Criticism of colonial monuments – “just the tip of the iceberg”

Criticism of colonial monuments - 'just the tip of the iceberg'

Against the backdrop of the racism debate, colonial monuments are being toppled in other countries – in germany, too, there is criticism of such statues.

From the point of view of the berlin postcolonial initiative, however, simply dismantling monuments with a colonial connection in germany is not enough. "Colonial monuments should not simply be cleared away," spokesman christian kopp told the deutsche presse agency. In his view, it would be more constructive to invite artists from former colonies, for example, to break the effect of the statues, to develop counter-monuments or to alienate them.

Critical info boards were not enough, kopp said. Berlin postcolonial also advocates renaming streets in berlin that commemorate colonialists.

A statue of hermann von wissmann in bad lauterberg in the harz mountains, a bust of gustav nachtigal in stendal, the former lettow-vorbeck barracks in hamburg – they all honor people who were involved in crimes during the colonial era. In other countries, after the violent death of george floyd in the united states, anger about racism has been expressed at such monuments: in the united states, great britain and belgium, for example, monuments to personalities from the colonial era have been repeatedly toppled or defiled in recent days.

Germany appropriated colonies in africa, oceania and east asia starting in 1884. It thus had the fourth largest colonial territory. The violent rule of the germans led to uprisings and wars. During the herero and nama war from 1904 to 1908 in what was then german southwest africa, the colonial powers committed mass murder, which was considered the first genocide of the 20th century. Century applies. They also killed hundreds of thousands of people in the maji-maji war of 1905 to 1908 in what was then east africa. With the defeat of the germans in the first world war their colonies were divided among the victorious powers.

How a reflective approach to personalities of colonial history could succeed is being discussed in hamburg, for example. On the grounds of a former barracks, there are numerous busts of german colonialists, and houses are also named after them. In addition to the man who gave the site its name, paul von lettow-vorbeck, the list also includes lothar von trotha and hermann von wissmann. They were all instrumental in the bloody suppression of uprisings in the colonies of the time.

A spokesman for the hamburg authority for culture and media said that von trotha’s bust on the former barracks site is already being put into context with an explanatory plaque, but that this is by no means sufficient. Now you can either throw everything into the elbe or keep the history in mind for future generations. "The way it was there for decades, it must not remain in any case." in the future the two places should serve as memorials. Former colonial monuments have also been rededicated in hanover and bremen.

The afd voiced criticism with regard to the toppling of statues abroad. The chairman of the afd parliamentary group in the german parliament, alexander gauland, spoke of an "ideologically dangerously narrow view of history. "Attempts to impose an image of history that has been cleansed of all disturbing aspects have so far only been seen in totalitarian systems," gauland explained. "This does not mean that the persons commemorated by a monument may not be criticized."

Berlin postcolonial has been campaigning for years to rename streets that commemorate colonialists. There are about 20 such groups nationwide. "With the initiative, we wanted to initiate a broad and critical social debate on colonialism using concrete examples, a discussion at the end of which, in our opinion, there can only be renaming," said kropp of berlin postcolonial.

But the aim is not to erase colonial history from the public sphere. "In the case of street renaming, we advocate the preservation of the colonial-historical reference by honoring people from the resistance against german colonialism."

Political scientist nikita dhawan from the university of gieben said there are now more and more efforts to address the colonial heritage in germany. But she warned: "we should not remove a statue or a street name and then think that we have finished the process of decolonization."

Cultural historian britta schilling from the university of utrecht also calls for a thorough reappraisal of the past. "German colonialism has been passed down like a strange heirloom that many don’t know whether to display or discreetly throw in the trash," schilling said. For example, looted art assets would also have to be returned. "Street names and monuments are just the tip of the iceberg."

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