Police in England arrested at least 52 people Saturday around the coronation of King Charles, including numerous anti-monarchy activists who say they were detained before they even started protesting. Charles and his wife Camilla were crowned king and queen in a lavish ceremony at Westminster Abbey that is expected to cost over £100 million, or about $125 million USD, taking place against the backdrop of a severe cost-of-living crisis in the U.K. Despite growing disinterest in the monarchy, criticism of the institution has been very “muted” in the mainstream U.K. media, says Priya Gopal, Cambridge professor and author of Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent. “The media and the police are colluding in essentially suppressing criticism of the monarchy and what has been going on around the coronation,” she says.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman.
We turn now to Britain, where King Charles and Queen Camilla were officially crowned Saturday in a ceremony at Westminster Abbey, the first coronation in Britain in 70 years. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby administered the Coronation Oath.
ARCHBISHOP JUSTIN WELBY: The Coronation Oath has stood for centuries and is enshrined in law. Are you willing to take the oath?
KING CHARLES III: I am willing.
ARCHBISHOP JUSTIN WELBY: Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the peoples of the United Kingdom, of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, your other realms and the territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?
KING CHARLES III: I solemnly promise so to do. The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep, so help me God.
AMY GOODMAN: Outside Westminster Abbey, police arrested at least 52 people, including numerous anti-monarchy activists who say they were detained before they even started protesting. This is Graham Smith of the anti-monarchist group Republic.
GRAHAM SMITH: We’re very much protesting. We’ve been speaking to the police for four months. We’ve been very clear and candid about what our plans are. And we’ve also had five other protests around the country within short distance of the king each time, and each protest has gone off without any problems at all. So, there has never been any intention on our part to disrupt anything. … I think they were hoping to stop us from staging a large peaceful protest on the edge of the coronation. I think that that was a spectacularly poor decision for all sorts of reasons, not least because there was no grounds for arresting us, and it is an affront to democracy, an attack on our rights, but also it’s backfired in the sense that, you know, this has become a major news story over the coronation weekend.
AMY GOODMAN: Ahead of King Charles’ coronation, groups from 12 former British colonies wrote a letter demanding the new king pay reparations and apologize for Britain’s legacy of genocide and colonization.
We’re joined now by Priya Gopal, an English professor at the University of Cambridge, author of Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent. Her latest piece for Al Jazeera English is headlined “With Charles III coronation, colonialism is coming home to roost.”
Well, Priya Gopal, can you start off by just talking about the resistance this weekend to the coronation? How widespread is this critical discussion, discussion critical of the king? Is this a common topic this weekend? And what that letter meant from the former colonies?
PRIYA GOPAL: Yeah. Hi, Amy.
I think there are two things to say about resistance. One is that what was striking, for those of us who have been here for many years and watched jubilees and other celebrations, is that the public celebrations were relatively muted. I don’t think that the crowds in London were quite as thick as they were even for the queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I think, certainly where I live, in Cambridge, celebrations yesterday, the street parties, were quite muted. And we know from a recent poll that support for the coronation or interest in the coronation was actually very low, with only about 9% of the population seriously committed to it and interested in it.
In terms of criticism, there is quite widespread rumbling. And, of course, Republic, the campaign group you referred to, you know, tried to protest, and they were stopped almost immediately. In the public sphere, in the media sphere, there is very, very little representation of anti-monarchy positions or even positions that are moderately critical of the monarchy or of the imperial system. So, there’s a kind of odd combination of increasing lack of interest in the monarchy but a refusal on the part of the media, particularly the BBC, to acknowledge that there is rising criticism and rising disinterest.
The arrest of the protesters before they even began to protest — and there were two groups, by the way. One group was Republic, who were arrested before they had even downloaded their placards. Another was a women’s group called Night Stars, who were trying to hand out rape alarms, and they were also hassled by the police. And the rape alarms were seized, and they were not allowed to distribute them.
