French historian slams Macron’s hardline stance on statues

PARIS (AFP) – A leading historian attacked French President Emmanuel Macron’s stance on disputed statues linked to the country’s colonial past yesterday, saying he had “hugely confused” history and memory.

Macron all but ignored the wave of Black Lives Matter protests in a major television address last week except to warn that France would not take down statues of controversial historical figures.

“The Republic will not wipe away any trace or any name from its history, but lucidly look at our history and our memory together,” the President said.

But historian Nicolas Offenstad pulled him up sharply, telling French radio that Macron had a made a “hugely damaging confusion between history and memory that will not help public debate in France”.

His intervention comes after Oscar-nominated black filmmaker Raoul Peck accused France of being in denial of its racism, its colonial past and its wealth “built on the misery of others”.

The former Haitian culture minister said protesters who have taken to the streets in the United States (US) and France “are right to rise up. They are right to protest, they may even be right to smash everything,” he added.

A statue of the 17th-Century statesman Jean-Baptiste Colbert in front of the French Parliament was sprayed with graffiti on Tuesday night condemning the negrophobie d’Etat (the state’s fear of black people).

Colbert was responsible for drawing up the notorious Code Noir (Black Code) governing slavery in the French empire for the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV in 1685, and for banning Jews from its colonies.

Offenstad said memory and history were two very different things.

He said memory, often symbolised by statues, is “something a lot more lived, more personal, subjective, chosen and more intense”.

“We can unbolt a statue… that is not rewriting history. No one can rewrite history. But memory is something we chose and which we promote collectively together,” Offenstad said.