Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center conducted a study on public symbols of the Confederacy. The center found more than 700 Confederate monuments on public land in the U.S. — with nearly 300 in Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina alone.
Around the country, a fresh push is on to remove Confederate statues, the great majority of which were erected well after the Civil War.
A protest linked to the proposed removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Va., became a scene of violence, and officials elsewhere are moving swiftly to remove statues, hoping to keep their own towns and universities from becoming similarly embroiled. Monuments in cities including Baltimore, Annapolis, Austin, Durham and New Orleans have already been taken down.
Though the controversy surrounding Confederate monuments is uniquely American, the U.S. is not alone in reckoning with public symbols of the past.
Taiwan has its own figure who lost a civil war, and whose cause retains support: Chiang Kai-shek, the then-president of the Republic of China who fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing to the Communist army.
“Statues of Chiang were erected all over Taiwan in an effort to cultivate allegiance to his government and a sense of national identity among the local population,” explains The New York Times. But as Taiwan transitioned to democracy, many wanted the monuments to come down.
“We don’t want to be part of China, and Chiang Kai-shek represents the idea that China possesses Taiwan,” historian Chen Yi-shen told the newspaper.
So what to do with the statues? Taiwan opted to move more than 200 of them to a park in the northern part of the island, near Chiang’s mausoleum.
But thousands more remain elsewhere on the island. Proposals to move the rest of them to the park have met resistance.
In April, a statue of Chiang in Taipai was found decapitated and splashed with red paint.
Ukraine’s Institute of National Remembrance says it has removed every one of the 1,320 statues of Lenin in the country, The Times of London reports, and destroyed another 1,069 Soviet-era monuments.
“The removal of the statues is part of a ban on Soviet-era symbols that was signed into law by President Poroshenko in May 2015,” the newspaper explains. “As well as the removal of statues and monuments, the law orders the renaming of thousands of streets, squares, towns and cities. However, the law cannot be enforced in those parts of eastern Ukraine under the control of Kremlin-backed rebels.”
Most of the statues remained in place after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but they’ve since been toppled in waves.
Some came down during the 2004 Orange Revolution, others in late 2013 during demonstrations against Ukraine’s president, and the rest since the new law went into effect.
“Most places have been renamed after Ukrainian heroes, but in the western region of Zakarpattia the authorities paid homage to the Beatles — changing Lenin Street to Lennon Street,” the Times reports.
A statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes became the subject of student protests at the University of Cape Town in 2015.
“Rhodes bequeathed the land on which the university was built, but he also slaughtered Africans by the thousands in colonial conquest and helped lay the foundations of apartheid in South Africa,” reported NPR’s Don Boroughs.
One of the leaders of the Rhodes Must Fall movement, Kgotsi Chikane, told NPR the statue needed to come down “not just because it makes people feel uncomfortable, but because it’s the biggest symbol of the institutionalization of racism. That’s why we wouldn’t want to pull it down ourselves. We want the university to acknowledge this.”
After a month of demonstrations, the mainly white university council voted to take down the statue – a move Agence France Presse reports was welcomed by the government. “It marks a significant … shift where the country deals with its ugly past in a positive and constructive way,” a spokesman for the arts and culture ministry told the wire service.
Inspired by the students in Cape Town, a similar debate unfolded over a statue of Rhodes at Oxford University in England. But the college — home to Rhodes’ namesake scholarship — decided to keep its monument in place.
“What’s positive about this whole Rhodes Must Fall movement is that it’s drawing attention to our history,” Oxford vice chancellor Louise Richardson told the Financial Times. “We need to confront our history. We can’t pretend it didn’t happen, and I think if this encourages students to go to the Bodleian and look at the archives of the Rhodes period, there are some fabulous archives there both about colonialism and about the contemporary anti-Rhodes movement when he was alive.”
The Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Well, most of it.
Berlin has preserved a section of the wall, creating what it says is “the longest-open air gallery in the world.”
Just after the wall fell, artists from 21 countries began painting on it, according to Berlin’s official tourism site: “In more than a hundred paintings on what was the east side of the wall, the artists commented on the political changes in 1989/90. Some of the works at the East Side Gallery are particularly popular, such as Dmitri Vrubel’s Fraternal Kiss and Birgit Kinders’ Trabant breaking through the wall.”
A new exhibit by German-American artist Stefan Roloff opened on the wall this month, with photos of soldiers who patrolled the wall and the stories of those who lived behind it.
Elsewhere in Berlin, Adolf Hitler’s underground bunker is marked only by a small sign outside a parking lot. “One reason for not preserving Hitler’s bunker was that it was feared that the site might become a place of pilgrimage for neo-Nazis; a place of violence and shameless celebration of a history that should be shameful,” NPR’s Maggie Penman reports.