Countries - in particular, it seems, those who have a history of colonisation as a means to expand their influence - frequently have histories which are to say the least blood-stained and filled with (to labour a phrase: to say the least) questionable acts and attitudes. Although sometimes it doesn't seem like it, times and attitudes change and of course the behaviours of our past frequently seem barbaric, cruel or even disgusting; history is replete with well-known examples. I doubt that many people would be arguing with me so far, but if you've read my stuff before you'll be expecting a big 'but'.
As it happens I do have a big butt as do many of my family, although which ancestor we have to thank for this particular genetic marker is as yet unclear...I must stop this digression thing, one day it's going to land me in hot water, and then where would I be?....Poached, probably.
The other kind of 'but' here for me is the whole business - and I use that word deliberately - of political positioning, both by the groups demanding apologies for historical wrongs and the people in power who respond to such calls for redress and frequently some kind of financial compensation. I really wonder how relevant any apology for the deeds of people long dead can possibly be. As an example, my own ancestors were forced to flee from their native land in the late nineteenth century by Russian aggression and persecution, yet the notion of seeking an apology from the Russians is frankly laughable - an apology today from people with absolutely no connection to the thinking, decisions and actions of those times would be utterly pointless and worthless.
In my adopted country I have watched the Canadian government wring its hands over the troubling past concerning discrimination against Chinese and Indian immigrants and workers. That wrongs were done is beyond doubt, that attitudes of those times were utterly deplorable by today's standards is also without question, but those times of governmental oppression have gone, at least in Canada. Apologising now for the events of over 100 years ago is a waste of time and frankly farcical - it only means something in the ivory towers of political halls where saying a thing is often more important than doing a thing; in places where lies and deception are the currency.
Saying sorry only means something if it affects the people who suffered, such as, for example, the apology offered by my government for the quite appalling and hideous policy of ripping Aboriginal children from their families and sending them away to have the native beaten out of them in so-called residential 'schools', depriving children of their parents and parents of their children. Why is this still relevant? Because many of those terribly abused children and adults are still around, still here to hear the words, still here to benefit from whatever attempts to make amends are made. This policy was still being enforced - almost unbelievably - in the 1970s. THAT demands an apology, an attempt to fix (although impossible) the damage that was done, attempts to atone for the horrors of such brutality.
Attempts to demand apologies on behalf of the dead are meaningless; they follow another agenda (for example, in the case of the Chinese 'head tax', a demand for financial compensation to be paid to living descendants for an unfair tax imposed on ancestors more than 100 years earlier). If the Russian government were to throw a blood clot and apologise for Stalin's evil deeds, what good would it really do? If the German government said sorry (again) for Hitler and his cronies, would it omprove anyone's life? I don't think so.
I think it's time to abandon attempts to gain political capital from such public angst and to put a stop to futile and in my opinion deceptive attempts to court public favour by trying to be nicer than people who have been dead for a very long time.
If not, I'd like to have a word with the Italian government about that whole Roman invasion of Britain thing that turned my Celtic ancestor's world upside down...
The real way to move forward is to recognise the follies of our ancestors, understand how those ways of thinking came about, and thus arm ourselves against repeating some of the stupidity that they indulged in. Learning: that's the human way to move forward, to evolve and develop the way we interact with one another and the rest of our environment. History offers us countless examples of how NOT to do things; our responsibility is to learn from all those mistakes that our ancestors made. Unless we do so, we are no less foolish than they now appear to be to us with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.