E.There should be no eulogy for the emperor, as the French Marshal Foch gave on the 100th anniversary of Napoleon Bonaparte’s death. But Emmanuel Macron has resolved to wrest Napoleon from official contempt on the 200th anniversary of his death this Wednesday. Shortly after his election, the young head of state broke a taboo in July 2017 when he led the American President Donald Trump to Napoleon’s tomb in the Invalides Dome. Since Adolf Hitler triumphantly moved to the porphyry sarcophagus with the remains of Napoleon on June 28, 1940, the visit to the Invalides Cathedral had been removed from the protocol for high-ranking state visitors.
Napoleon even disappeared from the curriculum for a time, and since the European Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the presidents avoided celebrating the anniversaries. In 2005, President Jacques Chirac refused to commemorate the victory of Austerlitz in 1805 when the revolutionary armies defeated the European feudal rulers. At that time, the historian and Napoleon expert Jean Tulard was outraged that it was “a shame”.
“The best of the emperor” and “the worst of the empire”
Macron is now going to the Institut de France for belated reparation, where historian Tulard will receive him with a lecture. In his speech, the president wanted to mention “the best of the emperor” without forgetting “the worst of the empire”, according to the Elysée Palace. “Remembrance is not a celebration,” said one advisor. Macron does not want to presume a retrospective judgment “ten generations later”.
Not only members of the French science academies should take part in the memorial hour, high school students are also invited. The soothing statements from the Elysée show how delicate commemoration remains. It is not about drawing a hagiography, but also not “about denial or repentance”. After his speech, the President plans to make a pilgrimage to the Invalides and, accompanied by the Chief of Staff of the French Army and the Defense Minister, will lay a wreath at Napoleon’s grave.
Historian Johannes Willms is not surprised by the series of commemorations: “Macron is internally much closer to Napoleon than Chirac. Macron is more of a Bonapartist in terms of his entire character, including his political stance. “It was classic Bonapartism how Macron came to power in 2017 with the help of a movement, says the author of several Napoleon books in an interview with the FAZ that he is risking something by commemorating Napoleon, but he believes he can risk it. Most of the French see a positive figure in Napoleon, ”says Napoleon biographer Günter Müchler. In France there was always controversy about Napoleon. “The Austerlitz sun is fading, the major reforms have remained,” said Müchler to the FAZ
The foundations of the modern state go back to Napoleon. He founded the Council of State (Conseil d’état), the Légion d’honneur, the central bank Banque de France, the Senate and the National Archives. The French central high school diploma “baccalauréat”, the gendarmerie, the elite universities Grandes Ecoles and the militarized fire brigade go back to Napoleon. Even Karl Marx praised the Code civil, the civil law introduced by Napoleon, as a break with the old order. “The lack of self-confidence in the face of the current challenges brings figures like Napoleon back into the consciousness of the French,” says Müchler. “In the collective memory, Napoleon is the man who ended the civil war and brought stability to France. De Gaulle wanted to build on this role, Macron is doing it again, ”said the Napoleon biographer.
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