GREAT BRITAIN ⋅ In a dispute over British colonial history, a historian has accused the government in London of double standards. “On the one hand, the government has announced that it will defend freedom of expression at universities,” said Steve Hewitt from the University of Birmingham to the German press agency. On the other hand, it tries to limit research that questions the prevailing image of the British Empire and historical figures such as ex-Prime Minister Winston Churchill. “That means free speech for people the government agrees to, but restrictions for those it doesn’t,” Hewitt said.
At a round table on Tuesday, Culture Minister Oliver Dowden wants to call on the country’s most important historical institutions to take a “broader look” at British history. Recently, conservative forces reacted indignantly to announcements by historic sites to investigate the involvement of their previous owners in the colonial slave trade and to make it clear. The debate had gained momentum due to the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, which saw monuments smeared and overturned in several British cities.
There is a “profound misunderstanding” of what history is in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration, Hewitt said. “History is not a kind of fact that never changes and is written on tablets of stone and passed down from generation to generation.” Hewitt criticized the government’s policy as a basis for intimidation attempts. “It silences alternative views and prevents a fuller understanding of the past,” he said. The aim is to suppress attempts to deal with colonial history more comprehensively. “The national myth is fused with history.”
Brexit also played a role in the debate, said the historian. Universities are seen by supporters of the EU exit as enemies of the Brexit project, which was primarily fueled by British nationalism. “Nationalism is in part driven by historical myths, hence an anger against those who question those myths.” (sda / dpa)