The Commonwealth of Nations Turns 60


It was once said that "the sun never sets on the British Empire" because up to the beginning of the 20th century Great Britain ruled the largest empire in history. Many of the countries that were once British are now independent states and belong to an organization called the Commonwealth of Nations.

The modern Commonwealth was formed 60 years ago although the first attempts to create such an organization are older. After the end of the Second World War Britain saw itself in the middle of a new world order. Its empire was falling apart and colonies all over the world were becoming independent

Even though the British monarchy was desperately trying to keep up good relationships with its former colonies, not all of them wanted this. On the one side it India could be persuaded to stay on board, but other nations, like Ireland, left as soon as they got the chance. In the following years colonies like Burma and Sudan refused to join. The Persian Gulf states, which had been under British rule for a long time before the war, also stayed out of the club.


The worst period for the Commonwealth followed in the 60s, 70s and 80s. The organization nearly fell apart because of the white governments in Rhodesia and South Africa. When Rhodesia declared its independence many Africans thought that the British army should invade. South Africa left the Commonwealth in 1961 and Black African countries boycotted the apartheid nation.

The Commonwealth was shaken again when Britain joined the European Common Market in 1973. Commonwealth partners thought that the British were turning away from their old connections and more to the Continent.



In the 1990s the overall situation of the Commonwealth improved. Apartheid was gone and Nelson Mandela became the first Black leader of Africa's biggest industrial state. The country rejoined the Commonwealth in 1991. Pakistan came back in 1989 and Nigeria returned in 1999. Even non-English speaking countries like Mozambique joined the Commonwealth.

Membership has always been important for smaller nations. They feel that the Commonwealth is a stage on which they can perform. The political power of the organization, of course, is limited. The civil war in Sri Lanka shows that conflicts among member states continue.

Many Commonwealth experts say that the organization will enter a new age when Prince Charles becomes monarch. Queen Elizabeth's role in the organization was unique and she was a great authority. Nobody, however, thinks that Charles will have the ability to be a worthy successor.


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  • apartheid = the system in South Africa in which only the white people had rights. Blacks and others had to go to their own schools and live in separate areas. The apartheid system collapsed at the beginning of the 1990s.
  • attempt = try
  • authority = a person who is respected and has power
  • boycott = if you don't buy products from a country or ignore it in every way possible
  • century = a hundred years
  • civil war = war in which two groups of the same country fight against each other
  • Continent = here: Europe
  • continue = to go on
  • create = make, organize
  • declare independence = to say officially that you are free
  • desperately = very much, greatly
  • empire = group of countries or colonies that are controlled by one government
  • European Common Market = the original organization out of which the European Union grew
  • even though = although
  • former = past, ex-
  • government = people who rule a country
  • however = but
  • improve = to get better
  • independent = free; not controlled by another country
  • invade = to enter a country with an army and take control of it by fighting
  • limited = not very much
  • membership = when you join a club or an organization
  • monarch = king or queen
  • overall = in general
  • perform = act
  • period = time
  • persuade = to make someone decide to do something because you have asked very often
  • refuse = to say no
  • rejoin = to join again
  • relationship = connection
  • rule = government, control
  • stage = theater, arena
  • successor = the person who takes the job of someone else
  • unique = only one of its kind
  • world order = new balance of power among the nations of the world
  • worthy = someone who deserves respect from the people