Napoleon massacred more than 100,000 Caribbean slaves and should be remembered as a genocidal dictator and inspiration for Hitler rather than a military genius and founder of modern France, a French historian said yesterday.
"I refuse to bow down before the statue any longer, I have opened my eyes," said Claude Ribbe, a respected black academic and part of a governmental commission on human rights whose book, Napoleon's Crime, is published last month, on the bicentenary of the emperor's great triumph at the battle of Austerlitz this Friday.
"A kind of generalised self-censorship exists about this man in France ... he furthered the emergence of all the racist and pseudo-scientific theories of the 19th century that were subsequently taken up by the Nazis." The book includes first hand officers' accounts describing the methods ordered by Napoleon to stamp out a slave revolt on the then French Caribbean island of Haiti, and in Guadeloupe.
The basic strategy, he said, was to "exterminate every black on the islands over 12" and replace them with docile imports from Africa. The rebels were killed, but thousands of innocents were shot, drowned, savaged by dogs or gassed in the holds of slaveships.
His book is already provoking controversy prior to its publication on Thursday. The newspaper France Soir juxtaposed images of Napoleon and Hitler yesterday before asking: "Did Napoleon invent the Final Solution?"
But in an editorial, it condemned the "inanity" of Ribbe's argument. Ribbe, 51, who is of French-Guadeloupe extraction, said he was unrepentant.
"I want the French to know exactly what happened in that period," he said. "As for the good things Napoleon did, that is irrelevant. Hitler developed the autobahns and inspired the Volkswagen; are we supposed to excuse him for his war crimes?"
Ribbe, who was recently appointed a human rights commissioner by the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, added: "I was taught to think of Napoleon as a superstar. To mention his crimes against humanity has been a taboo."
Ribbe, accompanied by Guadeloupe Socialist MP Victorin Lurel, called for a protest against "historical revisionism". "He had great qualities, of that there's no doubt," Mr Lurel said. "But Napoleon also did some wholly abominable things.