Being an inveterate reader of the online Spanish press, my attention was drawn recently to an article in El Mundo online which linked the Ukraine War of 2022 to the Falklands War of 1982… in the context of Boris Johnson.
On the 40th anniversary of this conflict, this article is timely; is it really 40 years since that very localised war, which should never have happened? A local radio presenter referred at the time to the war with Argentina as ‘a huge anachronism’. It seemed unnecessary and ridiculous to resort to war, and not at all what one might have expected in 1982.
Hmm … I think we’d all agree that the war in Ukraine, too, is a total anachronism – the first major war for almost 80 years, the first of the 21st century: a major war in Europe which threatens to drag the continent into conflict with a Russia in the grip of an apparent madman; and what horrors might that lead to? A huge anachronism indeed in 2022.
In 1982 my opinion of the folly of the Falklands war was limited to the suggestion that the UK government had failed to understand the Hispanic mind, and therefore failed to anticipate the invasion of the Falklands. However, my many years working in a Royal Navy college, with people who had been in the Falklands war, gave me a greater understanding of the true nature of the ‘Guerra de las Malvinas’. Most notable among the uniformed colleagues who were Falklands veterans was our principal medical officer: he became famous as a hero surgeon who had saved the lives of dozens of horrendously injured victims.
Crucially, I remember a conversation with a former British military attaché in Buenos Aires: at the time I concluded that he was a bit of an idiot. However, years later I met him again: this time he was no longer bound by the requirement to maintain secrecy for twenty years. Speaking to a group of navy students studying the Falklands War, he was able to explain how he and his colleagues had sent desperate warnings to Downing Street about what the Argentinian junta was cooking up. Those warning were studiously ignored … one can guess why. And the rest is history.
Other colleagues divulged the truth about the sinking of the cruiser Admiral Belgrano – truth which had not been acknowledged at the time. All in all, many people nowadays would accept that it suited Margaret Thatcher to let the war come about: capitalising on the patriotic spirit it generated, she was rewarded with a landslide election victory in 1983 which gave her the power to wage a new war… on trade unions, and to begin a major privatisation campaign. Clearly a war can pay dividends to a prime minister.
So, what about Johnson and the Ukraine war? Of course, there are similarities with the Falklands: an invasion, the fight back, many deaths and much destruction … and a PM trying to make capital out of a tragic situation. Johnson is undoubtedly seeking to portray himself as a strong leader in a crisis and is attempting to distract his electorate from the corrupt management of the pandemic and from ‘partygate’.
So, against the background of this anachronistic war, what do the Spanish think of Johnson’s performance? Here is a snapshot of some recent Spanish online newspaper articles, and how they present our prime minister in the context of the war in the Ukraine:
“Boris Johnson convierte la guerra de Ucrania en sus “Malvinas” (“Boris Johnson is converting the Ukraine war into his ‘Falklands’”). Ha decidido convertir la guerra de Ucrania en el punto de inflexión de su turbulento mandato y en lanzadera de su resurrección política, con un ‘plan de acción’ en seis puntos que intentará ganar el respaldo internacional en los próximos”. So, this article suggests that Johnson has decided to ‘convert’ the Ukraine war into the turning point of his turbulent period of office; a launching platform for his political resurrection, with a six-point ‘plan of action’ to try to gain international support.
The previous day, El Mundo had focused on a less glorious side of Johnson and his government:
El Mundo 6 de marzo
“Tensión entre París y Londres por los refugiados de Ucrania bloqueados en Calais” (“Tension between Paris and London over the Ukrainian refugees stuck in Calais”). The article goes on to explain how France is accusing the UK of ‘a lack of humanity’, turning back refugees in Calais; it says that the British government replied that it couldn’t simply “open the door”. The article sets this against the context of migrants trying to cross the English Channel. The French Minister of the Interior, we are told, has demanded an immediate solution from the British: to grant visas to the Ukrainian refugees arriving in Calais on the way to the UK, where they have been promised a welcome. “Enough is enough! Johnson needs to match actions to his grandiose words!” The issue of immigration was already a problem when the UK was a member of the European Union, but the situation has become even more poisonous since Brexit. Readers’ comments which follow the article confirm the awful impression the UK is creating for itself.
Two days later the same theme was repeated, but with more ferocity:
El Mundo 8 de marzo
This article is headed: “La ‘falta de humanidad’ de Johnson con los refugiados ucranianos”, (“The lack of humanity of Johnson with the Ukranian refugees”.) The article says that France and the United Kingdom have reopened their immigration war’ in the English Channel under the clamour of the invasion of Ukraine. Again, the French Minister of the Interior is quoted as accusing Boris Johnson’s government of a ‘lack of humanity’.
To make matters worse …
In late March, Johnson opened his mouth and put his huge foot in it again.
