Statues are often meant to honor historical figures. However, times change, and sometimes heroes of the past become the villains of today. Then, statues suddenly become the center of controversy. They can cause division and raise questions about whom we choose to commemorate and why. Here are ten of the most controversial statues that have heated emotions and sparked societal debates.

1. Statue of Cecil Rhodes – Oriel College, Oxford, England

The statue of Cecil Rhodes, a British imperialist and businessman, stands on the facade of Oriel College in Oxford. Rhodes is a polarizing figure due to his role in the colonial history of South Africa and his involvement in establishing apartheid policies. His statue came under fire during the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign, which began at the University of Cape Town and spread to Oxford.

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Critics of the statue point to Rhodes’ racist views and the violent suppression of indigenous populations during his tenure. Supporters of the statue’s preservation argue that it represents a part of history and that removing it amounts to erasing that history.

2. Statue of King Leopold II – Belgium

King Leopold II of Belgium is remembered as the man who ruled the Congo Free State as his personal property, where he was responsible for widespread atrocities and the deaths of millions of Congolese people. In Belgium, several statues of Leopold II are often seen as symbols of colonial oppression and racism.

In recent years, there have been multiple protests where activists have called for the removal of these statues. In some cases, the statues have been damaged or defaced with paint. Proponents of removal argue that it is unacceptable to honor a man who caused so much suffering. Opponents claim that the statues are a part of Belgian history and can serve as a reminder of past mistakes.

3. Statue of Robert E. Lee – Charlottesville, Virginia, USA

The statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate army general during the American Civil War, in Charlottesville, Virginia, became a focal point of national discussion in the United States. Lee is seen by some as a symbol of the defense of slavery and racism. The statue led to fierce protests and counter-protests, culminating in the violent events during the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017, where a counter-protester was killed.

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The call to remove Lee’s statue is part of a broader movement to review or remove monuments associated with the Confederacy. Proponents of removal point to the painful reminder of slavery and oppression that these statues represent. Opponents argue that removing these statues is akin to rewriting history.

4. Statue of Christopher Columbus – Various locations in the USA

Christopher Columbus is often celebrated as the explorer who “discovered” America. However, his legacy is highly controversial due to the atrocities he and his followers committed against indigenous populations. In the United States, there are numerous statues of Columbus, and these have become targets of protests and vandalism in recent years.

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Critics of Columbus’ statues point to the genocide and slavery that followed his expeditions. They advocate for the removal of his statues as a way to show respect for the indigenous peoples he oppressed. Supporters of the statues see Columbus as an important historical figure who played a role in the European colonization of America.

5. Statue of Edward Colston – Bristol, England

Edward Colston was an English merchant and slave trader whose statue in Bristol was long seen as a symbol of philanthropy due to his donations to the city. However, his involvement in the transatlantic slave trade has led to intense criticism and protests. In June 2020, during the global Black Lives Matter protests, Colston’s statue was toppled by demonstrators and thrown into Bristol Harbor.

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This incident brought renewed attention to how historical figures with problematic backgrounds are commemorated. Colston’s statue had been the subject of debate for years, with many Bristol residents calling for its removal due to his role in the slave trade.

6. Statue of Winston Churchill – London, England

The statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, London, honors the British Prime Minister who led the country through World War II. However, Churchill’s legacy is not without controversy. While often praised for his leadership against fascism, he is also criticized for his racist remarks and policies that led to the Bengal famine in 1943, which resulted in millions of deaths.

During the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, the statue was defaced with the words “was a racist”. This incident sparked a broader discussion about the complexity of Churchill’s legacy and how historical figures with problematic aspects of their past should be commemorated. Supporters of the statue emphasize his crucial role in defending democracy during World War II, while critics call for a more nuanced approach to his legacy.

7. Statue of Saddam Hussein – Baghdad, Iraq

The statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square, Baghdad, was a symbol of his dictatorship in Iraq. The statue was toppled on April 9, 2003, during the US invasion of Iraq by American soldiers and cheering Iraqis. The fall of the statue marked the end of Hussein’s regime and became an iconic moment broadcast worldwide.

While the removal of the statue was seen as a liberating moment for many who suffered under his brutal rule, it also led to a period of chaos and violence in Iraq. The incident has since served as a symbol of both the hope for liberation and the complexity and costs of foreign intervention. It raises questions about how we deal with the legacy of dictators and the symbols of their rule.

8. Statues of Francisco Franco – Spain

Francisco Franco was the dictator who ruled Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. His regime was characterized by repression, censorship, and political persecution. After his death, statues and monuments in honor of Franco remained, leading to much controversy and public outrage.

Many Spaniards see these statues as an insult to the victims of Franco’s dictatorship. They are seen as symbols of oppression and the legacy of a brutal regime. The presence of these statues has led to calls for their removal and a re-evaluation of history.

In 2007, Spain passed the Historical Memory Law, which called for the removal of symbols of Franco’s dictatorship. Many of these statues have since been removed, though the debate over how Spain should deal with its past continues.

9. Statue of Juan de Oñate – New Mexico, USA

Juan de Oñate was a Spanish conquistador who played a controversial role in the colonization of the southwestern United States in the 16th century. His statue in New Mexico became a symbol of oppression and cruelty against indigenous people. Oñate is infamous for the Acoma Massacre in 1599, where hundreds of indigenous people were killed, and survivors were mutilated.

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The statue of Oñate in Alcalde, New Mexico, was repeatedly defaced and was removed in 2020 amid national conversations about race and colonialism. The controversy surrounding the statue highlights ongoing tensions over the legacy of colonialism and the treatment of indigenous communities.

10. Statue of Jan Pieterszoon Coen – Hoorn, Netherlands

In the Netherlands, there is also a controversial statue. In Hoorn, Jan Pieterszoon Coen stands on the Rode Plein. It is a tribute to one of the founders of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the governor-general of the Dutch East Indies. Coen is seen by some as a pioneer of Dutch trade and navigation. However, his legacy is heavily laden due to his ruthless conquests and atrocities against the local population in Indonesia, particularly the mass murder of the population of the Banda Islands in 1621.

Jan Pieterszoon Coen
The statue of Coen has been the subject of debate for years. Critics point to his role in colonial oppression and advocate for the statue’s removal or at least an explanation that places his actions in context. Proponents of the statue’s preservation emphasize the importance of acknowledging the full history, including the negative aspects, as a way to learn from the past.

Menno, from the Netherlands, is an expert in unearthing fascinating facts and unraveling knowledge. At Top10HQ, he delves into the depths of various subjects, from science to history, bringing readers well-researched and intriguing insights.

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