How to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's death?
Napoleon Bonaparte, who died on the island of Saint Helena on 5 May 1821, is undoubtedly one of the most famous figures in French history. But there is now a lively debate in France about how to commemorate an emperor who ordered brutal campaigns, reintroduced slavery and pushed through laws many view as sexist.
France owes its grandeur to Napoleon
The "Little Corporal" from Corsica deserves to be highly honoured, Le Figaro comments:
“Alongside Joan of Arc and de Gaulle, Napoleon is known the world over. While noble spirits get upset in Paris, the entire world continues to be fascinated by his fate. So yes, of course he must be commemorated and celebrated! This does not hinder the critical work of historians. Let us remember, among his many achievements, that of having elevated his country to previously unknown heights, and permanently. ... Napoleon bequeathed to France a self-image that can be summed up with a magnificent word that, although now discredited, guided it for almost two centuries: la grandeur.”
Tragic consequences must not be forgotten
The positive view of Napoleon Bonaparte held by many historians obscures the devastating consequences of the emperor's rule, L'Humanité explains:
“1.7 million dead in the space of around 15 years of undivided rule that ended in disaster. A bled-out France that in many respects ended up in the hands of foreign powers, the missed first fruits of the Industrial Revolution, a new aristocracy that benefited as an ally of the old one, and the eternal misery of the people forced to finance the wars. The copy of the skeleton of Napoleon's horseby the artist Pascal Convert, kept like a trophy in England, was hung over Napoleon's tomb at Les Invalides cathedral, not without controversy, and seems to express just that: the glorious ride was a sinister cavalcade.”