Imperialism: An Inside Look
Imperialism, while seemingly embedded only in the past, has lasting effects on the world and remains relevant in discussions today.
Most of us have heard the story about a group of indigenous people rich in culture who are preyed upon by oppressors that swoop in, raging discord over all. The most prominent result of this is the oppression itself, but what happens years, even decades, down the road? Imperialism is the idea that one country exercises power over another, whether through settlement, sovereignty, or indirect mechanisms of control. In some instances, this power can last only for a few years, but for many, it can last for decades.
Socially, imperialism holds a variety of negative connotations. But is this true across the board, or does the connotation change depending on the context? For a better understanding of what the lasting effects of imperialism actually look like, Kosovo and Greenland each serve as unique examples. The resulting situations for each territory can help those still struggling with imperialism, Puerto Rico for example, determine their next step.
For the province of Kosovo, its independence is incredibly new. On February 17th, 2008, the province of Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. Over one hundred nations have since recognized this declaration; however, Serbia is not one of them.
The disputed territory originally became the heart of Serbia in the 12th century, granted to Serbia by the Roman Empire. The epic Battle of Kosovo passed over the reign of Kosovo for over 500 years to Turkish Ottoman rule. Not until the Balkan Wars, in the early 1900s, did Serbia regain control of Kosovo. Autonomy was granted to the territory some years later, but then was stripped by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. This in turn created intense conflicts between Serbia and Kosovo after Kosovo’s declaration of independence. This conflict spurred several instances of scandal, including the murder of Kosovo Albanians, violent riots, and the targeting of officials’ family members. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) finally intervened, setting up discussions of peace, and after several efforts, Kosovo officially was recognized as an independent entity.
The path to independence was not one without struggle. One man, who preferred not to be named, is quoted in the New York Times, “I swear to God, if it wasn’t for all those who have laid down their lives for this, I would say let’s go back to the way it was before. We had a better life then; we had more opportunities.” This man believes that because of all of the ordinary citizens like him, who fought for independence against the Serbian rule, throwing it all away would cause them to die in vain. Independence represents this shiny ideal of freedom and equality, yet for Kosovo it has resulted in neither of these. Tensions exist at an all-time high between Kosovo and Serbia, with many of those residing in Kosovo fearing for their lives. The long-lasting effects of imperialism and independence in this case have thus been largely negative. Police are merely decoration, fear permeates the people, and crime runs rampant in the streets. This fight for independence came at a steep price for the nation and its people, and many lost everything.
The outcome faced by the people of Kosovo is not a desirable one. Considering how recent this struggle is–it could discourage Puerto Ricans to fight for independence.
Meanwhile unlike Kosovo, Greenland has had an overwhelmingly positive experience with imperialism. Measuring over 800,000 square miles, Greenland is the largest island in the world, and with its large size comes large contribution to the Kingdom of Denmark. The term “goldmine” becomes literal–as the ice caps begin to melt, access to iron ore, lead, zinc, diamonds, gold, copper, uranium, and oil has opened up. With the prospect of riches as promising as these, Denmark, driven by monetary gain, refuses to lose the territory.
Denmark has remained in control of the island since the Viking years, but some controversy existed between Denmark and Norway concerning which nation held authority over Greenland. When the Danish sold the West Indies, more commonly known as the Virgin Islands, they arranged for the United States to recognize Denmark as having exclusive authority over Greenland. Subsequently, the Permanent Court of International Justice ruled in the Danes’ favor. Its reign was only interrupted during World War II, when Germany invaded and occupied Greenland. Most connection was cut off, and the war afforded the inhabitants of the island a taste of independence. Consequently, Greenland was named as a province of Denmark, a term synonymous with a state.
Although the island has more autonomy than Puerto Rico, similar to the position Puerto Rico would be in if granted statehood, there have been talks of Greenland wanting to fight for full independence. It seems politically feasible, according to multiple sources, yet the contributions from the Danish to Greenland remain a deterrent against independence. Officials of the royal family have gone above and beyond in aiding those in Greenland–whether it be with large business conferences, assistance in bulking up the oil and gas business, or protecting interests from those seeking to buy Greenland out.
So clearly, the relations between the two entities seem to be positive, but why are there still murmurs of independence? It relates back to the shiny ideal that independence is, and will always be, seen as. Some in Greenland still believe that things could be even better if they were independent. But would this be true in practice?
So, is the better model to follow Greenland’s? Puerto Rico could remain entangled with the United States and slowly gain more political freedom. The island could also attempt to gain statehood through political means in the same way that Greeland was named a province. Or, Puerto Rico could remain as it is–a territory.
All of these “what-if” questions are difficult to dissect and answer in an all-encompassing manner. Imperialism can open doors that those colonized didn’t even know existed–improve and industrialize lifestyles, increase trade exponentially, and better the laws of the land. However, imperialism can also lead to horrific violence, loss of culture, oppression, and unjust laws of the land. Kosovo and Greenland have extraordinarily different experiences with their respective governments or colonists, creating different effects in each country. The one main difference in Kosovo and Greenland compared to Puerto Rico is unity. The majority of those living in Kosovo and Greenland, respectively, wanted the same outcome (although looking back, many in Kosovo regret said decision). Conversely in Puerto Rico, disagreement on the topic is too widespread for any further, unified action to be taken. But once a step forward is taken as a community, the long-lasting effects of imperialism and potential subsequent independence, or further independence, in Puerto Rico will be strikingly apparent. Good or bad, decades of decentralized control have lasting effects for all parties involved.