Elizabeth II: Death cannot lead to romanticization – 09/10/2022 – World

“The end of an era” will be a remark repeated widely by commentators analyzing the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, which has set so many records. Like all monarchs, she was both an individual and an institution.

Elizabeth had a different birthday for each role: the royal birthday of her birth in April and an official birthday in June — and while she retained her personal name as queen, she held different titles depending on where in her domains she was located.

Elizabeth was as bereft of opinions and emotions in public as her ubiquitous handbags would be bereft of commonplace objects like wallet, keys, and telephone. We know little about her inner life, except for her love of horses and dogs — a fact that she gave Helen Mirren, Olivia Colman and Claire Foy audiences fascinated by the insights they enacted.

The queen embodied a deep and sincere commitment to her duties — her last public act was to appoint her 15th prime minister — and she will rightly be mourned for the tireless constancy with which she carried them out. She has been a monument of stability, and her death, which took place in already turbulent times, will send waves of grief across the world.

But we must not romanticize his era. For the queen was also an image: the face of a nation that, throughout her reign, witnessed the dissolution of the almost entire British Empire and its global influence greatly reduced. Both intentionally and by the serendipity of her long life, her presence as head of state and Commonwealth erected an undaunted traditionalist facade hiding decades of violent turmoil. In this way, the queen helped to obscure a bloody history of decolonization whose proportions and legacies have not yet been fully recognized.

Elizabeth became queen after the war, when sugar was rationed and rubble was still being cleared away. Journalists described the 25-year-old as a phoenix rising into a new Elizabethan age. An inevitable and significant analogy: the first Elizabethan era, in the 16th century, marked the emergence of England from a second-tier state to an overseas power. Elizabeth I expanded the Navy and laid the foundations for a transcontinental empire.

Elizabeth II grew up in a royal family whose significance in the empire had grown as political authority at home dwindled. The monarchy reigned over an ever-growing list of colonies, including Hong Kong (1842), India (1858) and Jamaica (1866). Members of the royal family made extensive ceremonial trips to the colonies and presented Asian and African rulers with an alphabet soup of orders and decorations.

In 1947 the then-princess celebrated her 21st birthday on a royal tour of South Africa, delivering a much-quoted speech in which she promised that her entire life, “long or short”, would be devoted to the service of her subjects and the “great imperial family”. She was on another royal tour in Kenya when she was informed of her father’s death.

On Coronation Day, 1953, The Times proudly reported the first successful climb to the peak of Mount Everest as “a happy and vigorous omen of another Elizabethan age.” The imperialist tone of the news notwithstanding, Queen Elizabeth II inherited and sustained an imperial monarchy by assuming the title of head of the Commonwealth.

“The Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the empires of the past,” she insisted in her 1953 Christmas message. Her history suggests otherwise. Envisioned as a coalition of “white” colonies promoted by the then South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts, the group was born out of a racist and paternalistic conception of British rule as a form of guardianship, educating the colonies so that they could assume the full responsibilities of autonomy. Reconfigured in 1949 to include newly independent Asian republics, the Commonwealth was the sequel to the empire and a vehicle for preserving Britain’s international influence.

In photos from leaders’ conferences, the white queen is seated in the center, among dozens of mostly non-white premiers. She took her role very seriously, at times clashing with ministers to support Commonwealth interests at the expense of more limited political imperatives — as in the 1960s, when she proposed holding ecumenical religious ceremonies to celebrate Commonwealth Day. and encouraged the adoption of a tougher line towards the apartheid regime in South Africa.

What you wouldn’t imagine from the photos — and that’s partially what they’re about — is the violence they hide. In 1948, the colonial governor of then British Malaya declared a state of emergency to fight communist guerrillas, and troops in London used counterinsurgency tactics that the Americans would emulate in Vietnam.

In 1952, the governor of Kenya imposed a state of emergency to suppress a colonial movement known as Mau-Mau; the British trapped tens of thousands of Kenyans in concentration camps and subjected them to brutal, systematic torture. In Cyprus, in 1955, and in Aden, Yemen, in 1963, British governors again declared states of emergency to face anti-colonial attacks; once again, they tortured civilians.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, a conflict brought the dynamics of the emergency to the UK. In a karmic twist, in 1979 the IRA murdered Lord Louis Mountbatten, a relative of the Queen and last Viceroy of India, as well as the architect of her marriage to Prince Philip.