El País reports: “Boris Johnson provoca indignación al comparar la resistencia de Ucrania con la votación del Brexit” (“Boris Johnson provokes indignation by comparing Ukrainian resistance with the vote for Brexit”). “El primer ministro del Reino Unido irrita incluso a los conservadores al decir que los ucranios y los británicos que votaron por abandonar la UE compartían un anhelo de Libertad”. According to El País, in spite of his attempt to support his suggestion by stating that Ukranians and Brits who voted to leave the EU shared the same desire for freedom, Johnson even irritated the Conservatives.
The reaction to this, yet another instance of Johnson ‘never missing the opportunity to stick his foot in the mud’, to use the description in El País, (“no pierde nunca una oportunidad de meter el pie en el barro”) is well documented. Perhaps it was the indignation and offence his suggestion caused which led to his now-infamous isolation at the recent NATO summit, as portrayed in Atres Noticias online. “Las redes sociales se hacen eco de la soledad de Boris Johnson durante la reunión de la OTAN. El primer ministro británico, Boris Johnson, vivió algunos momentos incómodos durante la cumbre de la OTAN y eso no ha pasado desapercibido en las redes sociales”. (“The social networks are spreading the news about Boris Johnson’s isolation during the NATO meeting. The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, experienced some uncomfortable moments during the NATO summit, and that has not gone unnoticed in the social media.”) Talk about an awkward ‘Billy-no-mates’! The image also makes me recall how naval college colleagues of mine would say of the occasional sartorially-challenged young officer: ‘He/she dresses like a sack of potatoes!’
The internet newspaper El Plural picks up the same theme, saying that Johnson has twice provoked mockery on the internet. Under the headline: “Los dos momentos de Johnson en Bruselas que desatan las mofas en redes” (“Johnson’s two ‘moments’ which have unleashed ridicule in the internet”), El Plural quotes a tweet from Patrycia Centeno, an expert on body language and political communication: “La soledad de Boris Johnson se debe al Brexit o a que nadie quiere saludar a un tío con esas pintas?” (“Is Johnson’s isolation due to Brexit, or because nobody wants to say hello to such a scruffy chap?”). That potato sack again. This is followed by a tweet from Antesconocido: “Boris Johnson siempre está esperando la bandeja con los cubatas.” (“Johnson is always waiting for the (rum and coke) drinks tray”!)
Another tweet quoted in El Plural, and also in the online news of the radio network Cadena Ser, cites a curious further statement by Johnson. Expanding on his suggestion that nobody in NATO is against the Russian people, Johnson said: “…Yo el que menos. Soy el único primer ministro de la historia del Reino Unido que se llama Boris. Eso me diferencia” (“…least of all me. I’m the only British prime minister in history called Boris. That makes me different.”) Hmm, that’s a bit of a confession for a prime minister so obviously contaminated by Russian money and influence!
And then there was this article in El Mundo 25 March 2022: its headline is a stark judgement on the state of British politics: “Una oligarca rusa, gran ‘madrina’ del partido de Boris Johnson” (“A Russian oligarch is the godmother of Boris Johnson’s party”). OK, the photo in our screenshot dates from when Theresa May was PM, but the statement is fair, nonetheless. The actual article begins: “Lubov Chernukhin, la esposa de un ex viceministro ruso, dona un récord de 2,4 millones a los ‘tories’ en 10 años.” (Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of a former Russian deputy minister, gives a record 2.4 million to the Tories in ten years). OK, we all now know only too well the extent of Russian money invested quite openly in Tory politics … and covertly on Brexit. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine can be seen as the indirect consequence of this, in the sense that a ‘reduced’ EU and isolated UK constituted yet another ‘green light’ for Putin’s outrageous adventurism.
The lack of investigation and appropriate response to the suspicious aspects of Brexit; the downing of a Malaysian airliner, killing its 298 passengers; poisoning people in Salisbury, and tolerance of so many other examples of Putin pushing the boundaries as far as possible to establish what he could get away with … To my way of thinking, this all echoes the negligent attitude of Thatcher studiously ignoring those messages from Buenos Aires in 1982. Besides, accepting Russian money has made the Tory party culpable, for encouraging Putin. If you need convincing of this, watch this video by Led by Donkeys:
Arguably the very invasion by Argentina of a territory they considered theirs echoes the motive for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. However, whilst one can’t say that the Ukraine war is ‘Johnson’s Falklands’, no matter how much he might try to exploit the situation to enhance his image as a national leader (!), there is a sort of parallel in the sense that Johnson and his party could be said to have contributed to Putin’s immoral and reckless invasion of Ukraine, just as the UK prime minister of 1982 neglected to avoid the invasion of the Falklands/Malvinas.