Protesters defaced a Winston Churchill-themed cafe in London amid claims the establishment “celebrates British imperialism,” ruthlessly perpetuated by one of the most revered prime ministers in British history.
The Blighty cafe in Finsbury Park – where customers can drink out of Churchill-adorned mugs and pose beside a replica of the wartime leader – has been repeatedly vandalized by anti-imperialist protesters.
A street mural picturing Churchill’s iconic two-finger victory salute, complete with a massive slogan reading “double shot,” has been covered with graffiti slamming the former PM as “scum,” a “warmonger” and an “imperialist.”
The cafe in north London nonetheless claims it is merely trying to celebrate a “true British hero.” Blighty UK is the founding cafe of the Blighty Commonwealth of Cafes. It boasts on its website of sourcing its coffee beans from Commonwealth countries Rwanda, Kenya, India, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea and Malawi, as well as other ingredients “wherever possible.”
Co-owner Chris Evans, whose other cafe, a Gandhi-themed bar near Tottenham, has also attracted protests, told the Evening Standard he “never thought” the leader of India’s independence movement, or one of the most popular leaders in history, could attract such criticism.
While a more widely respected figure than Churchill, Gandhi has been denounced as a racist, due to statements he made during his time in South Africa as a young man.
“The Churchill mural was just a bit of fun with the idea that he had two fingers up ordering a double espresso. It is simply silly to say we are celebrating British imperialism,” Evans said.
“We are just an independent cafe chain put together by people who work hard to make it happen and people seem to want to bring politics into it to try and drag us down. All we are doing is celebrating a true British hero in Churchill and the ties between Britain and Commonwealth countries.”
Three Haringey residents have gone all the way to ask Tottenham MP David Lammy to intervene. They started a petition calling for the brand change so that it adopts a more modern view of the Commonwealth, stating it is “using history in a light-hearted fancy-dress manner.”
“While Blighty does make a point of sourcing its coffee from countries in the Commonwealth, we feel its framing of the Commonwealth is an outdated concept using its history in a light-hearted ‘fancy-dress’ manner,” the petition claims. “We would like to step in now and ask them to adjust their brand whilst there’s still only two branches.”
While Churchill has passed into history as a fearless prime minister who vehemently opposed Nazi Germany, he is also accountable for a litany of imperialist policies that led to the deaths of millions and the continued colonial repression of millions more.
Most notably, Churchill is blamed for allowing up to 4 million Indians to starve in Bengal when they were struck by famine back in 1943. According to Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen, among others, the famine was triggered by Churchill’s decision to transport Bengal-produced grain to British soldiers fighting in Greece, rather to feed the local population.
Churchill rejected calls to supply the starving people, who lived in under British rule, saying the population bred “like rabbits” anyway. Churchill also refused any offer of aid to the beleaguered Indians from the US and Canada, leading the then British secretary of state in India to compare him to Hitler.
When Churchill was colonial secretary in the 1920s, he responded to an Iraqi Kurdish rebellion against British rule by saying: “I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes… [It] would spread a lively terror.”
Historians are divided over whether or not gas was actually used to put down the rebellion.
During World War II, Churchill ordered the repression of Greek anti-fascist partisans who had helped kick out Nazi forces. In 1944 British troops massacred some 28 people after turning their guns on those protesting against their occupation.
Later Churchill would say “the [Nazi] collaborators in Greece in many cases did the best they could to shelter the Greek population from German oppression.”
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