Henry Samuel: French Politicians To Shun Austerlitz Bicentenary

Roundup: Talking About History

The bicentenary of the battle of Austerlitz, Napoleon's greatest victory, is to be shunned by France's two leading politicians.

Their absence comes amid an escalating row over whether to fete the emperor as a great leader or denounce him as a dictator.

Neither President Jacques Chirac nor his prime minister, Dominique de Villepin - an ardent admirer of Napoleon - will take part in the official ceremonies to mark the French army's defeat of Austrian and Russian forces on Dec 2, 1805.

Historians classify the battle of Austerlitz, now a town called Slavkov in the Czech Republic, as a military masterpiece, in which the 71,000 men of Napoleon's Grande Armée routed their 91,000 adversaries in just six hours, killing 19,000. The victory ended a coalition between Austria and Russia.

Low-key celebrations will take place on Friday in the Place Vendôme in central Paris and at the site of the battle, in the presence of the defence minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie.

However, Mr Chirac will be in Mali for a Franco-African summit, while Mr de Villepin "never planned to add the ceremony to his agenda'', according to a spokesman.

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