Anti-racism protesters in Martinique tear down statue of Napoleon's wife

The headless statue of Empress Joséphine in La Savane park in Fort-de-France, capital of France's overseas territory of Martinique, was torn down on Sunday.
The headless statue of Empress Joséphine in La Savane park in Fort-de-France, capital of France's overseas territory of Martinique, was torn down on Sunday. © Terrazzo/Flickr

Anti-colonial activists in France’s overseas territory of Martinique in the Caribbean have torn down two statues of colonial-era figures, including Joséphine de Beauharnais, the wife of French emperor Napoleon, in acts condemned by public officials. 


A video posted to social media showed several dozen people present the moment activists pulled down the statue of de Beauharnais in the La Savane park in Fort-de-France on Sunday.

The words “death to colonialism” are graffitied on a concrete block. A longer video shows activists smashing the pedestal with sledgehammers before bringing it down. 

Joséphine de Beauharnais, the first wife of Napoléon Bonaparte, was born on Martinique to a wealthy family that owned a sugar plantation.

Bonaparte’s nephew Napoléon III commissioned the statue in 1859. It was decapitated in 1991 and the head has never been found.  

Another video also shows activists pulling down a nearby statue of Pierre Belain d’Esnambuc, a trader who established of France’s colony on the island in 1635.

The statue had been erected in 1935 to mark 300 years since the founding of the colony.  

French condemns 'intolerable acts'

Activists had warned the previous week that they would tear down the statues if city officials did not remove them by Sunday. 

City council was to decide Tuesday whether to remove the statue of Esnambuc in August. 

State officials in Martinique said in a statement said they deplored what they called “intolerable acts of a violent minority”.

AFP agency cited a police source saying the state had instructed police not to intervene in the actions. 

Activists target statues of abolitionist

On 22 May, the same group of activists tore down two statues of Victor Schoelcher, a French politician and writer who drafted the decree by which France abolished slavery in all of its colonies on 27 April 1848. 

Activists opposed to Martinique’s colonial heritage said they wanted black emancipation leaders to be honoured instead.

Last week on the neighbouring island of Guadeloupe, a statue of Schoelcher was removed and broken into pieces that were found 40 kilometres away. Police suspect it had been removed by anti-colonial activists.

“I condemn this behaviour that does not come from ignorance, but is the deliberate will to minimise the role of a man who largely helped in the pursuit of freedom,” Guadeloupean historian Raymond Boutin told radio RCI at a ceremony honouring Schoelcher on 21 July. 

Debates over colonial roots of racism

The death of George Floyd a the hands of police in the United States on 25 May sparked public debates in countries with colonial histories on the foundations of contemporary racism.

Statues of figures linked to slavery or the oppression of minorities have been torn down in the US and the UK. 

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen reminded in a tweet that President Emmanuel Macron had promised, during an address in June, that “no statues would be removed” from public places in France.

“The Republic will erase no trace and no name of its history,” Macron said. 

(with AFP)


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