Removing monuments is old hat in Europe

The squabble over statues has now crossed the Atlantic.

In the aftermath of the violent clashes between white supremacists and counter-protestors earlier this month over the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, Europeans of varying political creeds and ideologies are calling for the removal – or in some cases the covering up – of a number of controversial monuments.

In the Turkish province of Sinop, a local conservative Islamic organization is demanding that a statue of Greek philosopher Diogenes be taken down because it attaches a “Greek ideology to Sinop.” Diogenes was born in Sinop, but later moved to Greece and is known as one of the founders of Cynic philosophy.

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“We are not against arts and sculptures. We are against the fact that they are attaching Greek ideology to Sinop under the cover of the statue,” İsmail Teziç, the organization’s Sinop provincial representative, told the Hurriyet Daily News. “We want the Diogenes statue to be taken from the entrance of Sinop and moved to Balatlar [a local Byzantine church]. We will put in effort for this. We will struggle to the end, whether a petition or a permanent press statement here is required.”

Just over 1,600 miles north of Sinop, two artists in Germany took a different approach in regards to Dresden’s Marie-Gey Fountain, which features a statue of naked Aphrodite.

Concerned that the depiction of the nude Greek goddess of love would offend some of the newly arrived migrants fleeing the violence in war-torn Middle Eastern nations – and working under the auspices of Germany’s “Welcome Culture” - artist duo Angela Hampel and Steffen Fischer recently concealed the fountain with a veil.

The artists had originally proposed the idea of covering up Aphrodite to city officials, but after it was rejected they decided to go ahead with their project anyway.  

"As long as there are wars, there is migration and the greatest suffering is always experienced by children and women. They have never received a monument - until now,” Fischer told German media.

While it may seem that Europe is jumping on the bandwagon, monument removal is something of popular pastime on the continent with statues and homages to controversial figures being subject to destruction since at least the Bronze Age.

In the Czech Republic, for example, all statues to the Hapsburg dynasty were torn down following World War I and replaced with heroes of the newly formed Czechoslovakia. Then the Soviets tore those down after World War II and replaced them with those of famous communists, only to see those eventually brought down and swapped for the older statues following the demise of the USSR.

In recent years, the Soviet Union appears to be the main victim of the drive to tear down the likenesses of divisive dignitaries.

Officials in Ukraine just recently finished removing all 1,320 statues to communist leader Vladimir Lenin as part of a drive by the government in Kiev to rid the country of all symbols of its Soviet past. In keeping with this move, officials also decided to change the name of Lenin Street in the western region of Zakarpattia to Lennon Street, in honor of the late Beatles member.

Poland’s government in June gave local officials and landowners one year to do away with any memorials that “pay tribute to persons, organizations, events or dates symbolizing communism or other totalitarian systems.” So far about 500 such monuments have been identified, all from the communist era as the Soviets already had torn down any Nazi memorials.

While some fascist monuments remain in Europe – Franco’s tomb in Spain and the so-called “Fascist Era” statue in Italy being the two most prominent – there are no public monuments or statues to Nazi leaders left. In Germany, Nazi symbols were immediately removed following the end of World War II and the display of the swastika and other Nazi symbols is illegal.