It is possible that we will never know what the queen knew or did not know about the crimes committed in her name. (What is discussed in the monarch’s weekly meetings with the prime minister remains in a black box.) Her subjects don’t necessarily know everything. Colonial officials destroyed many documents that, according to a dispatch from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, “could embarrass Her Majesty’s Government” and intentionally concealed others in a secret file whose existence was only revealed in 2011.

Although some activists such as Labor MP Barbara Castle have publicized and denounced British atrocities, the allegations have not received much publicity.

And there were always more real trips for the press to cover. Almost every year until the 2000s the Queen toured Commonwealth countries – a good bet for attracting enthusiastic crowds and flattering images. The kilometers traveled and countries visited were counted as if they had been heroically visited on foot, not by royal yacht and Rolls-Royce: 71 thousand kilometers and 13 territories to celebrate his coronation, 90 thousand kilometers and 14 countries for the Silver Jubilee; another 64,000 kilometers through Jamaica, Australia, New Zealand and Canada for Gold. The British Empire had been largely decolonized, but the monarchy had not.

In recent years, she has followed the UK struggling to adapt to the post-imperial position. Tony Blair promoted multiculturalism and brought administrative autonomy to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but he also revived Victorian imperial discourse when he sided with the UK with the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Social and regional inequality grew, and London became a haven for wealthy oligarchs. While the Queen’s personal popularity has recovered from the slump she suffered from Princess Diana’s death, the royal family has been divided over allegations of racism by Harry and Meghan.

In 1997, Elizabeth shed tears over the decommissioning of the taxpayer-paid royal yacht Britannia, months after escorting the last British governor of Hong Kong. Boris Johnson floated the idea of ​​building a new royal yacht.

The British state and institutions have come under increasing public pressure to recognize and repair the legacies of empire, slavery and colonial violence. In 2013, in response to a lawsuit brought by victims of torture in Kenya, the government agreed to pay nearly £20 million in damages to survivors. Another payment was made in 2019 to survivors in Cyprus. Efforts are underway to reform school curricula, remove public monuments that glorify empire, and alter the presentation of historic sites linked to imperialism.

But xenophobia and racism are on the rise, fueled by the toxic politics of Brexit. Building on a bet made years ago by Eurosceptics (left and right) on the Commonwealth as a UK-led alternative to European integration, the Boris government, with now Prime Minister Liz Truss as chancellor, promoted a view drenched in half-truths. and imperial nostalgia for a supposed “global Britain”.

The queen’s very longevity facilitated the persistence of outdated fantasies about a second Elizabethan age. She represented a living link to the Second World War and the patriotic myth that Britain alone would have saved the world from fascism.

Elizabeth had a personal relationship with Winston Churchill, the first of her 15 prime ministers, who Boris fervently defended against well-founded criticism of his retrograde imperialism. And, of course, she was a white face on every postage stamp, coin and banknote in circulation in a rapidly diversifying nation: by the time Elizabeth ascended the throne there was one person of color in every 200 Britons, but the census 2011 revealed that this proportion had risen to seven.

Now that she is gone, the imperial monarchy must also end. It is past time, for example, to change the name of the Order of the British Empire, a decoration it has given to hundreds of Britons. The queen has been head of state of more than a dozen Commonwealth countries, many of which now possibly follow the example of Barbados, which in 2021 decided to “leave our colonial past fully behind” and become a republic.

The queen’s death could also benefit a new campaign for Scottish independence – something Elizabeth was reportedly opposed to.

Those who heralded a second Elizabethan era hoped that Elizabeth II would prolong British greatness; rather, it was the era of empire implosion. The Queen will be remembered for her tireless dedication to her work, the future of which she sought to secure by removing the disgraced Prince Andrew from his public roles and settling the issue of Queen Camilla’s title.

But it was a position so closely tied to the British Empire that myths of imperial benevolence persisted as the world around Elizabeth changed. The new king now has an opportunity to make a real historical impact, drying up the pomp and modernizing the monarchy to make it more Scandinavian-like. That would be an end to be celebrated.

About Abhishek Pratap

Food maven. Unapologetic travel fanatic. MCU's fan. Infuriatingly humble creator. Award-winning pop culture ninja.

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