Understanding ourselves – two island stories
Several hundred miles off the coast of southern Argentina there is a cluster of small islands called the Falkland Islands, with a climate similar to Scotland (unpleasant) and nothing much inspiring in the way of landscape. They were uninhabited when European explorers crossed the oceans in the 17th century, and France, Spain and Great Britain all laid claim to bits of the islands over the years. The descendents of the early settlers and subsequent incomers all identify with the UK, speak English and an overwhelming 99.8% of the population want to remain a territory of Great Britain. An Argentinian dictatorship government tried to seize the islands for Argentina in the 1980s in an attempt to bolster support for their failing regime with nationalistic territorial pride, but failed when faced with the might of the British navy. From a British point of view, the rights of the inhabitants to self-determine their future are fundamental.
But there is also a cluster of islands just off the coast of Argentina called “Las Malvinas”. These islands were stolen from Argentina by the British, and contravening international agreements the British have refused to return them to their rightful owners. Colonial European powers at their worst. To make matters worse, hundreds of brave young Argentinians have died in an attempt to rightfully return these Argentinian islands. So they are never forgotten, there is a national holiday every year in March to remember their deaths and remind all Argentinians that these islands are part of Argentina. Indeed, Argentinian maps all display Las Malvinas as part of their country, schools are named after the islands, Argentinian bank notes display the islands and they are regularly discussed in the media. From an Argentinian point of view, these Argentinian islands evoke a deep sense of national pride and are a strong part of their identity.
I’m sure you can guess that these two clusters of islands are one and the same. If you ask the average British person about them, they know that these British islands and their inhabitants must remain as a British territory. If you ask the average Argentinian person about them, they know that these Argentinian islands must be returned to them.
Our opinions are often entirely at the whim of our culture and upbringing, and most people when faced with contrary facts struggle to shake off deeply felt sentiment about islands. Or about guns. Or about homosexuality. Or about eating animals. Or about gender roles.
The best we can do is honestly look to evaluate what harm is actually being done in any given situation. Britain did keep those islands dishonestly and with a track record of stealing and ruining land around the world, should offer to give them back. And yet the inhabitants of the island should be able to self-determine, so Argentina should offer to relinquish their claim.
Perhaps no-one is ever right, because there are no rights and wrongs, just better and worse scenarios. Acknowledging the depth of our own prejudices and honestly examining them is a good place to start making better decisions, particularly for an animal species like ours that is in a strong position to use our acquired knowledge and self-awareness more intelligently. But apparently we don’t do that (see the islands story above, from an age of easy information access).
When I look on a map and have to blindly guess, it’s pretty obvious that Argentina is the regional winner. England smells of colonialism in the deal from afar, but so is Argentina technically.
We (the US) returned the Panama Canal Zone to Panama after a hundred years of stability (in the zone) and panama is much better off for it. It was a painful parting for those of us involved, but it was the right thing to do.
Falkland Islands should put it to a vote since they are really the ones with the dog in the fight. Would that even carry any weight?
Falkland Islands should put it to a vote since they are really the ones with the dog in the fight. Would that even carry any weight?
It would to the UK but not to Argentina, and that’s simply because a referendum in which only the islanders voted would likely result in an almost 100% return for the status quo. A way needs to be found whereby all three parties (UK, Argentina, and the islanders) can reach an agreement without loosing face, and which meets each of their needs.
I think the experience of the islanders during the Argentinian takeover in the 80’s would make them very unlikely to voluntarily choose to become part of Argentina.
LikeLiked by 2 people
It did carry weight, 99.8% of the population, giving the British the argument they needed to keep their military base, fishing rights and potential oil reserves there. I think you make an important point about losing face for each side. It’s a non-issue in the UK at the moment but here in Argentina they seem to be ramping up the rhetoric.
As I say in the post, there was a vote and 99.8% of inhabitants wanted to say as a British territory. The post is a clumsy effort, I was more interested in exploring the effects of propaganda from both sides on such huge numbers of people. A self-reflection trigger for me in terms of what cultural prejudices are core to my own viewpoints on a whole variety of things.
For the islands themselves, whatever happens to them in the future, the effects of the propaganda on one side or the other could make it seem worth going to war again, if any government wants to whip up that kind of support, which is worrying.
Well what do you think, would you want to happen ?
As I say in the post, I just want people to reflect on their own cultural prejudices. There’s no right or wrong answer.
Wishy-washy liberalism. Talking rather than fighting, and seeing the others’ point of view? Where would that get us?
Apologies, I’m on holiday and foggy sleepy brain on. Our glorious navy will prevail!!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdGq3frFsRo (from Barry)
LikeLiked by 1 person
Refreshing to see a world leader talking so much sense, thanks!
