Perfidious Albion

Chris Burford cburford at
Sat Jul 15 09:16:08 MDT 1995

	Perfidious Albion

Despite having had the benefit in the 60's of a English degree in
history, I never learned the precise meaning and context of this epithet,
applied as I recall by the French to England in the 18th century. It was
an interesting feature of European diplomatic skirmishing
as England rose from being the competitor of the Netherlands, to world
hegmony. In the 60's there was still the middle class English effortless
superiority which could read such an attribution, and accept no curiosity
as to why it might have been made, except to note that it had been made
by "continentals", aka "Europeans".

Well, yesterday, I learned a specific context and meaning of the title.
And while I usually try to ensure I post in
reasonably good humour, I post today almost shaking with shame and
anger. Yesterday, while many of the defeated defenders of Srebenica were
being beaten and killed if they were men, and repeatedly raped if they were
women selected for this purpose from the buses of refugees; yesterday,
while the bombardment of Zepa built up in preparation for a similar outcome,
yesterday, while it became clear that the 60 thousand people of Gorazde,
were next in line, despite their protection by British troops,
yesterday, the British government called for an international conference
in - one week's time.

It is not accidental or inappropriate that even a right wing President
of France should at this moment make references to Munich. Deep though
the tragedies of the 30's and 40's were, there is no doubt that Stalin
signed his pact with Hitler in a context in which the British had
been holding back, and holding back, and holding back, from defending
a standard of international justice, because it suited their imperialist
purposes to see other's fight.

On Bosnia, the British Foreign Office, bastion of the best Oxbridge
traditions, has been assiduous at shaping the news, raising doubts,
difficulties and obstacles. A widespread rumour attributed in 1993
to the British FO a view deliberately shared with the press, that
we would not want an armed muslim state in Europe, - would we?

I used my leverage of asking my member of Parliament to forward a letter
to the minister for a personal reply. The Minister of State Douglas Hogg,
wrote on 29th April 1994,

"The allegation that the British Government briefed the press in 1993 that
it does not want a Muslim state within Europe is complete fabrication.
UK policy is not anti-Muslim. This allegation is similar to several
other slur campaigns, including forged letters in recent months, that
have tried to distort British policy on Bosnia."

I replied that I thought the minister protested too much, and had the
shorter reply forwarded "It is simply not true that a senior government
official gave a briefing, either official or unofficial, that the British
Government does not want a Muslim state in Europe."

I believe this reply was only technically true. I think the British
government has been gradually exposed as the key western Government
acting as a drag anchor against opposition to Serb fascist aggression
against multi-ethnic state structures, and especially in opposition to
the Bosnian's having the arms for a just war of self-defence.

As Britain sinks into post-imperial decline, I am less troubled by
guilt feelings about being English. What really makes me uneasy
about this situation is the guilt by negligence of the left. When you
think of the campaigns in solidarity with the Vietnamese, and the anti-
Apartheid movement, it is notable that there is no significant
campaign in England of solidarity with the Bosnians. To be succesful
such a campaign would need a cadre of left wingers. The
fact that there is not such a campaign I am afraid points to underlying
racism in the post-imperialist left, and an inability to make a dialectical
analysis that sometimes the left must ally with elements of the
right, yes even Mrs Thatcher on Yugoslavia, as with Churchill in the
war against fascism, for bourgois democratic goals.

Yours in anger and grief,

Chris Burford, London.

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