French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday vowed to stand firm against racism, while also praising police and insisting that France would not take down statues of colonial-era figures.
In a televised address to the nation, Macron called for the nation’s “unity” at a key moment when the country is trying to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind it while a series of protests have begun after the death of George Floyd in the US while in police custody.
Demonstrators in France have expressed anger at discrimination within French society, particularly toward minorities from the country’s former colonies in Africa.
Macron said that someone’s “address, name, color of skin” can reduce their chances at succeeding in French society, and called for a fight to ensure that everyone can “find their place” regardless of ethnic origin or religion.
He promised to be “uncompromising in the face of racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination.”
However, he said that France would not take down statues of colonial-era figures as has happened in some other countries in the past few weeks.
Amid calls for taking down statues tied to France’s slave trade or colonial wrongs, Macron said: “The republic will not erase any trace, or any name, from its history ... it will not take down any statue.”
“We should look at all of our history together with lucidity,” including relations with Africa, with a goal of “truth” instead of “denying who we are,” Macron said.
He did not address accusations of police violence, but said that forces of order deserve “the nation’s recognition.”
At least 15,000 people demonstrated in Paris on Saturday, the latest in a string of French protests galvanized by the May 25 death of Floyd, but increasingly focused on France’s own tensions between police and minorities.
In response, the government banned police choke holds and vowed to stamp out racism among police — but that has angered police unions, who say they are being unfairly painted as white supremacists and staged protests of their own.
French government minister Sibeth Ndiaye wrote an essay on Saturday in Le Monde calling for France to rethink its “colorblind” doctrine, which she said aims at encouraging equality by ignoring race altogether.
“We must not hesitate to name things, to say that a skin color is not neutral,” Ndiaye wrote.
She called on the French to “confront our memories” about their history and find a “shared narrative” with former colonies.
Macron’s speech also sought to “turn the page” of the virus crisis, as France was to reopen nearly everything starting yesterday.
Restrictions had started being gradually eased on May 11 after two months of stricter lockdown.
“We are going to get back our way of life, our taste for freedom,” Macron said. “In other words, we are going to rediscover France fully again.”
Restaurants in the Paris region were to be allowed to open indoor spaces starting yesterday instead of outdoor seating only.
Macron vowed to make saving as many jobs as possible his top priority.
A forecast last week from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that France’s economy is likely to suffer more than most from a coming recession.
The economy is expected to shrink at least 11 percent this year, pushing many out of work and torpedoing Macron’s goals of bringing down unemployment, rehauling the retirement system and making France more globally competitive.
France is reopening its borders with other European countries and would start allowing visitors from other continents on July 1.
Despite having one of the world’s besthealth care systems, France was dangerously short of all kinds of masks and testing capacity as COVID-19 patients overwhelmed intensive care wards in March.
More than 80 lawsuits have been filed accusing his government of manslaughter, neglect or otherwise mishandling the virus crisis.
Macron sent in the army to help and ordered strict lockdown measures that slowed the spread. But nearly 30,000 people have died, about half of them amid residents of nursing homes, and more than 150,000 have been infected. More than 200 new virus clusters have emerged since France started reopening May 11, according to the national health agency.
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