Right between Finland and Sweden lies the cluster of islands called Åland/Ahvenanmaa (depending on the language used). It has been a part of Sweden from the end of Viking age. Russia conquered Finland and all the isles from Sweden in 1809. During the Crimean war in 1856 the British navy attacked the Russian Baltic and after the war the isles were demilitarised, but during the WWI Russia fortified them. When Finland got it’s indipendence in 1917 and plunged into civil war, there was fighting in the islands also. Sweden sent an expeditionary force to intervene and protect the population of the islands, but also to secure them for annexation for Sweden. They however retreated when the Germans invaded and aided the conservative (or white) side to win the Finnish civil war over the socialists (or reds). The isles were mostly populated by Swedish speaking people, most of whom actually wanted to join Sweden, but they were not really asked and by the initiative of the British in 1920, the league of nations put their situation into vote. The result was, that the islands would remain a part of Finland, but that the population would get a sort of autonomy and that the Islands would once again be unfortified and demilitarized. It is a common joke in Finland that the Isles should be sold to Sweden with a fair price.
The isles remain a problem, because both Finland and Sweden fear, that if a war would brake out with Russia (again) the demilitarized islands would be woulnerable to Russian invasion, and thus would provide the Red Army with an easy access bridgehead in the middle of the northern Baltic. However, during WW2, the Russians made no effort to conquer the islands, most propably because they thought that the demilitarisation of the region was an important issue for GB, wich was at the time the mightiest naval empire on the planet and the Russians wanted to remain on the good side of the Brits. That is not the case anymore, as Britain is no longer an empire to be considered, fear has grown in both Swedish and Finnish militaries. No doubt, both of them have a plan to occupy the islands, if an actual crisis with Russia broke out. I can only hope the plan is mutual.
The British have involved themselves in a lot of intervening and policing during their colonial period. Mostly it has resulted in them robbing their subjects and creating what we today call the third world and sometimes they have created an exeptional experimental situation (as when they decided, that the US and India were not worth the fight). Today the Ahvenanmaa/Åland is one of the most prosperous and peacefull areas on the planet. Who cares to wich country do the islands belong to, as long as the people there get to decide about their own issues. We Finns are willing to protect them from foreign invasions and they provide us with a beatifull, though expensive, holiday resort.
In the early 20th century the issue of the Åland/Ahvenanmaa was a very important national interrest question, but the nationalists of today in Sweden and Finland hardly even remember it used to be so. Today our nationalists and those of Sweden are very narrowly focused on the issue of immigration (and especially immigrants who they are able to recognize as immigrants from skin colour on the street). This is because nationalists are generally speaking a group of people who know or understand very little of history. History (pretty much like all other things) are limited in their minds only to provide confirmation to their identity. For some reason the nationalist has so low self esteem, that they need to confirm their personal identity through tribalism and territorial pissing, like who “owns” wich islands, they have never even visited on. I think this impotence on understanding factual world is somehow linked to their constant fear & hatred of the outsider, the sexually different (as in homophobia and even misogynism), religiously different, and even in more or less open racism.
LikeLiked by 3 people
Territorial pissing – exactly that! The interesting point for me is how a whole population can be moved to support this. On the recent
Argentinian memorial day, one of the main news channels played a sentimental song for the Falklands with images of the graveyard where many of the dead lie, and they discuss for hours why the islands are part of Argentina. It’s programmed into people’s bones, and how do retrace those steps to let people honestly evaluate important questions (although by no means the only consideration) around the identity and wishes of the actual inhabitants.
I have a nother story from Finland. We lost our fourth largest city to the Soviet Union during WWII and a good part of the eastern country. When I say “we lost” I do not actually mean, that I lost jack shite. I was not even born then, but this is how most of Finns would vocalize the event. People who had to move as evacuees and refugees from that area west to the rest of Finland have mostly died out. My “clan” lost some land, and our ancestral farm now lies right beside the border on Finnish side. Both the city and the land were initially lost during so called Winter War at the onset of the entire WWII debacle. The Soviets demanded Finland to give up on some eastern parts of the country. The Finns did not understand that the Soviets meant business and thought, that the League of Nations and western superpowers like GB and France would interveen. They did not. Those eastern parts of the land were lost more precisely in the peace negotiations right after Finns had to plea for peace from Stalin in 1940. Finnish army was surprizingly succesfull in defeating Soviet attacks one after a nother, but in the end the Finns basicly had run out of ammunition and a peace needed to be sued. (FInland had spent most of it’s defence budget on warships, that never even got to be used.) Stalin understood, that he could not grind his armies in a war against the insignificant Finnish army as Hitler had already many times declared, that the main enemy of Nazism was atheistic Communism and so after a humiliating attempt to take Finland, the Soviets decided that instead of annexing the whole of Finland, some parts of it – mostly the ones they had demanded before the war – would suffice.
