Ukraine – It’s What Empires Do

what-empires-do

French Troops in Algeria

Ulster, Texas, Algeria, Crimea are all examples of one of the things that empires do.  A good way of expanding your authority is to move populations around.  Ideally you move people who are reliably on your side and get them to live where people who don’t recognise your authority are currently living.   It’s just how empires operate.  I imagine that they have done it since empires have started.  It is good to have this historical perspective on the current crisis in the Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin is no doubt an unpleasant illiberal and aggressive politician.  He does seem keen to keep at least a semblance of democracy though, so bad as he is he isn’t completely off the scale.  And to be fair, the situation he is dealing with is not one of his making.  There are Russian populations scattered all over the former Soviet Union outside the borders of the Russian federation.  It is more surprising how little trouble they have caused than how much.

This isn’t just one of those things.  It was the conscious policy of first the Czars and then the Communists.  And it has to be said that there have been states that have made a much worse hand of dealing with the consequences of what might be called ethnic engineering.  Britain’s efforts in Ireland have only recently been solved to the point where a new outbreak of violence now seems unlikely (thought still not actually impossible).

The French intervention in Algeria was certainly not problem free either. Algeria often gets lumped in with the story of the European colonisation of Africa, but really it was a part of the European economic system.  Algeria was a well developed agricultural economy when France annexed it in 1830.  In fact it might have been this that led to the invasion project being hatched –  France owed Algeria rather a lot of money for provisions it had bought for its army.

Thousands of French settlers were encouraged by generous government grants to set up as farmers in Algeria, and Algeria was treated as a part of metropolitan France.  In strictly legal terms they weren’t even settlers.  They were there for over a hundred years and were only expelled following a violent and bloody war.

By comparison, the Ukraine crisis seems a very low key affair indeed.  I get the distinct impression that not many of the people actually involved really want to kill anyone.  That at least seems to be progress.

photo credit: loranger via photopin cc

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