PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to Napoleon Bonaparte 200 years after his death on Wednesday on an anniversary that has been dragged into a heated national debate about “cancel culture”.
Macron called Napoleon “part of us” and said the relatively modest ceremonies organised in Paris to mark the occasion were an “enlightened commemoration”, not a celebration of his life.
Speaking at the Institut de France, an academy set up by Napoleon to promote science and the arts, Macron listed some of the famed Corsican’s enduring contributions, while also mentioning the darker, blood-stained parts of his legacy.
“Few destinies have shaped so many lives beyond their own,” Macron said of the man who seized power in a coup in 1799 and died in exile on the island of Saint Helena in 1821 having briefly ruled over most of Europe.
The president later laid a wreath at the marble crypt where Napoleon’s remains are buried at the Invalides monument, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris.
Napoleon is also one of the most divisive characters in the country’s history. His huge contribution to the French state — the modern bureaucracy, school and legal systems bear his stamp — is usually set against his record as an autocrat and warmonger in Europe and the Middle East.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and the emergence of a new generation of vocal anti-racism campaigners in France, Napoleon’s decision to re-establish slavery in 1802 has become the focus of renewed debate.
Macron began his remarks by saying he would “concede nothing to those who want to erase the past on the basis that it does not correspond with their idea of the present”. But he called the slavery decision an “error” and a “betrayal of the Enlightenment spirit” which had brought about the 1789 revolution.
He also said Napoleon “was never concerned about the loss of lives”.