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LES ECHOS

A French Lesson For Britain’s Royals

Editorial: Don’t be fooled by all the popular craze around this week’s royal wedding, says Le Monde. The British monarchy desperately needs to remake itself for the modern, multicultural world.

Queen Elizabeth II and Princes Philip, Charles, William (Rob Moment)
Queen Elizabeth II and Princes Philip, Charles, William (Rob Moment)

When Prince William marries Catherine Middleton on April 29 at Westminster Abbey, the British monarchy will have refreshed itself by welcoming a commoner within its ranks. This new member, it is hoped, will boost British interest in the Crown. But beyond the jolly atmosphere surrounding this royal fairytale, a pressing question remains: should Great Britain maintain its antiquated monarchic system, and under what conditions?

Surveys show that 70 percent of the British public say that they have no interest in the wedding. Where does this indifference come from, given that Queen Elizabeth II has never been so popular and that the republican movement has reached a nadir?

Efforts to modernize the institution, which were launched in the aftermath of Princess Diana's tragic death on August 31 1997, have only partially borne fruit. Ethnic minorities and most young people do not recognize themselves in this monarchy, even if it is more "middle class' than noble. People find its lack of interest in meritocracy shocking. The institutions associated with it – aristocracy, the army, the Anglican Church, central power – have far less influence than they once did. The media have efficiently killed most of the deference the monarchy once commanded.

Her Majesty's subjects are now British and European Union citizens. The Commonwealth – the former overseas family – has become nothing but a relic of the past, under the stronger appeal of the United States, European Union or developing countries.

Her "kingdom" has undergone an incredible transformation since Queen Elizabeth II rose to the throne in 1952, but the monarchy she heads today still embodies a white, Protestant, and imperial United Kingdom. Whereas the country is increasingly multicultural and each day less Christian, Britain's dynastic system continues to represent an England of the past, an England deeply attached to its conservative values, hierarchy, the division of the classes (or even castes, one might say), and to the privileges enjoyed by the aristocracy.

Thanks to the Windsor family's incredible capacity to adapt to internal and external changes, their power has been left largely unscathed by the blows dealt during the Thatcher and Blair eras. But, as the Queen's husband, Prince Philip himself once said, the survival of the monarchy still depends on the approval of its subjects. During the 20th and 21st centuries, a number of royal dynasties have disappeared without a trace (the only restoration was in Spain). The royal race is not eternal.

The institution must today reinvent itself – the fact that the kingdom has had its fair share of drunken, debauched or deranged monarchs without the survival of the system being seriously compromised means nothing today. This is what distinguishes the monarchy system from the republican one.

This is why this transformation needs a deep reform of the country's institutions, one that brings about greater democracy: a written Constitution, full separation of Church and the State, the abolition of the remnant prohibitions affecting the Catholic minority and direct elections of the members of the House of Lords.

Read the original article in French

photo - (Rob Moment)

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Geopolitics

With The Chechen War Veterans Fighting For Ukraine — And For Revenge

They came to fight Russia, and to avenge the deaths of their loved ones and friends killed in Chechnya. Not wanting to sit in the trenches, they've found work in intelligence and sabotage.

Photo of members of the pro-Ukrainian Chechen group "Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion" posing with weapons

Members of the pro-Ukrainian Chechen group "Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion"

Lydia Mikhalchenko

At least five Chechen units are fighting for Ukraine, with more than 1,000 troops in each unit — and their number is growing.

Most of these Chechen fighters took part in the first and second Chechen wars with Russia, and were forced to flee to Ukraine or elsewhere in Europe after their defeat. Vazhnyye Istorii correspondent Lydia Mikhalchenko met with some of these fighters.

Four of the five Chechen battalions are part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and are paid the standard wages (about €4,000 per month for those on the front line) and receive equipment and supplies.

Chechen fighters say they appreciate that Ukrainian commanders don't order them to take unnecessary risks and attack objectives just to line up with an unrealistic schedule or important dates — something Russian generals are fond of doing.

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The experienced Chechen fighters have taken fewer losses than many other units. Unhappy sitting in trenches, they mostly engage in reconnaissance and sabotage, moving along the front lines. "The Russians wake up, and the commander is gone. Or he's dead," one of the fighters explains.

Some of the fighters say that the Ukrainian war is easier than their previous battles in Chechnya, when they had to sit in the mountains for weeks without supplies and make do with small stocks of arms and ammunition. Some call this a "five-star war."

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