, but remarkable progress has been made in recent years – the poverty rate has declined by 25% since 1990. In 2005, Goldman Sachs named Bangladesh one of the ‘Next Eleven’ – a list of countries expected to flourish economically based on their macroeconomic stability, political maturity, openness of trade and investment policies and quality of education. Bangladeshi foreign trade investment has already increased dramatically in recent years, and the country is enjoying unprecedented prosperity.
Bangladesh’s economic growth has even stretched to Spain. Spanish-Bangladeshi relations aren’t a natural fit, as the countries share no obvious geographical, historical or linguistic ties. But as the ambassador stated in his speech, there are growing trade relations between the two countries that many are unaware of. During the speech, he stated Bangladesh exports an astonishing $1.5 billion of ready-made garments to Spain every year. He also made reference to large Spanish investment in Bengali construction. It seems that as a result of these trade ties, relations are expanding fast.
After the ambassador’s speech concluded, the cake was cut and all the attendees were treated to cake and desserts made by the hotel’s famous chef, Jose Luque. It was a brief, but sophisticated event to celebrate Bangladeshi independence– a country that will no doubt have increasing prominence on the international stage.
Photos: L. Smith
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