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What has happened to France’s ‘missing’ Voltaire statue?

When workmen were spotted in Paris packing away the statue of Voltaire, rumours immediately began online that the enlightenment philosopher, historian and writer had become a victim of 'cancel culture'.

What has happened to France's 'missing' Voltaire statue?
French writer Voltaire. Photo: AFP

The rumours that it was being removed for good appear to have begun with far-right social media accounts who blamed 'anti-racists', but soon spread so that by Tuesday morning #voltaire was trending on Twitter in France, possibly a first for the writer since his death in 1778.

Several French MPs even joined in the debate, demanding answers from culture minister Roselyn Bachelot, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, prime minister Jean Castex and president Emmanuel Macron – who had a telephone call with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to discuss the rapidly unravelling situation in Belarus so might have had other things on his mind.

Paris' deputy mayor Emmanuel Grégoire then got involved, tweeting that the statue had merely been taken away for cleaning.

 

However, he went on to add that it will not be returning to its former home in Rue de Bac in the city's 6th arrondissement.

Once the cleaning is complete, the statue will be returned to the Centre national des arts plastiques, he said, adding that: “The city would like it to be relocated in the public space, with the permission of the state.”

He also dismissed the rumours by paraphrasing Voltaire himself Quand une fois la calomnie est entrée dans l'esprit d'un médisant, elle n'en déloge pas (once calumny has entered the mind of a slanderer it does not dislodge) at which point one of the MPs who had retweeted the story graciously apologised.

 

Exactly where the statue of François-Marie Arouet – to give him the name he was born with – is heading to remains a mystery.

Following the Black Lives Matter that saw several statues around the globe removed – including the statue of British slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol – Macron stated: “The French Republic will not erase any trace or name from its history.”

 

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POLITICS

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

READ MORE Who’s who in France’s new government?

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously. 

The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

“Once again a minister  in the government of Emmanuel Macron accused of rape,” said Caroline De Haas, the founder of the #NousToutes feminist movement. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday – prior to Abad’s nomination. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

READ MORE Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted

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