France faces up to dark side of its imperial past

PHOTO: REUTERS

After years of steadfast resistance, the French government declared on Nov 23 that it would return 26 sculptures and other artefacts to the Republic of Benin, a nation in West Africa formerly colonised by France. This move, ordered directly by President Emmanuel Macron, is not just a policy reversal - it also marks a startling break with a cherished national self-conception.

As Mr Macron himself has put it, France is among the very few countries in the world "obsessed with universality", what he admitted some might see as a "pretension... to speak on behalf of the whole of humanity".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 06, 2019, with the headline 'France faces up to dark side of its imperial past'. Print Edition | Subscribe