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Sorry Sweden, you owe us for the Vikings

A scene from the TV series Vikings (2013)

When former BBC reporter Laura Trevelyan went to the Caribbean recently to apologise for her family’s role in the slave trade, she took the time for a potshot at poor old King Charles, says Michael Deacon in The Daily Telegraph. “We’ve apologised, why can’t the King?” she said. “Reckoning is coming.” Ominous stuff. But leaving aside the fact that Charles has already agreed to cooperate with a study into his family’s possible historic links to slavery, I don’t think anyone should be apologising for crimes they didn’t commit. “Especially when those crimes were committed centuries ago.”

The people of Northumberland don’t “besiege Swedish tourists” demanding reparations for the Viking raids. When we visit an Italian restaurant, we don’t “harangue the waiter” about the Roman conquest of Britain. “We appreciate that this wasn’t the waiter’s fault. It happened 2,000 years before the poor man was born.” What’s more troubling is that we’ve become obsessed with the slavery of 250 years ago while “casually ignoring the the slavery of today”. Most people don’t know that right now, “there are more people in slavery than at any other point in history” – around 40 million in total, including eight million in India alone. It is particularly rife in Central Africa and the Middle East. Too many people ignore this urgent fact, preferring the “self-righteous thrill” of obsessing about their own distant past.