There can be no denying that much of Europe is about to enter a winter of discontent. Perceived and real problems ranging from the phenomenon of trickle-up neo-liberal economics to real terms price inflation, the stagnation of economic growth and the simultaneous cutting of traditional social programmes has left many working and even middle class Europeans feeling a sense of desperation. All of this has congealed to create a sense of deep pessimism that contrasts sharply with the burgeoning optimism of those in growing Asian economies ranging from Turkey in western Eurasia to China in north east Asia and The Philippines in south east Asia.
Because of this, many in 21st century Europe who had grown accustomed to the generally perpetually progressing living standards and sacrosanct public services, feel as though the disconnect between governments and the populace is a new trend. However, the contempt with which the neo-liberal European ruling class is treating ordinary citizens is not in fact new by any means. It is in reality, but a very small and far more mundane glimpse of how major European governments treated their colonial subjects in Asia, Africa and the Americas.
During the Algerian struggle for national liberation against France, Paris made the calculated decision to class the events as an internal security operation rather than a war. This amounted to little more than France justifying its blatant violations of the 1951 Geneva conventions in the most callous manner imaginable. Perhaps therefore it is ironic that after decades of Paris resisting an admission that it committed acts of torture against Algerian freedom fighters, it was President Emmanuel Macron who in September of this year admitted and apologised for the French governments of the 1950s and 1960s for ordering soldiers to commit systematic acts of torture against Algerians.
In 1966, the Italian-Algerian film The Battle of Algiers recreated some of the most brutal events of the Algerian struggle for independence with a level of accuracy that shocked the French establishment. The film was so graphic in its acute portrayal of the events during the French attempt to re-subdue Algeria that it was banned from French cinemas upon its release.
When one realises that French soldiers engaged in kidnappings, forced starvation, beatings, butchery bodily mutilation, sexual molestation of the most grotesque order and even the mutilation of Algerian corpses, it puts into perspective what is happening on the streets of Paris in 2018. While clearly some of the Yellow Vest protesters have committed acts of banditry and violence, other peaceful protesters do have legitimate grievances against an objectively failed government. Likewise, while France like any sovereign country has the right to defend its own streets against disorder, as Turkey’s President Erdogan pointed out, there have been disproportionate acts of violence on both sides.
And yet even the most desperate of protesters in Paris and other French cities are not living under foreign occupation as were the Algerians during their national liberation struggle. Furthermore, no modern French person can honestly say they have it worse in 2018 than an Algerian had it in 1954. Likewise, the teargas, beatings and water cannon being used by French police on the Yellow Vest protesters cannot be compared to the live rounds fired on Algerians between 1954 and 1962. The same holds true in respect of the brutal suppression of the Indochinese (Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian) national liberation movements by French imperialists between 1946 and 1954.
But it is not just France where ordinary Europeans are expressing discontent with their governments. Protests have also spread to Belgium where police have been filmed using similar tactics to that of their French partners. And yet it was Belgian atrocities in the Congo Free State – a colony under the personal rule of Belgian King Leopold II, where some of the worst atrocities in modern human history took place. Many have compared the Belgian genocide of Congolese to the European Holocaust as under King Leopold II, it is thought that between 1885 and 1924, Belgium’s monarch slaughtered 10 million Congolese. No Belgian citizen in 2018 will ever experience the kind of crimes against humanity as did the Congolese suffering under the whip hand of Leopold II.
In Britain, many are speculating that Prime Minister Theresa May is preparing to defy the democratic will of her people who in 2016 voted to leave the European Union. Yet this pales in comparison to the brutal suppression of non-violent Indian self-determination movements that the British Empire oversaw throughout south Asia in the 19th and 20th centuries. On a single day in 1919, British troops opened fire on unarmed demonstrators for self-determination along with religious pilgrims. It is thought that at least 1,300 civilians were slaughtered for the “crime” of seeking democratic rule over their own land in what is known as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre (sometimes called the Amritsar Massacre).
These are just a very few examples of the hundreds of atrocities that European colonial powers have committed against those in Asia, Africa and the Americas who sought to defend their culture and homeland against foreign anti-democratic subjugation.
This is not to say that modern European citizens do not have the right to peacefully express their grievances – they certainly have that right. Furthermore, the arrogance with which many contemporary European rulers continue to govern makes many of these protests all the more justified in many cases. However, it is nevertheless crucial to contextualise how the ignored and often forgotten atrocities that Europeans committed against unwilling colonial subjects vastly dwarfs the chaos fomenting on the streets of Europe in 2018. However arrogant and dismissive European leaders are of the concerns of their indigenous populations today, it is far less severe than the European blood-lust against those living under vast European empires that looted the wealth of Asia, Africa and the Americans in order to create high living standards in Europe.
In this sense, Europe’s chickens are coming home to roost but in a much more limited way than that which was experienced by indigenous people from Cape Town to Kolkata and from Mindanao to southern Mexico.