Macron to defy ‘cancel culture’ and lay wreath for Napoleon commemoration

French President Emmanuel Macron will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte on Wednesday despite calls to boycott the late emperor over his record on slavery. 

Macron to defy 'cancel culture' and lay wreath for Napoleon commemoration
French President Emmanuel Macron would deliver a clear denunciation of slavery, according to an aide. Photo: Ludovic MARIN / AFP

The landmark posed a dilemma for Macron caught between calls from nationalists to celebrate one of the most significant figures in French history and a campaign from anti-racism activists against the fabled Corsican.

“It will be a commemoration, not a celebration,” an aide told reporters on Monday on condition of anonymity.

The head of state will lay a wreath at Napoleon’s tomb at the Invalides monument in Paris and deliver a speech on the legacy of the man who overthrew the first republic and crowned himself emperor.

The aide made clear that Macron would not bow to pressure to ignore or “cancel” Napoleon.

“Our approach is to look at history in the face,” the aide said, adding that the approach meant “neither denial, nor repentance”.

EXPLAINED: Hero or villain: Why France is divided over Napoleon 

France owes many things to Napoleon, who seized power in a coup in 1799, including many of the political, cultural and educational institutions that exist to this day, the aide explained.

These include the civil code, the basis of the French legal system, the school system, the central bank and the country’s highest civilian award, the Legion d’Honneur.

The aide said Macron would deliver a clear denunciation of slavery, which was re-established by Napoleon in French colonies in 1802 after being abolished under the first French republic.

“The president will say that it was an abomination, including in the context of the era,” the aide said.

Before and after he rose to power, Napoleon clocked up a series of historic military victories, most notably the Battle of Austerlitz against the larger Russian and Austrian armies.

Considered a military genius and one of the best-known characters in French history, he is still studied in military academies around the world.

Yet his war-mongering in Europe and the Middle East, his record on slavery, and sexist laws that discriminated against women have led to a re-evaluation of his place in the French historical pantheon.

Late president Jacques Chirac refused to attend the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Austerlitz in 2005, while ex-prime minister Lionel Jospin published a book titled “The Napoleonic Evil”.

Over previous months, politicians on both sides of the left-right divide have weighed in, while historians have argued whether it is fair to judge Napoleon by today’s ethical standards.

Member comments

  1. It’s not necessary to judge Napoleon by today’s ethical standards since he was bad enough by the standards of the day and why he met his Waterloo.

  2. He was one of the greatest military brains in history, he transformed education and made many numerous contributions to the quality of life and rights in France. He got power crazy and overplayed his hand in the end, but repeating hackneyed old british revisionist nonsense doesn’t really add to the debate. Books are good.

    And ‘Waterloo’ was Abba.

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French film stars cut hair in support of Iran protests

Video shows several big-name French movie stars cutting their own hair in protest

French film stars cut hair in support of Iran protests

French film stars, including Isabelle Huppert, Juliette Binoche and Marion Cotillard, have cut locks of their hair in an Instagram video published on Wednesday in solidarity with women protesters in Iran.

Charlotte Rampling and Jane Birkin, two stars with close ties to France, also appeared in the video.

It came a day after more than 1,000 French film professionals, including actor Lea Seydoux and Cannes Film Festival head Thierry Fremaux, signed a petition “supporting the revolt by women in Iran”.

Women removing their headscarves and cutting their hair has been a key image of the protests in Iran that broke out last month.

They were sparked by the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, following her arrest by Iran’s “morality police” who enforce Iran’s strict dress code that requires women to cover their hair in public.

“The Iranian people, with women in front, are risking their lives to protest. These people want only the most basic freedoms. These women, these men, deserve our support,” said a message accompanying the video on Instagram.

The campaign was launched by a group of lawyers.

“It is impossible not to denounce, again and always, this terrible repression,” their message added.