Racial unrest in Western countries has taken on a new character, turning into a “war on monuments.” The start was made by demonstrators in American Richmond, who threw off the monument to the "original culprit" of all their troubles - Christopher Columbus, and threw it into the lake. Initiatives were supported by protesters in other cities, and then the wave spread to Europe. And with the active support of the authorities.
So, in Belgian Antwerp, a monument to King of Belgium Leopold II was dismantled as part of the “fight against racism”. It was under Leopold that Colonial seizure of the Congo basin by Belgium took place. At the turn of the XIX-XX centuries. severe repressions against the local population were organized there.
The Mayor of the Antwerp Commune, Eckeren Cohen Palinks, noted that the monument could be moved to the local museum. On the night of June 3, local vandals poured gas over the statue and set it on fire, causing serious damage. Monuments to the king in Tervuren, Hull, Ostend and Ghent have also been attacked over the past week. One of the busts was doused with red paint, and the inscription “I can't breathe” was left on the pedestal, which directly indicates the connection of the attack with the “Black lives matter” movement.
Leopold II ruled in 1865-1909. He carried out a number of reforms, created a system of compulsory free secular school education in the country, introduced restrictions on child labor, and promoted the development of trade unions. He played a key role in ensuring that Belgium gained huge colonial possessions in the Congo Basin.
Great Britain was not spared. The mayor of London of Pakistani origin convenes a commission that will decide which monuments to leave and which to overthrow.
The situation is commented on by journalist Vasily Alenin:
“The war on monuments is contagious. Like a coronavirus. Only unlike Covid, fighting the shadows of the past is simple. Much easier than achieving real change in the present.
Well, they threw Columbus into a lake in the States, demolished the monuments to the brutal colonizer of the Congo, King Leopold II in Belgium. The “apartheid architect” in South Africa requires Rhodes to be removed from the pediment of Oriel College, Oxford University (by the way, they have been fighting with Rhodes for a long time). Only in the UK is a list of 60 monuments to slave traders and colonialists ready to be demolished urgently.
It is strange that the United States does not yet require renaming the capital, named after its first president, Washington. He was a famous defender of slavery and his own slaves and flogged, and caught in the event of their escape.
HBO has already removed the "romanticizing slavery" film "Gone with the Wind. "Now we need to organize bonfires from Margaret Mitchell’s book, which was used to record this film classics crowned with many Oscars.
The authorities have such an exit of negative energy into their hands. It is obvious that the death of Floyd was only a trigger for the release of dissatisfaction with growing social inequality. The discontent that has accumulated over the years and which the pandemic, deaths, unemployment has only exacerbated.
To feed the hungry, to give work to the unemployed, to shelter to the homeless, it is too difficult to really eliminate inequality. Let me smash some stone idols, if this will calm the rebellious people, please.
But one should not think that it is only there, in the rotten West, such chaos and cynicism.
It's just that no one is rebelling in Russia yet. If tomorrow a bunker is being pumped near Putin to save himself in power, it’s not only that he will permit the demolition of monuments - he will personally take Lenin out of the Mausoleum!”
Banksy proposed replacing the statue of Edward Colston, toppled in British Bristol, with a new monument in memory of how it was demolished...
The historian Vyacheslav Morozov writes:
“In the last hundred years, everything has been mixed up. Monuments to heroes, monuments, symbols and monuments to specific people flooded the city. You can’t predict how people "read" them..."
Radical thought: what if the era of monuments to people is over? The immediate reason, of course, is that these people, as a rule, are white men in the service of empires, but in a broader sense, maybe we have just passed the time when myths about great heroes can serve any significant purpose?”
He is echoed on his blog by the famous Russian American historian Ivan Kurilla:
“Even some one and a half hundred years ago, monuments to people could be counted on the fingers, and even those basically embodied some ideas and essences larger than a person. Monument to the monarch - not about him, but about his monarchy. Monument to Minin and Pozharsky - about the people. Yes, here is a good example - look at the monument to Suvorov in St. Petersburg: is it really a monument to A.V. Suvorov the man?
Strictly speaking - of course, this is a problem monument with powerful imperial and patriarchal symbolism. But I do not urge to demolish the monuments. Rather, it is a call to admit that behind each such monument lies a potential conflict, and there is no need to fall into hysteria or despondency if this conflict is suddenly exposed..."
The original point of view on the problem was expressed by the historian Pavel Puchkov. Its essence is that there is nothing wrong with the demolition of monuments:
“In reaction to the demolition of the monuments, there is something similar to the reaction to the“ damage ”to the language. A similar mechanism: knowledge of the language norm distinguishes a person from a poorly educated mass, increases self-esteem; erosion of the norm, therefore, destroys the value of knowledge. Monuments are usually not noticed. But when discussions begin around them, a group of people will surely form, which will very sharply react to the prospect of demolition / dismantling / transfer. Motives may be different, but one of the main ones is formulated like this: hands off history. But monuments are not history. This is always her assessment (I’ll keep silent that any historical narrative is an interpretation, and so it is clear). And grades are changing, that's how life is arranged. And interpretations are changing too. And those interpretations and assessments that I am talking about, of course, have nothing to do with science, because it is not her business to make assessments.
Good / bad, good / evil - ethical categories, each community has the right to independently place these or those phenomena on the scale of values. Historians, as part of society, can participate in value discussions, but cannot claim the truth of their own judgments only on the basis that they are historians and “know better”. We can know history better, but, I repeat, the argument is valuable, not historical.
Therefore, for example, I am absolutely calm about the elimination of monuments as a political action (we will take the aesthetic moment out of the picture). It seems to me no less legitimate than the installation, because it lies exactly in the same plane. But then there is complexity of the same order as with language. The monument is a derivative of some interpretation of the past, in which the figure is evaluated positively. The monument captures this interpretation, gives it more weight. Around the monument, rituals can take shape (not necessarily public, private, too), it becomes a familiar part of the landscape, etc.
If the monument lives long enough and occupies an important place in the urban landscape, then it gives the almost unquestioned authority to the interpretation of the past that gave rise to it. A radical change in historical optics is extremely painful for the group that has adopted the old interpretation and fixed it through these material objects. It seems to these people that some illiterate people take away their “history", the right to look at things the way they are used to. Exactly the same mechanism works when the language norm is expanded, when some evil people report that coffee can be of a secondary kind, and stress can be set in different ways.
Everyone was taught at school in a single “objective” story. Not in the sense that they told the same thing. The stories could be very different. And in the sense that they instilled the belief that the story was one and there was some kind of objective view of the past. We were also taught the language, as a system with once and for all fixed rules. Therefore, school-educated people who have hardened any one norm (linguistic or historical) are very sensitive to the attempt on it, constantly emphasizing that they protect the normative interpretation from poorly educated revolutions who do not want to know any rules. The problem of demolition of monuments has other dimensions, but this, it seems to me, is quite important and rarely spoken..."