After a month of Poppy Fascism and hyper-nationalism, the BBC decided to mark Remembrance Sunday by giving prominence to French National Front leader Marine Le Pen. Glasgow activists instead chose to highlight statues in the city as symbols of colonial brutality. Here’s a statement from the group:
Activists have spray-painted counter-militarism graffiti on and around Glasgow monuments which celebrate British colonialism and empire. The graffiti which has appeared this week around the city is an image of a red remembrance poppy and the words ‘Remember: Militarism is Murder, Colonialism is Theft’.
The counter-militarism slogan can be seen at the 1888 ‘Doulton Fountain’ in Glasgow Green which elaborately depicts four colonies of Britain; Australia, Canada, South Africa, and India. Above these four scenes are four foot soldiers, representing the Black Watch, Grenadier Guards, Royal Navy and the Irish Fusiliers, above these are four female ‘water carriers’, and finally Queen Victoria stands on the apex. Plaques dedicated to soldiers of Great War surround the monument.
As well as other locations in the city, the graffiti can also be found at the Lord Roberts monument in Kelvingrove Park; a tribute to a man (1832-1914) who fought in many wars and battles of colonial conquest during Queen Victoria’s reign. Lord Roberts participated in the punitive British Expedition to Abyssinia in Ethiopia (1863, 1867-1868) the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880), and the Second Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa. There, he invented a strategy of control using a lethal combination of ‘scorched earth’ policy and concentration camps. This included the mass burning of farms and relocating local populations to concentration camps where 28,000 women and children died due to lack of sanitation and care. Lord Kitchener succeeded Roberts in this post and continued the use of concentration camps.
Roberts, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for being wounded while brutally quashing the Indian Mutiny of 1857, went on to become the commander-in-chief of the colonial Indian Army in 1894. The monument, which was unveiled 100 years ago in 1916, heralds military power as a symbol of Britain’s virtue and civility.
One of activists, ‘Asha’, said “These monuments glorify a shameful past of slavery, racism and militarism. Our act is one of remembrance for the people who suffered due to the violence of British imperialism, including civilians and soldiers. WW1 was a colonial war, and this fact has been hidden behind a veil of nationalism, jingoism and ‘Poppy memorabilia’. As Remembrance Sunday is approaching we feel it’s important to ask; what are we encouraged to remember? And in turn, when does remembrance itself normalise and conceal the brutality of the British war machine?”
Another of the activists, ‘Jo’, commented “There are statues like this all over the country. If we are unwilling to face up to Britain’s history of colonialism, murder and theft then we shouldn’t be surprised when the far right emerges, like it is now. We act with respect to the dead and want to challenge the imperial present.”
These monuments were erected before the ‘War to End All Wars’ had drawn to a close, and those who designed them would not know the horrors of industrialised killing of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. By highlighting how colonial violence overseas was transformed into legacies of glory and heroism at home during the Victorian era, these activists hope to encourage critical thinking around the use of memorialisation and the growing militarisation in today’s era.