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Brussels considers melting down statue of King Leopold II
Melting down a statue of King Leopold II, who oversaw Belgium’s infamously bloody rule of the Congo, is one proposal by a panel of experts tasked by the Brussels government with determining what to do about the country’s various symbols of colonialism.
The statue, located in Place du Trône, could be repurposed to create a memorial commemorating the victims of Belgium’s brutal occupation, RTL reports.
“This monument is one of the most contested,” said Georgine Dibua Mbombo, who is a member of the Brussels Commission for the Decolonisation of Urban Space, in addition to working for the nonprofit Bakushinta.
“When it comes to cast iron, I understand that there is reluctance, but in Flanders, monuments have been removed.”
While calls to remove such statues are not new and indeed Belgium has already taken steps to dilute King Leopold II’s presence in the public sphere by renaming key infrastructure, others are opposed to the idea of melting down the Brussels statue.
“The people who want to melt down the statue of Leopold II made by Thomas Vinçotte are activists before being experts or historians. History cannot be erased - it must be conceptualised, it must be explained, it must be taught,” said Alexia Bertrand, leader of the MR group in the Brussels-Capital Region parliament.
“Here, these are relics of the past. They are in the realm of history and heritage, not glorification. The question is always: how far do we go? Should we throw away the paintings of a whole series of artists? What do we do with Charlemagne, who massacred the Saxons?”
Bertrand said that melting down the statue isn’t the answer, arguing that it’d be better to contextualise the statues by adding scannable QR codes nearby to direct visitors to more information about Belgium’s colonial past.
Thomas Dermine, Federal Secretary of State for Recovery and Strategic Investments, agreed that melting the statue wasn’t the best course of action.
“Melting down a statue is putting your head in the sand,” Dermine said.
“It is denying that this past existed and it is missing an opportunity to recontextualise it for younger people, and to explain the mistakes of the past to prevent them from happening again.”
He said the statue of Leopold II should be left in place with an explanation, as Bertrand suggested.
Belgium attempts to atone for Congo atrocities
The conversation over the statue is happening, in part, as a result of a recent, broader introspection that the country has been engaging in concerning its colonial past.
This report is to serve as a starting point for the committee’s work, which has so far included non-binding suggestions for government action ranging from reparations to descendants of Congolese people who lived under King Leopold II’s brutal rule, to a formal apology from the Belgian state for the atrocities committed in the Congo.
The conclusions and recommendations of that report will be debated and voted on by 22 July 2022, a deadline which reflects an extension made earlier this year.