Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Communists removed all artifacts that pointed back to the czarist regime, including statues of the czars and generals, as well as annihilated a lot of churches. When the Soviet Union broke down in 1991 the same happened – statues of Lenin, Karl Marx, Fr. Engels, etc. disappeared; and churches were restored. Reason? Obviously because as well the czarists as the Communists had been oppressive regimes, and as part of getting rid of them, those symbols had to disappear. Yesterday’s heroes, today’s villains!
King Christian IX in Emancipation Park in Charlotte Amalie. Is his bust a symbol of oppression? Well, if you take the view that any European royalty, governors, military persons, etc. who are portrayed in a painting, a bust, a statue or a memorial in a cemetery represent a repressive regime or time because that was how the new world was originally found and ruled, then you should, of course, remove it. But it should have happened in 1917 when the territory was “liberated” by the USA!
In my opinion, there is much more to consider in order to take such a decision. And you have to make a concrete evaluation in each case. To talk about King Christian IX. He was not an oppressor, he was hardly a ruler, nor was he a warrior king. He was a king (from 1863-1906) in a parliamentary, constitutional democracy – The Kingdom of Denmark. His influence was very limited; he was head of state, but the kingdom was ruled by a government and the parliament. Slavery had been abolished long before he became king. The poor living conditions in the Danish West Indies had nothing to do with him. It was a matter for the local Colonial Councils and the Danish Government.
So, by removing his statue, no symbolic effect will come of it, unless of course, you want to construe a history based on lies. And then you have to invent and maintain a new history and in consequence remove names like Charlotte Amalie, Christian, Frederik, Danish street names, the statue of Governor Limpricht in Christiansted, the Danish cemeteries in the territory, the sugar mills, and even buildings that you can historically connect to the Danish time, not to forget that Dannebrog, the Danish flag, should no more be allowed to fly in the territory.
When that`s done, you have removed a substantial part of your history – for better or worse! And once you have deleted all reminders of a Danish past, it can be concluded that USVI is no longer an interesting place to visit for Danish tourists (the second largest group after U.S. citizens). The territory is difficult to reach; it is very expensive; it is very American, and it is small. And sunshine, bounty beaches and palm trees you can find elsewhere in the world at half the price.
Editor’s note: Michael Keldsen, a Danish resident, is an attorney in Denmark and a member of the Board of the Danish West Indian Society. He is also active in the In Search of Identity project in the territory.