New York Daily News

A Napoleonic complexity

Macron raises ire in marking tyrant’s ann’y


President Emmanuel Macron, in an unusual gesture on Wednesday, marked the bicentenar­y of the death of Napoleon, the warrior-emperor who famously bequeathed France its civil code, among other major reforms, but whose legacy remains tarnished in the eyes of many.

Macron said Napoleon Bonaparte’s reinstatem­ent of slavery was a “betrayal of the spirit of the Enlightenm­ent.” But in his speech under the dome of the Institute of France, he said that “Napoleon is part of us” and France “must look our history straight in the eyes.”

With such distinctio­ns, Macron refused to cede to those who would deny any honor to Napoleon, who is among the most important figures of French history and adored by some members of the right. The timing works for Macron, who is expected to try to renew his presidenti­al mandate in elections next year.

Macron later laid a wreath at the foot of Napoleon’s grandiose tomb at Les Invalides, a golddomed monument and site of a military hospital. He was greeted by Prince Jean-Christophe Napoleon, pretender to the long-abolished throne of the emperor.

The president’s speech was meant to commemorat­e — not celebrate — the larger-than-life figure who died in exile on the remote volcanic island of St. Helena exactly 200 years ago, on May 5, 1821.

Napoleon gave France its civil code and penal code, establishe­d the system of prefects, representa­tives of the state in each French territory, and lycees, or high schools, among other things. But even the Institute of France refers to Napoleon “a major figure of history since always contested.”

“From the empire, we have renounced the worst and from the emperor we have embellishe­d the best,” Macron said.

“Commemorat­ing this bicentenar­y, it’s saying just that, simply, serenely,” without “judging the past with laws of the present.”

For Macron, commemorat­ing Napoleon was following through with his optics of facing the past and moving forward with lessons learned and offering “neither denial nor repentance.”

Macron voiced his opposition last year to bringing down statues of figures linked to slavery in former French colonies, on the grounds that history can’t be erased and the past must be acknowledg­ed.

Napoleon, a celebrated military genius, became an integral part of France’s legacy. But in today’s era, his image is tarnished by a decision to reestablis­h slavery in French colonies in 1802, after it was abolished in 1784. He was also responsibl­e for years of carnage and destructio­n in wars fought across much of the European continent and as far away as Egypt.

Ruler from 1799, he became emperor in 1804 for a decade, then again for three months in 1815. He was exiled to the Mediterran­ean island of Elba, escaped and miraculous­ly raised a new army, only to meet defeat on June 18, 1815, at the hands of a British-led military coalition in the crucial battle of Waterloo. He was sent in 1815 to the British outpost of St. Helena, where he died after falling ill.

Napoleon’s body was later exhumed and entombed at Les Invalides in Paris.

 ??  ?? French President Emmanuel Macron (inset) delivers a speech Wednesday on the 200th anniversar­y of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, who is buried at Les Invalides in Paris (r.).
French President Emmanuel Macron (inset) delivers a speech Wednesday on the 200th anniversar­y of the death of Napoleon Bonaparte, who is buried at Les Invalides in Paris (r.).

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