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France’s Culture War Intensifies

With his speech commemorating the 200th anniversary of Napoleon Bonaparte’s death, President Emmanuel Macron apparently is seeking to confront all aspects of the emperor’s divisive legacy. How he manages that characteristic balancing act could reveal much about his ability to keep France’s simmering culture war from boiling over.

LONDON – By laying a wreath on Napoleon Bonaparte’s tomb on the 200th anniversary of his death, French President Emmanuel Macron has stepped further into the fray of the country’s escalating culture war. Can France’s rifts be healed, or is the country really headed, as some predict, toward “deadly civil war”?

Napoleon’s legacy has long been divisive. His admirers laud his role in creating the modern French state; his detractors condemn him as a colonizer who enslaved millions. But the issue has become particularly incendiary today, in the aftermath of the publication last month of an open letter by 20 retired generals.

According to the generals, France is in a state of “disintegration,” owing to several “deadly dangers,” including “Islamism and the hordes of the banlieue” (poor, immigrant-dominated suburbs surrounding French cities). An anti-racism movement that “despises our country, its culture and traditions” represents another such danger.

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