There has been a lot of fuss and talk around the death of Elisabeth Windsor: about her personality, dogs, children, husband, royal family stuff here and there. It resembles a death of a celebrity, a person known because she is know, rather than a death of the head of state, especially of such a dimension like the United Kingdom. What is then the political legacy of Elisabeth II?
Since 1952, the year of her coronation, the British Empire has ceased to exist. Colonies and dominions on which it was founded have broken their ties with London, and continue to rebuild or lay foundations for their civil societies. The whole legacy of colonization has been well documented. There are all the possible crimes and tragedies there – slavery and forced movement of people, brutal suppression of any revolt, extraction of resources at the expense of local economies.
For many anticolonial activists the death of the queen means the death of the symbol of the empire that was founded on genocide, slavery, violence, occupation and colonial brutality in every form. From concentration camps in South Africa to resource exploation and military occupation in Yemen.
This part of the monarchy’s legacy seems to be invisible for the British public and white-dominated European audience.
The rhetoric of loss and colonial nostalgia is overwhelming, instead of being a marginal phenomenon, making a space for much more needed debate about the legacy of the British Empire and its monarchs.
The Empire’s colonial history is not a remote past. The colonial wars took place no more than seventy years ago: just think of Suez Canal and of fighting in Yemen, against the Marxist independence fighters, who would later found the only Marxist state in the Arab world, the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen). In 1956, Egyptians forced the British colonial forces out of Suez Canal. The wave of panarabism, national revival and fresh anticolonial pride led to 1963 Yemeni uprising.
The remnants of colonial politics of Britain are seen in the region till now, Yemen, divided before by the pens of colonists, has been engulfed in the civil conflicts since its unification in 1990. Right now it goes through one of the worst armed conflicts crises, which goes unnoticed for most of “world public opinion”.
Queen Elizabeth’s commitment to official politics and traditions, even if they were founded on colonialism, imperialism and chauvinism, while staying completely ignorant and/or indifferent of actual social problems – because etiquette requires it – shows the real essence of her reign and legacy.
Nobody in their right mind will say that the last 70 years were a good time for Great Britain.
Perhaps for some (some!) Commonwealth members. Not for the country that is now watching the first steps of Charles III, under the eye of an ignorant, free-market fanatic Prime Minister Liz Truss. It is crystal clear that British society is right now engulfed in the biggest social crises in the last 40 years. Maybe even 70 – if we compare it to the Thatcher era.
The conservatives could not have gotten the better gift from fate than the death of their Queen. This event is going to probably ease the tensions out a bit. Even the trade union leaders suspended some of their protest actions to honour the deceased. Before the winter that is coming, this is a moment of breath for the Tories. Likely, a moment when they can invent an effective anti-union strategy.
Leaving the European Union and prime ministers’ masquerade, economic trouble and a total dissolution of the social contract – all these accompanied the end of the reign that started in the time of British withdrawal from India and Egypt. The period of Elizabeth’s rule means the end of the colonial era for some people, or rather the life of its greatest living symbol. For others, it represents the end of the period in which Britain could still be said to be a superpower.