Emmanuel Macron: France will not 'erase its history' and take down controversial statues

Fighting racism should not lead to a "hateful" rewriting of history, Emmanuel Macron has said.

The French president delivered a televised public address from the Élysée Palace on Sunday evening following weeks of worldwide Black Lives Matter protests.

Some protesters have targeted statues of historical figures associated with slavery or other past human rights abuses.

In Bristol a bronze memorial to slave trader Edward Colston was torn down as part of an anti-racism demonstration.

Similar protests have taken place across the world, and many authorities have removed controversial statues, but Macron told the French people he would not be following suit.

Protesters mounted monuments during largely peaceful anti-racism protests in Paris at the weekend. (Abdulmonam Eassa/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

He said: “I will be very clear tonight, compatriots: the Republic won't erase any name from its history. It will forget none of its artworks, it won't take down statues.”

It was the first time Macron has spoken on the issues since George Floyd’s death in the US city of Minneapolis on 25 May unleashed protests around the world.

France has seen regular demonstrations in the past three weeks, with some turning from peaceful events into clashes between protesters and riot police.

Macron said a person’s “address, name, colour of skin” can reduce their chances at succeeding in French society, and called for a fight to ensure that everyone can “find their place” regardless of ethnic origin or religion.

Paris riot police fired tear gas to disperse a largely peaceful but unauthorised protest near Place de la Republique at the weekend. Gatherings of more than 10 people are currently banned in France due to coronavirus containment measures. (Abdulmonam Eassa/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

He promised to be “uncompromising in the face of racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination”.

However, he insisted that France will not remove statues of controversial colonial-era figures.

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Amid calls for taking down statues tied to France’s slave trade or colonial wrongs, Macron said “the republic will not erase any trace, or any name, from its history ... it will not take down any statue”.

“We should look at all of our history together,” he said, with a goal of “truth” instead of “denying who we are.”

The French PM claimed the fight against racism was being damaged by “separatists”.

He said: “It is necessary to unite around Republican patriotism. We are a nation where everyone – whatever their origin and religion – can find their place.”

While several monuments in Britain have also been removed by local authorities, Boris Johnson has taken a similar stance to Macron.

Protesters roll a statue of slave trader Edward Colston into the River Avon during heated protests in Bristol, prompting calls for other memorials to be removed. (Giulia Spadafora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The British prime minister said it was “absurd and shameful” that the Sir Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square was targeted by violent protesters.

Johnson said “we cannot censor our past”.

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He said Churchill was a “hero, and he fully deserves his memorial”.

The PM’s comments come after Churchill’s statue was boarded up ahead of planned anti-racism protests last weekend. The protests were cancelled after threats of violence from far-right groups.

The statue of Winston Churchill was defaced with the words 'was a racist' at an anti-racist demonstration on 7 June. (Isabel Infantes/AFP via Getty Images)
A statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square was protected with scaffolding after it was targeted by anti-racist protesters during Black Lives Matter demonstrations. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)
Police clash with far-right demonstrators during their protest to ‘guard’ statues in London. (PA)

On Saturday police clashed with organised gangs congregating in Parliament Square and Whitehall claiming to be ‘guarding’ memorials.

Footage showed demonstrators throwing bottles at riot officers. Protesters also appeared to hurl smoke bombs.