Historic errors set in stone

Catherine Fieschi asks if we are comfortable embracing statues

The World Today
2 minute READ

Catherine Fieschi

Director, Counterpoint

Public monuments seem to have become the lightning rod of our cultural wars: from Robert E Lee, to Cecil Rhodes, to intimations that Nelson might fall, the past few years constitute a high-water mark for the contestation of collective memory. How do we commemorate the past when the past keeps on changing?

For some this is a bit baffling − the past is the past, why tear down its artefacts? Even those we find abhorrent can stand as a lesson learnt. For others, prevarication seems at best nonsensical, at worst, a living insult. Russia and adjoining countries made a clean break of it post-1990 (sometimes even earlier, Prague’s Stalin monument was destroyed in 1962) and tore down the symbols of a failed and cruel political experiment. Why can’t others do the same?

This debate highlights how difficult it is to agree on the status of a collective memory and a shared definition of national identity.

Subscribe to read all issues

Articles from the current issue are free to read by all, the archive is exclusive to magazine subscribers and our members. Subscribe or become a member to view articles from the archive.