A statue of Cecil Rhodes, the British imperialist who did much to promote British imperial interests in Africa, was removed from the University of Cape Town earlier this year. Now there are calls to have another removed from Oriel College, Oxford.
I have worked extensively in the former Soviet Union where I have seen statues of Vladimir Ilich Lenin, Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky and Joseph Stalin. Some have been defaced, some have been carried off and dumped – I saw one massive stone head in a railway yard. But I cannot believe that airbrushing history in this way is ever right. Surely it is better to confront our past, the ugly bits as well as the glorious, the better to control our future?
In Gori, Stalin’s birthplace, the museum commemorating that bloody dictator has been preserved exactly as it was in Soviet times. An extra room has been added to supplement its content with a more modern, less laudatory version of events. Destroying the evidence of history only opens the door to myth-makers.