PARIS/LONDON • President Emmanuel Macron has vowed that France would not seek to erase elements of its history or take down statues of controversial public figures, despite increasing global scrutiny of former colonial powers in the wake of worldwide protests against racism.
In an address to the nation on Sunday, Mr Macron said France would be “uncompromising” in its fight against racism after days of demonstrations over alleged prejudice among police forces.
Angry crowds have toppled statues of colonial figures in Britain and the US, and there has been an intensified scrutiny of the records of key leaders of the colonial era in Europe.
In London, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday announced a government review into “all aspects of inequality” following a wave of anti-racism protests in the country, but was accused of using it to delay real action.
Mr Macron said France would not obscure elements of its history or dismantle statues of public figures who may have advocated racist views or policies, emphasising: “The Republic will not wipe away any trace or any name from its history. It will not forget any of its works. It will not take down any of its statues but lucidly look at our history and our memory together.”
He said this was especially important in Africa, where French colonial rule in several countries left a legacy that remains a subject of anger for many to this day.
Several demonstrations against racism and police violence against minorities have erupted in French cities in recent weeks, given impetus by the death in police custody of African American George Floyd in the United States.
French protesters have rallied in particular around the case of a young black man, Mr Adama Traore, who died in custody in 2016. The case remains under investigation.
Mr Macron acknowledged, however, that France had to fight against the fact that “the name, the address, the colour of the skin” can affect a person’s chances in their lives.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson said there had been “huge progress” in tackling racism “but there is much more that we need to do, and we will”.
“It is time for a cross-governmental commission to look at all aspects of inequality – in employment, in health outcomes, in academic and all other walks of life,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
But Mr David Lammy, the opposition Labour Party’s justice spokesman, said the lack of detail about the new review suggested it “was written on the back of a fag (cigarette) packet… to assuage the Black Lives Matter protest”.
He said the government should instead focus on implementing the recommendations of numerous reviews already completed, including one by Mr Lammy himself about discrimination in criminal justice.