Now, this is connected to a very disturbing development in Britain, which is the public order bill, which was recently passed by the Conservative government. And what it has done is it has given the police sweeping powers to determine who can protest and how far, and whether those protests should go ahead. The Metropolitan Police, the day before they arrested Graham Smith and others, actually said, astonishingly, that they would not allow anybody to “undermine” the celebrations. Note the language: not criminal activity, not disruption, but you would not even be allowed to undermine the celebrations, which means it can be anything, from — you know, looking grumpy might be seen as undermining the celebration. And I think we are in a situation where the police have been given extraordinary powers, and this is a very, very dangerous point, where the media and the police are colluding in essentially suppressing criticism of the monarchy and what has been going on around the coronation.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Gopal, Britain was one of the largest, if not the largest, slave trader in the Atlantic in the 18th century. Can you talk about that history? And how much of it is widely known?
PRIYA GOPAL: There is very little public knowledge in Britain about either the empire or the years of enslavement. In recent years, thanks to the efforts of young people who have been demanding reparations, you know, repairing of their curriculum, and young people who have been demanding more knowledge about slavery and empire, there’s a little bit more. But the British school curriculum is famously and woefully inadequate in terms of how much it teaches people about these things.
The other thing to say is that what is now very slowly starting to come out, which is the monarchy’s own implication in enslavement and in colonialism. And I mean in two senses. One, individual members of the royal family over the centuries, now we know that some of them had direct benefits, like King William III, from enslavement. But then the monarchy as an institution also has investments in these different enterprises. We won’t know about these until Charles agrees to let researchers access the Royal Archives, because one of the things that the monarchy has done, and this was especially virulent during Elizabeth II’s time, was cover itself up in a kind of vast number of secrecy laws, which meant that researchers to this day haven’t been able to access relevant archives which will actually show us the extent of the involvement of the monarchy and individual members of the monarchy in enslavement.
You had asked me at the beginning of the show about the letter from Indigenous leaders and others calling on Charles to acknowledge the legacies of colonialism and enslavement. Now, this is actually a very, very big deal, because this is a country that has been historically loath to talk about colonialism or enslavement, unless it is to say that Britain was the nation that freed people from slavery. You’re only allowed to talk about that particular dimension of slavery. Now, the letter from Indigenous and other leaders, particularly leaders from Australia, is very far-reaching. It is asking not only for the return and repatriation of artifacts and human remains, which I think Britain is, you know, slowly turning towards doing, but is also asking Charles to do something that the monarchy has historically not done, which is make an acknowledgment of how consequential enslavement, dispossession, settlement and other aspects of colonialism were. And I think that until we see real movement in this direction, most of us will remain skeptical that any such far-reaching acknowledgment is going to happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Last question, and we have less than a minute. “With Charles III coronation, colonialism is coming home to roost,” you write, Professor Gopal. Why don’t we end with that, your explanation?
PRIYA GOPAL: Well, there are four things that distinguish colonialism: the enrichment of a small plutocratic class, the immiseration of a vast laboring class, an increasingly ferocious state that clamps down on protest, and heightened racialization where outsiders are demonized. And all four of these aspects are present in Britain today.
We also have, as your — along the lines of what your previous guest was talking about, tremendous demonization and hostility and racialization of asylum seekers here, while ordinary British people are being made very, very poor. I mean, there are vast numbers of people unable to heat their homes and unable to feed their children. And we see — you know, looking at Britain today, if you set aside the small class of very, very wealthy billionaires, we see a very large number of very impoverished people, and you see Britain looking much like one of the colonies that it left behind in the middle of the 20th century.
AMY GOODMAN: Priya Gopal, we want to thank you for being with us, English professor at University of Cambridge, author of Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent. We’ll link to your piece in Al Jazeera, “With Charles III coronation, colonialism is coming home to roost.”
Next up, we look at the growing calls for new ethics rules for the Supreme Court justices as more information emerges about Justice Thomas’s secretive dealings with a Republican billionaire. Back in 30 seconds.