‘Colonial Paris’: The controversial street names campaigners want changed

Scores of Paris streets, avenues and squares should have their names changed immediately, the authors of a book claim, because they honour men who have played a less than positive role in France's colonial past or the slave trade.

'Colonial Paris': The controversial street names campaigners want changed
All photos: WikiCommons

A guide book lists streets in Paris named after men who helped France build an empire stretching from the Americas to the Far East, or who were linked to the slave trade which helped make France rich.

Its authors ask why these men, who participated in subjugating or enslaving local populations across the world and looting their natural resources, should be honoured by having a street named after them.

Out of more than 5,000 streets, avenues and squares in Paris some 200 have a colonial reference.

Didier Epzstajn and Patrick Silberstein, the authors of “Guide du Paris Colonial” say many of these streets should simply be renamed.

Here Epzstajn has picked out for The Local what he sees as ten of the worst offenders. Some of these streets will be familiar names, but do you know the history of the people they were named after?

Avenue Bugeaud (16th arrondissement)


Thomas Robert Bugeaud (1784 – 1849)

Bugeaud was France’s first Governor-General of Algeria whose subjugation of the country in the 19th century was marked by “scorched earth” tactics of burning locals’ crops, demolishing their villages, and slaughtering those who resisted.

According to the book Bugeaud ordered his men to burn villages and destroy crops and herds and “to prevent Arabs from sowing, harvesting and grazing animals.”

He told them to “go every year to burn their crops” and “if they take refuge in their caves then smoke them out like foxes.”

 (Thomas Robert Bugeaud, Wikicommons)

Rue Clauzel (9th arrondissement)

Bertrand Clauzel (1772 – 1842)

Clauzel was a Marshal of France, a military distinction awarded to generals for exceptional achievements. He took part in expeditions to the Caribbean to restore slavery, did a stint as the head of a slave-owning plantation in Alabama, and took part in France’s brutal subjugation of Algeria.

(Bertrand Clauzel. Wikicommons)

Rue Colbert (2nd)

Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619 – 1683).

King Louis XIV’s minister of finance, renowned as a great financier who made the French Navy a world class force and boosted French commerce and industry. Detractors blame him for drawing up the “Code Noir” legislation that defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonies.


Rue Bonaparte (6th)

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821)

Possibly the best-known Frenchman of all time and one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in history. Anti-colonialists denounce him for invading Egypt and Syria, and sending troops to crush slave revolts and restore slavery in the Caribbean.

Avenue du Maréchal Gallieni (7th)

Joseph Gallieni (1849 – 1916)

Military commander and administrator who served in French colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and French Indochina. Fiercely suppressed various uprisings by unruly natives.

Place Napoleon III (10th)

Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (1808 – 1873)

President of the Republic, Emperor, and dictator. He doubled the area of his country’s colonial possessions in Asia, the Pacific, and Africa.

Rue Faidherbe (11th)

Louis Léon César Faidherbe (1818 – 1889)

A general and a colonial administrator, Faidherbe took part in the conquest of Algeria, served in Guadeloupe, and was the military leader responsible for France gaining control of Senegal, of which he later became the colonial governor. After one victory over locals there he ordered the town of Fatick and its surrounding villages to be burned to the ground.

Rue Paul Bert (11th)

Paul Bert (1833 – 1886)

A zoologist, physiologist, and politician who at a later stage in his life was appointed colonial ruler of Annam-Tonkin (north and central Vietnam). He opposed the granting of rights to the original inhabitants of French-ruled Algeria. But he is arguably most controversial for school textbooks he produced that said white people were superior and more intelligent than black people or Chinese. These books were widely used right up until the 1930s.

Avenue Leopold II (16th)

King Leopold II of Belgium  (1835 – 1909)

Obviously not a Frenchman but included in the guide book as he has a Paris street named after him and is notorious for his actions in Africa. The Belgian monarch, jealous of Britain and France’s empires, successfully transformed the entire Congo into his private domain. The ivory and rubber he looted there made him one of the richest meni the world. But an estimated 10 million Africans died between 1885 and 1908 under his rule, and debate continues as to whether this constitutes genocide.

Avenue du Marechal Lyautey (16th)

Hubert Lyautey (1854 – 1934)

A general and colonial administrator, he helped “pacify” Madagascar and put down uprisings in Morocco.

This article was first published in 2017.



‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.