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Heritage secretary calls for debate on Brussels’ Leopold II statues
The statue of Leopold II in Place Trône in Brussels (pictured) has once again been defaced, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protest on Sunday and demands to remove public statues of the colonial king.
There was already graffiti on the statue from Sunday’s protest, but now a great deal more has appeared, with colourful terminology such as “Fuck racism”, “Murderer” and “No justice, no freedom”. The king’s hand was also painted red, a fairly regular occurrence on statues of the man, meant to represent both the blood of the millions of Congolese who died under his reign and hands of Congolese slaves that were cut off when they failed to meet their rubber harvest quota.
Last week two petitions were launched demanding that Brussels-City and Halle remove their respective statues and busts depicting Leopold II. The Brussels petition currently has more than 71,000 signatures.
The former Belgian king is notorious in colonial history for his enslavement of millions of Congolese and ensuing cruel atrocities. It is estimated that up to 15 million Congolese people died or were murdered in the 23 years that Congo was Leopold’s personal property (1885-1908).
Besides this statue in Place Trône, there are three more busts dedicated to Leopold II and of course the Leopold II tunnel. Brussels state secretary for heritage and urban planning, Pascal Smet, has now announced that he is asking his government to organise a debate on the removal of the sculptures.
The debate would be carried out among politicians, the Congolese community and historians. If there is a consensus that the statues should be removed, Smet is prepared to issue the order to do so. He also said that he would like to see a memorial to the Congolese colonisation in Brussels.
In the meantime, Belgium saw the first removals of statues of Leopold II on Tuesday, in Antwerp and in Mons. The statue in the Ekeren district of Antwerp (pictured above) had been set on fire and was damaged to the point of being a danger to the public.
The statue was removed from its pedestal and transferred to the Middelheim Museum, an open-air sculpture park in Antwerp. Experts will assess if it can be cleaned and restored, according to Koen Palinckx (N-VA), the mayor of the Ekeren district.
“We are planning a renovation of this square, in any case,” Palinckx told VRT. “We’ll have to assess whether that statue, or another one entirely, should be placed on this spot.” He also said that if the statue can be restored it could perhaps be better placed at the Middelheim.
In Mons, a bust of Leopold II has been removed from the city’s university – not because it was damaged but because university authorities made the decision to do so. The bust stood in the department of Economy and Management.
In a statement the university said that it had been moved “to a less visible location” 20 years ago. “On Monday, UMons made the decision to remove the bust entirely and place it in storage so that no one – students, staff nor visitors – will be offended by its presence.”
Photos, from top: ©Thierry Roge/BELGA; ©Jonas Roosens/BELGA