However, not only had the Finnish army exelled in war, but a nother branch of government had also exeded it’s labours – the Finnish propaganda machine. The early successes of the Finnish army against the ill prepared, but wastly superior Red Army had been greatly exploited by the Finnish propaganda. The Finns really thought that “one Finn equals ten Ruskies”. The actual kill ratio was about 6:1, wich is impressive on it self, but not nearly enough for what came next. Finland joined Nazi Germany in Operation Barbarossa and made a part of the Leningrad siege. The Finns in general saw this as a revance and an opportunity to take back what was lost in Winter War, but some of “our” leaders also elaborated ideas of a Grand Finland streching from the Baltic to the Urals. Now, even if they had been on the winning side, like Saruman, they were unable to see that Sauron and Hitler did not have any tendencies to share. Ultimately the Soviets won (as you should expect from an industrialized nation of 200 million against a nother, that was Nazi Germany of less than 100 million even counting all their allies, nevermind GB and US) and demanded the Finns to give up even more land and turning on their former allies the Germans. This was given instead of the Finnish army totally collapsing.
After the war there were some voices in Finland that demanded the Soviets to give back the land. But uncle Joe was not inclined to do anything as such and the Russians were not likely going to easily forget our part in the tragedy of the siege of Leningrad. Finland succesfully resetteled the refugees and though they faced some xenophobic, religious and racist hatred (as some of them were Orthodoxes and all spoke their own dialect) most of Finns thought that they had suffered enough and deserved a new beginning. Today, most of the people who ever lived in the lost parts of Finnish Carelia are very old and their memories of it resemble the fact that they were children when they had to leave. Anti-Russian sentiments live on and some ridiculous ideals of the Grand Finland still lumber in the darkest shadows of extremist right-wing minds, but are hardly ever pronounced out loud, because it was important for the Finns to formulate a story, that Finland was a sort of stray wood, that just happened to drift to the nazi camp and we could not have done otherwise exept to join the nazies against the Soviet Union. It is a ridiculous excuse and I expect future historians are going to have a field day with it. In the end the entire WWII for Finland was much like what captain Blackadder says about WWI British; It would have been easier for us to remain home and shoot every month some 10 000 young men. We would not have needed to suffer in the trenches…
When I studied in the University of Helsinki, one of the common toilets there had a writing on the wall, that demanded for the Tarto peace treaty 1920 borders to be restored, within which Finland was at largest on the map as the writer thought they were supposed to be the “real” borders of Finland. Underneath of it was a nother text that demanded the Nöteborg peace treaty 1323 borders to be restored, as they were the “first” and “longest standing” and therfore the “actual” borders of Finland. The Nöteborg peace border cuts the Finland that exists today in half and all of northern Finland belonged to Russia in it. So, I guess we can close in on these issues of identity through fact and humour. There are always people who are going to be appalled by humour being invoked upon the “fallen heroes”, who defended the borders, but the nationalist is often so fascist in their values and I suspect because these values are held out of constant fear and poor self esteem (wich is why they are so keen on tribal identity) they find the role of victim insufferable, and thus do not protest too loudly against being ridiculed. They are the bullies who fear nothing as much as that their identity based on lies will be questioned, so they rather run and hide, than stand in defence of their – so often totally irrational beliefs. That is not to say, that we need to ridicule the soldiers who fought, or the refugees who lost, but rather the ridiculous ideals that caused these losses, such as tribalism, tribal moralism, nationalism, racism and all the other sorts of bigotry.
Sorry about the long comment, but I thought this is relevant to the topic.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I got through it! Borders, governance, immigration….we do so often appeal to past arbitrary lines, lost days before X group arrived and ruined it all. It’s depressing so few people bother to properly understand the history of their country or the world, and simply amass facts that suit their confirmation bias. Can tribalism ever be overcome? I’m not sure we’re capable of it.
I could tell a similar story about the major cultures of Aotearoa New Zealand. A treaty between the British Crown and the Māori was mostly honoured by the Māori and mostly ignored by the Pākehā settlers for more than a hundred years.
Now we Pākehā recognise that our actions were wrong, and attempts are being made to rectify the situation. There is no simple solution on how to make the wrongs right. Simply returning confiscated land to the original owners will cause new injustices, and paying compensation for the stolen land is impossible as it would be perhaps more than 100 times the GDP of the nation. Nor would it be a solution for land that holds spiritual value that can not be converted into a dollar value.
I believe the Māori have been very patient and generous in the compromises they have made in achieving moderate recompense for what they have lost. They, more than anyone, understand how demanding full compensation would create an impossible situation both economically and socially. There are a sufficient number of Pākehā racists for racial violence to break out in that situation.
But gradually agreements between the NZ crown, and Māori iwi (tribes) are being worked through. Most importantly, I believe, is that the value of Māori spirituality is being recognised, for example, in recognising that Māori customary law has as much merit is common law inherited from the British. This can be seen in recent law that recognises the Whanganui river, its tributaries and watershed as a living entity.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Great comment as ever Barry. It would be amazing to see immigrant descendents in the United States of America and other parts of the Americas having similar attitudes towards indigenous groups as many of you have in NZ.
Maybe they should look at the Norfolk Island model. It’s not perfect, but a shared admin might be a nice starting point.