As you may — or more likely, may not — have heard, there’s a referendum taking place in the Falklands. The question put to residents of the islands: whether or not they wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. (Check out this BBC story to see mobile polling stations in action!)
The Falkland Islands, you’ll recall, made a cameo in last year’s Iron Lady, playing a role loosely based on themselves circa 1982.
Even before the final results have been tallied, two things are clear: the islanders will overwhelmingly support remaining part of the UK, and the Argentinian government will dismiss the results. They already have. The government of Argentina claims sovereignty over the islands (known in Argentina as the Malvinas) and rejects the notion of asking the British subjects currently inhabiting them if they’d like to remain British as ludicrous.
It’s usually pretty easy to criticize European possession of overseas territories. It’s easy, for instance, to make a case against minority rule. But that’s not the case in the Falklands, where the British represent 55% of the population. And it’s easy to condemn the decimation of indigenous populations as a result of war, disease, or forced labor. But, again, that’s not the case in the Falklands, where there was no native population before the arrival of Europeans.
It seems some people, like the Guardian‘s Roy Greenslade, are falling into the easy habit of criticizing imperialism, but the Argentinian government is just as guilty on that count as the British.
Yes, Argentinian claims go back to the early nineteenth century. But British claims go back to the eighteenth century. Spain may have the best case for sovereignty over the islands, with claims that go back even further.
What makes the islands Argentinian? Their proximity to Argentina?
That’s not good enough. At least not when some 1,900 people live on the islands. Maybe if they were uninhabited the government of Argentina could make a better case. But especially at this point, after 180 years, the only harm Argentina suffers if the Falklands remain British is to their national pride, and it’s a self-inflicted wound. The alternative, by contrast, would mean trampling the rights of living, breathing Falkland Islanders.