PARIS – French anti-racism activists draped a black cloth over the statue of a colonial commander in central Paris on Thursday, prompting three arrests and brief tension with police.
The target of the protest was a monument to Gen. Joseph Gallieni, who led brutal campaigns to quash rebellion in French colonies but is more widely known and celebrated as a World War I hero.
Three activists who climbed the statue to cover it were handcuffed and detained by police, who threatened to fire tear gas on the other activists and journalists filming the scene from below. The detained activists were soon released, and the crowd dispersed peacefully.
The monument includes a statue of Gallieni standing on a pedestal held up by carvings of a half-nude African woman, an Asian figure and a woman from Madagascar. Gallieni was notably governor of Madagascar, where he abolished the island’s 350-year-old monarchy.
He is celebrated across France in statues and street names. Signs to a Paris metro station in his name were briefly covered up Wednesday with a replacement name by anti-colonial activists.
Françoise Vergès, a prominent political thinker on questions of colonization, race and gender, demanded that the statue be moved to a museum.
“Gallieni massacred in Madagascar, Mali, Sénégal and Vietnam, he’s not a national hero,” she said. “If he was moved to a museum, we’d need to hear what he’s done, testimonies from Malagasy, Senegalese and Malian people telling their story.”
President Emmanuel Macron has said France won't take down any statues of figures linked to colonialism or slave trading, despite demands by activist groups amid similar movements in the U.S. and elsewhere in the wake of protests over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25.