sábado, dezembro 03, 2005

Napoleon's finest hour marked with a half Nelson

The Times, 2/12/05,
From Adam Sage in Paris

FRANCE will mark the bicentenary of Napoleon Bonaparte’s finest hour today amid a row over what his admirers say is the Government’s lukewarm approach to the event.

Two hundred years after Napoleon changed the course of European history with his stunning victory over the Austro-Russian army at Austerlitz, critics accuse President Chirac and his ministers of stifling the celebrations. Many complain that Paris did more to commemorate the anniversary of its defeat at Trafalgar than its triumph in what is now the Czech Republic.

Although 4,000 enthusiasts plan to re-enact the battle this weekend — with Mark Schneider, an American from Williamsburg, Virginia, playing the part of Napoleon — the French authorities will be keeping a low profile.

Napoleon’s supporters say that the greatest French military achievement has been lost in the wilderness of political correctness. They believe that the French Government is scared of antagonising its European neighbours, along with its own ethnic minorities who see Napoleon as a slave trader.

“We are afraid of our history in France,” Thierry Lentz, the director of the Napoleon Foundation, said.

At Austerlitz, Napoleon’s brilliant military mind overturned the odds and plunged the Austro-Russian forces into a humiliating retreat.

But as French army officers prepare to remember la bataille d’Austerlitz at a ceremony in the Place Vendôme in Paris today, the only member of government to have confirmed his presence is Jean-François Copé, the Budget Minister.

“When the British remembered Trafalgar they had the Queen and Tony Blair,” one officer told Le Point magazine. The officer also pointed out that France had sent several ships, including the flagship of the French fleet, the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, to the Trafalgar bicentenary.

The contrast with Austerlitz is striking. M Chirac will be in Mali for a summit with African leaders, and Dominique de Villepin, his Prime Minister, is planning to visit a school in Amiens, northern France.

M de Villepin is a fervent admirer of Napoleon but is thought to have adopted a muted stance on the Austerlitz anniversary on the orders of M Chirac, who has a strong dislike for the Emperor.

Only Michèle Alliot-Marie, the Defence Minister, has said that she will visit the battle site in the Czech Republic, and then only briefly. After laying a wreath to “honour the military accomplishment” but also the peace obtained through the European Union, she will leave for an official visit to Bahrain.

This week Claude Ribbe, the black French historian, accused Napoleon of racism and genocide for re-establishing slavery in the French Empire. Such accusations have weighed heavily on the Government. After last month’s urban riots, ministers were keen to avoid inflaming black opinion by celebrating le vainqueur d’Austerlitz.

BATTLE LINES
# The Austro-Russian army knew the lie of the land, occupied the choice positions and had 91,000 men, compared with 71,000 French

# Napoleon tricked them into thinking he was retreating, then launched a six-hour attack in which 21,000 Austro-Russian troops were killed and 20,000 taken prisoner

# The 1805 victory convinced Napoleon that his destiny was to rule the continent. He met his Waterloo in 1815