(MENAFN – Swissinfo) 12 June 2020 – 15:16 Simon Bradley
Born in London, Simon is a multimedia journalist who has worked for www.swissinfo.ch since 2006. He speaks French, German and Spanish and covers the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, and various issues especially in French speak Swiss.
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(de) Racism: Debates about controversial monuments reaching Switzerland
(id) Swiss debate about controversial monuments
(id) Residents discuss the removal of Swiss slave owner statues
(id) Should statues involving racist strife be removed? Swiss debate
(id) Will the monument start to collapse in Switzerland?
(id) The debate over Swiss racist bronze again
Global anti-racism protests after George Floyd’s death have reignited debates about controversial monuments in the United States and Europe. In Switzerland, links to the slave trade, statues and even mountain peaks are in the spotlight.
In the US, Britain and Belgium, a number of controversial statues have been torn down by protesters, eliminated by local authorities or damaged (see info box below) as countries grapple with their colonial past and racism behind Floyd’s death. The black man died in Minneapolis, USA, on May 25 after a police officer knelt on his neck.
In Switzerland, more than 2,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the removal of the bronze statue of David de Pury from the center of Neuchâtel in northwestern Switzerland.
‘Collectif pour la memoire’, which launched the petition on June 8, said wealthy businessmen and philanthropists who died in 1786 made their fortune through investing in and trading valuable timber and diamonds in Brazil. But it is said that the money was collected through the exploitation of African slaves.
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De Pury, who was born in Neuchatel and died in Lisbon, Portugal, is famous in the Swiss city. He donated the equivalent of CHF600 million ($ 636 million) which was used for local charity initiatives and the construction of city halls, hospitals and schools. His name appears in the local square.
The act of ‘educating’
Activists demand the city replace the De Pury statue with a commemorative plaque to honor victims of racism. They said the purpose of the petition was education and not to rewrite history.
“We want this aspect of Neuchâtel’s history to be taught in schools,” Mattia Ida, told Swiss public television, RTS, on Wednesday.
This is a complex problem, said Geneva Institute of Postgraduate professor Mohamed Mahmoud Mohamedou.
“Sterilizing history is never a good idea,” he told Swiss TV. “There needs to be a public debate. I see that the Mayor of London has just made a commission to review all the statues in the city – that’s the kind of democratic engagement that we need. ‘
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This is not the first time Neuchâtel has been trapped by race and warning problems. In 2018 the city decided to rename Espace Louis-Agassiz, a road that passes through the local university district, to distance itself from the famous 19th-century Swiss-American glaciologist who was also an outspoken racist. It was renamed the street Espace Tilo Frey after a Swiss-Cameroonian who was the first woman to be elected as a member of the cantonment of parliament and to the House of Representatives in Bern.
But Agassiz returned to the Swiss news. Activists have written to local authorities asking again to change the name of Mount Agassizhorn in the Bernese Alps. A parliamentary motion will also be filed in Bern in the coming days. Similar requests were rejected by politicians and cities in the past.
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Not colonial power
The Swiss government has always stated that Switzerland as a nation state was never involved in slavery or became a colonial power.
However, over the past 10-20 years a number of Swiss historians have investigated this issue. They say Swiss trading companies, banks, city states, family companies, mercenary contractors, soldiers and private individuals all benefit from the slave trade. Specific Swiss links to the slave trade, some of which predate national status, are documented on the louverture.ch website and https://www.cooperaxion.ch/.
In the midst of a global anti-racism movement, members of the public and the media turned their attention to other Swiss figures. “And what about the proud statue of Alfred Escher at Bahnhofplatz Zurich?” asked the Watson.ch news platform on June 11. Alfred Escher is a well-known Swiss industrialist, politician and railroad tycoon, who founded the Schweizerischen Creditanstalt (SKA) bank, today Credit Suisse, and also the current vice president of the Federal Institute of Technology. ETH Zurich. Between 1815 and 1845, his family owned a coffee plantation in Cuba where slaves worked, as German historian Michael Zeuske knew.
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“We might have to think about whether the statue of Alfred Escher will not be better in the museum,” Swiss historian Hans Fässler told Watson.ch.
“It’s about weighing its great influence on modern Switzerland and the blood of slaves. At least an additional placard must be attached to draw attention to the dark side of its success. “
In December 2019, Fässler, who was supported by dozens of public figures launched a committee that supported the restoration of slavery in the Swiss context.
Supporters of the Swiss Slavery Reparations Committee (SKOR) believe that reparations should be negotiated through dialogue between those who benefit from the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the descendants of the victims.
Countries destroy their monuments
United States of America
President Donald Trump has ruled out renaming the US military base named for the Confederate leader on Wednesday. Meanwhile, NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from its race and Democrats requested the removal of Capitol Hill statues of people representing Southern slavery in the Civil War of the 1860s.
Meanwhile, protesters in Portsmouth, Virginia, damaged the Confederate monument and toppled the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam last week ordered the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, although a judge has since blocked the order.
Protesters in Richmond, Virginia, have dropped a statue of Confederate General Williams Carter Wickham and have knocked down a statue of Christopher Columbus, burned it and threw it into the lake. Protesters have lowered Colombus laws outside the Minnesota State Capitol. Boston said it would dismantle the destroyed Columbus statue.
Philadelphia took down a statue of Frank Rizzo, a former mayor and police commissioner, and Dallas took a statue at the airport of former Texas Ranger Captain Jay Banks, both of whom critics support the act of abusing people of color.
Some universities and cities in the South changed the names of buildings and highways named after the leaders of the Confederate movement, which defended slavery. The US Marine Corps has banned public display of the Confederate flag at its facility. Birmingham, Alabama, erased the Confederate monument last week.
The statue of 17th-century slave trader Edward Colston, toppled by anti-racism protesters in Bristol, England, has been captured at the port by city authorities. The council said it had been taken to a ‘safe location’ and would end at the museum.
A statue of Robert Milligan, an 18th-century slave trader, was removed from its base outside the London museum.
Protesters at Oxford have called for the removal of 19th-century British colonial invaders Cecil Rhodes.
The Poole Council in southern England said it would remove the statue of Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the worldwide scouting movement.
An internet petition has been launched to remove the capital, Brussels, from the statue of Leopold II, king of Belgium. Leopold’s statues have been damaged in half a dozen Belgian cities.
In the port city of Antwerp, where much of Congo’s rubber, minerals and other natural wealth entered the country, one statue was burned and had to be removed for repair.
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