I didn’t intend to write about this, even though I’ve seen lots of opinions and titles, until I’ve seen someone non-British whom I respect and with whom I ususally agree with liking a meme that compared the days after HM’s passing to scenes from North Korea, and I found it very upsetting.
First of all, in Britain, there are royalists and anti-royalist, and there are people in between. There are hard-core royalists who admire the monarch as some religious leader and go out of their way to express this admiration. There are royalists who respect the tradition, respect the royal family, but can see them as people like us. There are anti-royalist who wish to see the end of monarchy, yet respect the role of the monarch while it is institutional. Then there are anti-royalists who wish the whole thing was gone, hate royalty and refuse to show any respect. Probably there are many more shades to this, I just wish to point out how diverse even the British population must be over a question that many outsiders seem to think of as a simple black and white issue.
The history of monarchies everywhere in the world start with conquests of territory and power struggles. Things happened in the past everywhere that would be unacceptable now. Saying that monarchies have no legitimacy anymore just because of their roles in history or the actions of late monarchs is again oversimplifying a difficult question. In the last century people in many countries actually decided that they didn’t want any more monarchs to rule over them, the UK’s monarchy is one of the few in Europe that survived, with a representative role of the monarch. (Saying that people decided is also oversimplifying, since, I am pretty sure that for example the people of Russia now after all those years passed, would be so much more content with a representative, ornamental head of state in the figure of a tsar, than whom they actually got.)
About the Queen’s political role and complicated legacy, the ani-royalists point to the preservation of colonialism and not actively distancing herself from her predecessors’ decisions that led to dark times in those places. This is definitely a complicated question, because by the time she became monarch, it was an empty representative role with little actual political weight. Does that mean she had no responsibilty at all? Absolutely not. Could she have done more? Sure she could. Was she the only one in that position in the world? Not at all. There were leaders of other countries with actual political roles that stayed silent for too long. I think they thought themselves cautious at the time. The Queen over her years adapted to changes with elegance in many aspects of life (over her 70 years of reign she had lots to adapt to), but this crucial historic question was one that remains a shameful spot on her legacy. Does that erase all the good that she did? I don’t think so. And I don’t think the majority of the British people do. As for the people of some Commonwealth nations, that’s another story, but I guess even for them, it is not about one single person, but the whole institution that carries the history.
Many in Britain turn out to show their respects, and many stay at home. What is important in all this, is that they make their own decisions, act according to their own beliefs. No-one is making those people go out and bring flowers, or bow their heads when the coffin passes or queue for 12-20 hours to pay their respects. As long as they act according to their free will, the comparison to North Korea is straight-out ridiculous.
The UK is a functioning democracy, they could have decided to get rid of the royal family many times over in the past, and they could vote for it any time in the present. Perhaps it will actually happen now, perhaps Charles III will not be able to preserve his mother’s legacy and they will go for it, but that’s entirely their decision to make. We, who come from completely other historic backgrounds and other cultures cannot say to them you should follow our lead, ditch royal succession and go solely with political leadership, that will be good for you (never mind how we hate our politicians, you will do better). Britain is built on tradition and as long as they seem happy with it, who can say they are wrong? It is a tradition, a culture that – if we are not British – we can study with interest, but never wholly fathom. Also keep in mind, that the UK is not the only kingdom in the world, and although they all are in different shapes, they all struggle to keep up with modern times, while holding up tradition. In my reading, the role of a monarchy can fully comply with Hobbes’s social contract theory and even with people’s representation. Again, it’s all about free will.
The sorts of military parades the Queen’s (now the King’s) army is known for are very foreign to most of our cultures, but it would never occur to me to compare the British guards marching with their red pomp and music and horses to the soviet-type militaries with their monochrome grayness and showing off their handguns. Where I come from, military funerals involve firing those guns too. So what? It is a tradition. (On a sidenote: I find it much more disturbing when neo-nazi groups march in the city center chanting shameful things/practicing their freedom of speech.) As with all traditions, we might not get them fully, but why does it hurt people to accept that other cultures roll differently? As a protestant I don’t really get the traditions of the Catholic Church (also with a controversial history and that of a present, for that matter), but that doesn’t mean I want it to be eradicated just because it’s not to my liking. Many nations, religions or cultures have traditions like this or even weirder, we just don’t necessarily see them on TV. Fortunately we don’t, because some people would want to get rid of all the traditions in the world at once. We really should be more understanding of other cultures.
As a London-lover I follow lots of Londoners (bloggers, vloggers, Instagrammers), and many of them went out to pay their respects in the past few days whenever they could. Living in a different culture, I cannot imagine myself doing that, but I fully understood why they did it. Something I could not understand though, was seeing tourists go taking pictures and act like tourists during the procession or the funeral. It actually made me think about what I would have done if I had a trip planned to London coinciding with those events. I am pretty sure I would’t go there taking pictures of grieving people, I just find that very distasteful. (Also on this note: you can hate their guts, but if you cannot sympathyze even a bit with the royal family for having to put their grief on display every day since the death of their loved one, you really need to work on your emotional intelligence.) If I was there, I probably would bring some flowers to one of the collecting places, just to pay my respects, but then I would get out of there, and maybe find somewhere to visit in the British countryside. Fortunately, I didn’t have to make such a decision, so I am just watching the coverage from home, but seeing all the footage of London makes me really look forward to my next trip there, even though it will be a different place to visit now. Watching the aerial camera views of the procession driving through beautiful Scotland actually made me long for exploring the Scottish Highlands too. And I am saying this with no disrespect at all, but how clever of HM, that she planned for herself one last ride on that beautiful scenic route that she loved so much!
And on that final note, one last thing I was thinking about a lot this past week or so, was preparing for your own death. If you are familiar with grief therapy, psychologists suggest that we all should face our deaths in this rationale to be able to go peacefully. People often make the mistake of treating death like a taboo topic, even when the person actually passing brings it up, people around them sweep it off, as if that could make death itself go away. According to professionals, the healthy thing would be to let them talk about it, let them make plans for after it, after all, what you plan for can seem less scary. Plus it makes the job of the living less hard, knowing how they actually wanted their funerals and everything else happen. Perhaps we will plan our funerals with less pomp than The Queen, but I definitely think we could learn from her on this front too.