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In a decision made fewer than three days out from the day itself, Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA) decided to reject an invitation from the Wellington City Council to lay a wreath at this year’s ANZAC Day commemorations.
The decision was borne out of a desire not to “arbitrarily” observe events for which there was no formal VUWSA policy. VUWSA does not currently have a formal position on officially commemorating ANZAC Day, and this position was considered the “overarching” reason for the rejection.
VUWSA President Jasmine Freemantle said there was no “official mandate from students” to recognise ANZAC Day. She also said there would be a Special Representative Council meeting to seek this mandate from students later this year.
In 2007 exec member Heleyni Pratley laid a communist wreath on ANZAC Day, reading “To the dead and the dying in the struggle against imperialism, victory shall be theirs”. The same wording featured in the wreath laid by 1973 VUWSA President Peter Wilson in protest against the Vietnam War and again 30 years later by 2006 President Nick Kelly.
The lack of policy was not the only reason a number of Exec members were vehemently against the idea of laying a wreath. Exec members said that to lay a wreath would be to condone war.
Vice President of Education, Freya Eng, expressed concern for the association’s reputation.
“I don’t want to look like we support war at all,” she said.
VUWSA’s Vice President of Administration Alexander Neilson claimed a wreath would be unnecessary.
“There’s no point in placing a wreath if it has nothing to do with students,” Neilson said during the meeting.
Neilson went on to explain that Victoria had already “done its part” to commemorate the fallen with the construction of the Memorial Theatre. He went on to suggest the possibility of laying a “small” wreath in the theatre (which is currently under construction) as recognition of students who served in the military. Also possibly holding a few moments of silence before the next meeting, “and leav[ing] it at that.”
Vic has a long and storied history of involvement in military service. Male students were required to undergo territorial training during World War II, following the completion of exams. 290 students are known to have lost their lives during the conflict.
In 1942, the Victoria University of Wellington Students Association actively engaged in raising money for the Patriotic Fund, which financed all the work done by the YMCA and the Church Army during the World War II. The association also invested in government stock.
Salient‘s print edition will have further coverage on Monday.