Italy Compensates Italy for Colonialism? Externalizing Injustice, Importing Rewards

Arising from the post on Italy’s decision to pay compensation to Libya for Italian colonial domination, a number of questions and issues come to mind:

  1. Injustices were suffered by non-state nations, by ethnic groups, by “tribes” and by individuals. How is payment by the colonizing state to the “independent” state supposed to remedy those injustices?
  2. The process also seems to fortify the central role of the state in human affairs, and more than that, it assumes that states in receipt of compensation will be fair in using the proceeds for the benefit of those who suffered.
  3. A one-time pay off can imply non-recognition of the continuing inequalities between nations, between those in the centre and the periphery, and unequal capital accumulation.
  4. Receipt of payment, by a state, implies continuing incorporation and adherence to a global capitalist state system.
  5. As mentioned before, there is the problematic assumption that one can tally human suffering and translate it into a monetary figure.
  6. Compensation also implies that the wrongs of colonialism have now been settled, and it ignores forms of continuing colonialism.
  7. There is the paradox that by remembering history, and treating it as an account to be settled, an outstanding balance to be collected, that in the post-payment phase forgetting history is now sanctioned — why revisit old wrongs when amends have been made?
  8. Compensation paid to another state externalizes the apology — what will a state such as Italy do to decolonize itself within, so that it learns the lessons of colonialism, and commits itself to never again dehumanizing, oppressing, and exploiting other people? Will a right winger like Silvio Berlusconi now lead anti-NATO marches shouting, “Hands Off Afghanistan?”

These are the questions that worry me about this compensation issue, aside from the calculated business moves that are veiled by what appears to be a cynical, false sense of remorse. When looking at compensation processes one has to think of actors, intentions, institutions and the context in which compensation occurs. What I think we are witnessing in the Italian case is a blunt, cold pragmatism that cares nothing at all for Libyan victims, and instead serves as one way that the dominant system produces its own apologia, excuses and legitimates itself in the process. The real outcome here is that Italy has compensated Italy.

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