So, here’s a question.
Which member of the OECD “rich countries club” allowed slavery until 1969?
Here’ s another. In which genocide in the last 200 years was an entire ethnicity wiped out?
Here’s one you might just know. In which country did it used to be common to go hunting for people – and there’s evidence that this carried on until these people were finally given the legal status “human” in 1967?
OK, here’s an easier one – this country had a “whites only” policy until 1973…
The answer to these harrowing questions is, of course, Australia. When white Europeans landed on it’s shores, the continent had hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, yet was declared “terra nullius ” – land without people. The arriving Europeans spend the next couple of centuries persecuting and killing these Aborigines – and succeeded in wiping out all of the population of Tasmania by 1879. The ensuing “lost generation”, and “White Australia” policy saw continued systematic oppression until the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the marginalization of the community continues to this day.
While no one has ever gone to court for these crimes in Australia – that doesn’t happen to Anglophones – and while there is still much segregation and oppression of Aborigonal communities, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has at least apologized for their treatment. This does seem to have begun to open up some national discussion of the history.
In Serbia, Australia’s opponents today, the use of the International Criminal Court after is now famed, with more than 1000 staff employed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. And while Europeans seem strangely unaware of much of what happened to Aborigonies in Australia, Serbia is known for it’s ethnic cleansing more than for anything else. What is perhaps remarkable is the speed with which Serbia has, with the help of a legal process, transformed from a state suffering brutal civil war, to one which is likely to join the EU within 5 years – having formally applied for membership in late 2009.
The history of the Balkans is, though, famously, a bloody one, and peace can’t be taken for granted. The most recent war in Serbia is a part of a long string of violence. And while it’s causes are complex, it is hard not to point some of the blame at the Ottoman empire – who ruled the region for centuries – for, as both stories tell us, death and imperialism march side by side – and death often carries on long after it’s comrade has retired.
So what we see on the pitch are two countries struggling to come to terms with the bloody consequences of our species’ colonial history – with what happens when one group of people tries to impose it’s will on another. And while the ethnic violence has played out differently in each of these examples, both countries may, just, be beginning to come to terms with their histories.
Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the World Development Movement.