A statue in front of the French parliament building honouring Jean-Baptiste Colbert was covered in graffiti on Tuesday amid a global push by anti-racism activists to take down monuments to historical figures tied to slavery or colonialism.
A prominent figure under “Sun King” Louis XIV, Colbert was a 17th-century royal minister who wrote rules governing slaves in France’s overseas colonies. His statue stands in front of the National Assembly, a prominent landmark overlooking the Seine River in Paris.
Paris police said one person was detained after “state negrophobia” was scrawled in red paint on the statue’s pedestal and pink paint was splattered on Colbert’s likeness.
A group called the Anti-Negrophobia Brigade posted photos online of the graffiti and one of its activists in a police van at the site. The group has called for a national debate about such monuments and what it calls institutionalized anti-Black racism in France.
It is the most prominent monument in France targeted since George Floyd’s death in the US galvanized action in many countries against racial injustice and police violence. The statue was put under police protection earlier this month amid growing calls to rethink such historical figures.
Colbert is celebrated in France for an economic doctrine known as “colbertism”, which relies on the idea that state intervention is needed to serve the country’s economy and wealth.
Controversially, Colbert also drafted the Code Noir (“Black Code”), promulgated two years after his death, which regulated the life, death, purchase, religion and treatment of slaves by their masters.
No statues in France have been taken down as they have in the US or other countries, but several have been vandalized in recent weeks.
On Monday, two statues adjacent to the nearby Invalides monument, where Napoleon is buried, were found drenched in red paint.
One of the statues was of Voltaire, a leading thinker and writer of the French Enlightenment, who owed part of his fortune to colonial-era trade. The other honours Hubert Lyautey, a general and colonial administrator who served in Morocco, Algeria, Madagascar and Indochina when they were under French control, and later was France’s minister of war during World War I.
(FRANCE 24 & AP)