AP, Sydney Morning Herald, June 15, 2020
French President Emmanuel Macron says fighting racism should not lead to a “hateful” rewriting of history following worldwide protests over the killing of George Floyd in the US.
Protesters in the US, UK, Australia and elsewhere have targeted statues of historic figures associated with slavery or other past human rights abuses, as well as colonialism.
“I will be very clear tonight, compatriots: the Republic won’t erase any name from its history. It will forget none of its artworks, it won’t take down statues,” Macron said in a televised address to the nation on Sunday.
Unusually for a French leader, Macron acknowledged that someone’s “address, name, [and] colour of skin” can reduce their chances at succeeding in French society, and called for a fight to ensure that everyone can “find their place” regardless of ethnic origin or religion. He promised to be “uncompromising in the face of racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination”.
However, he insisted that France would not take down statues of controversial, colonial-era figures.
“We should look at all of our history together with lucidity” including relations with Africa, with a goal of “truth” instead of “denying who we are,” Macron said.
At least 15,000 people demonstrated in Paris on Saturday, local time, the latest in a string of French protests galvanised by George Floyd’s death in the US and the Black Lives Matter movement, but increasingly focused on France’s own tensions between police and minorities.
The French government has banned police chokeholds and vowed to stamp out racism among police – but that has now angered police unions, who say they’re being unfairly painted as white supremacists and staged protests of their own.
Over the past two days, a Paris showing of Gone With the Wind – a film long criticised as romanticising slavery – was cancelled and activists tried to take a piece of African art from a Paris museum dedicated to artwork from former colonies.