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Colonial past: Petition to rename Pétillon metro station

14:51 12/11/2023

Brussels residents have launched a petition on to change the name of Pétillon metro station in Etterbeek commune.

This demand has been made as the metro is currently named after Major Arthur Pétillon (1855-1909), a key player in King Leopold II’s colonisation of the Congo, “a tragic period that led to millions of deaths and cases of abuse against the Congolese people,” the petition said.

Pétillon, an artillery officer, returned to Belgium in 1894 and received several honours for his activities in the Congo. He later became a municipal councillor in Etterbeek.

The petition, which so far has more than 300 signatures, calls to decolonise Brussels’ public space and “to reassess some of the tributes that have been paid in the past,” for example, to Major Pétillon.

It proposes to rename the station after Lucie Spède, “an Etterbeek poet whose work remains relatively unknown. Her poetry was sincere, strong and inclusive, and she adapted her work to make it accessible to children with handicaps”.

“By renaming the station in her honour, we are recognising her values of inclusion and empathy,” the petition states about the writer who died in 2010.

“It is time for our public spaces to reflect the positive evolution of our society towards more equality and less exclusion,” the petition’s authors said, calling on the relevant Brussels and Etterbeek authorities, as well as Brussels public transport company the Stib and Brussels mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt, to implement the name change.

The Stib is responsible for naming stops above the ground, but the Brussels regional government decides about metro stations. In practice, this means that the Brussels government will have to choose a name for both the metro station and the above-ground tram stop, also called Pétillon.

A spokesperson for Elke Van den Brandt’s cabinet said the minister was aiming to meet the petition’s instigators and that the proposal to rename Pétillon metro station would certainly “fulfil our aim to add more female names to public spaces”.

For his part, Etterbeek mayor Vincent De Wolf, from the centre-right MR party, told Brussels information channel BX1: "The fact that someone is asking for a name change is legitimate, but the surrounding neighbourhood must be respected."

Turning to the colonial dimension, he added: “Etterbeek has not remained idle: we created a committee made up of municipal representatives and citizens, chaired by an opposition councillor of Congolese origin, Gisèle Mandaila (DeFI).

“This committee has met many times and has produced a qualitative report, approved by the council and the municipal college [of councillors]. The committee expressed the opinion that Etterbeek should carry out ‘contextualisation work’ [concerning Pétillon’s role in the Congo].”

In conclusion, the mayor said: “It is clear that I cannot support a name change, choosing between chalk and cheese, with no reflection, when work has been carried out on this subject, via this committee.”

Photo: Dereckson/Wikimedia. Licensed under Creative Commons

Written by Liz Newmark