'Napoleon is a part of us': Macron marks bicentenary of former emperor's death
President Emmanuel Macron declared Napoleon Bonaparte an existential part of France after laying a wreath at his tomb in Paris on 5 May 2021, marking the 200th anniversary of the former emperor's death amid divisive debate about his legacy.
Macron waited until the last minute to announce his plans for the bicentenary which was preceded by fierce arguments between those who wanted a celebration and others who called for a boycott.
Accompanied by his wife, Brigitte, Macron travelled to Les Invalides for the pomp during which the guests observed a minute's silence followed by the French national anthem.
"Napoleon Bonaparte is a part of us," said Macron in a speech at the Institut de France following the ceremony.
Napoléon Bonaparte est une part de nous. pic.twitter.com/7lSb8an2qk— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) May 5, 2021
He said he wanted to carry out an enlightened commemoration of the former leader.
"From the Empire we have renounced the worst," Macron said. "From the Emperor we have embellished the best. We must look at our history face to face and as a whole."
Napoleon remains one of the most divisive figures in French history. Advocates eulogise his huge contribution to the creation of the modern state while detractors rail against his imperialism and war-mongering.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and the emergence of vocal anti-racism campaigners in France, Napoleon's decision to re-establish slavery in 1802 has become the focus of debate.
Macron, who has criticised attempts to topple statues of French figures involved in slavery, added: "The Second Republic repaired in 1848 this betrayal of the spirit of the Enlightenment."
Referring to the loss of human life for which Napoleon was responsible, Macron said the country had since put special emphasis on the value of human life.
And to underline the nuances, Macron condemned Napoleon's arbitrary exercise of a solitary power while hailing his skills as a strategist and a legislator.
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