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Level of pride relating to former empires in select countries in 2019

When asked how people felt about their country's former empires, the most common feeling was one of indifference. Apart from the Netherlands, where half of respondents said they felt some level of pride relating to the Dutch colonial empire, the most common response was that people's respective empires were neither something to be proud nor ashamed of; this sentiment was most strongly felt in Spain, where over two thirds of respondents claimed that they felt indifferent or did not know how to feel. After the Netherlands, people in the United Kingdom (which had the largest empire the world has ever seen) felt the most pride, although it was still less than one third of respondents. In half of the countries surveyed, there was a higher number of people who said their country's colonial past was more to be ashamed of than proud of, and this was felt most strongly in Italy. In Germany, almost one third of respondents said they did not know how to feel about the German colonial empire.

Colonialism in European schools

In 2020, many still feel that education systems across Europe have overlooked the role played by empires throughout history; in stark contrast to education systems across other continents, where colonial backgrounds and independence movements are often ingrained in national identities. Through factors such as the slave trade and mass migration, intercontinental empires laid the foundation for the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic societies that exist across the globe today, therefore, the understanding of colonialism plays a key role in understanding how race and representation work in modern society.

Recent years have seen a greater push to make the study of empires, slavery and colonialism a compulsory part of European education systems; in 2011, France introduced an obligatory module on the Algerian War and transatlantic slavery for high school students, and Britain's Labour Party planned on introducing the topic to the national curriculum had they won the 2019 election. On the other hand, most countries include only optional modules for high school students, and many teachers skip the topic due to it's complexity and sensitivity. Some studies from the Netherlands also claim that only the positive aspects of Dutch colonialism are taught in schools, while the negatives are "airbrushed" over; which is one possible explanation for the high levels of pride relating to the Dutch Empire among the survey's respondents.

Share of respondents who felt that their country's former empire was something to be proud or ashamed of in 2019

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In cooperation with
Release date

March 2020



Survey time period

June 10, 2019 to December 17, 2019

Supplementary notes

The original question was: "Thinking about the [COUNTRY] Empire, would you say it is more something to be proud or more something to be ashamed of, or neither?"

Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

Sample sizes were as follows:
Netherlands - 1,002
United Kingdom - 1,684
France - 1,003
Belgium - 1,004
Italy - 1,027
Japan - 1,023
Spain - 1,016
Germany - 2,172

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