Should Paris get rid of its colonial names?

A French retired doctor, Patrick Silberstein, has taken up the task of highlighting his country’s colonial and slave-trading past by co-writing a book called « A Guide to Colonial Paris ». He wants more than 200 street names to be changed in the French capital. BBC Newsday caught up with him but we started off by gauging some opinions on the streets of Paris.


Réponses préparées pour l’intervention orale :

Why did  you and didier decide to write this guide?

The idea came last summer while we were watching the demonstrators in Charlottesville wanting to get rid of the general Lee statues. 

Slaveholder monuments should be in museums not on our streets, they shouted.

In fact, for a long time, Didier and I, as well as some friends and Syllepse, our publisher, have been aware of the colonial ghosts who are haunting our streets.

We can’t accept anymore that our city is stained by the celebration of the glory of colonial warriors, like Field Marshalls Bugeaud and Gallieni. 

Obviously, we were aware that the French colonial system involved many actors: military, politicians, businessmen and intellectuals.

But while we were writing the Guide, we have been surprised that among the city’s 6500 streets, more than 200 are named to glorify, openly or discreetly, men who have been part of the colonial system. 


Is France insensitive to its colonial past?

Yes and no.

Insensitive, yes,

because a lot of people think that this story has ended. 

Colonialism is a blind spot in our history.

Insensitive, no,

because many officials still think that this is a part of French history which cannot be discussed.

Some crimes may have been committed, but it was the price to pay for bringing the republican values in these backward countries.


What do you think needs to be done about streets in France named after colonial slave masters?

It is necessary to open a public debate on the colonial legacy. 

It is necessary to change the names of some streets, those which bear the names of the bloodiest colonialists.

It is necessary for Paris to look at the darkest side of the French history which is printed on its walls 

and to deliver another message to the people of Paris, 

especially to those inhabitants who are of colonial descent

and to those who are the sons and daughters of the people’s antinazi resistance.


Autres articles :

200 rues parisiennes rendent hommage à la colonisation et c’est inadmissible,


French authors of « colonial Paris » guide hope to spark Rhodes Must Fall-style movement (suivi de la traduction en français)




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