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Petitions demand removal of Leopold II statues in wake of US riots
Two petitions to remove statues of King Leopold II are quickly gaining signatures. While one of them covers all monuments dedicated to Belgium’s former king in Brussels-City, the other is focused on one bust in Halle.
The petitions have arrived in the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which has reached a fever pitch in the US over the last nine days following the death of George Floyd. A black man, Floyd died while a white police officer kneeled on his neck for eight minutes during an arrest.
While the death of black people at the hands police officers in the US has led to protests and rioting before, this is the largest and longest activity to date, and the first time that protests have taken place around the world, including in Belgium.
Local politicians, human rights representatives and historians have long debated the appropriateness of statues devoted to Leopold II. King of the Belgians from 1865 to 1909, Leopold launched the colonisation of the Congo in 1885, which would last for 75 years.
‘Remove every statue’
The colonisation led to the death of up to 15 million Congolese, who were subjected to torture, murder and other atrocities in Leopold’s – and then Belgium’s – quest for rubber and other resources. Leopold made Congo his personal property until 1908, when the shocking level of abuse finally prompted the Belgian state to take over the administration of the colony.
“Despite the outright contempt that he had for life and for the Congolese people, Leopold II continues to be honoured in Belgium,” reads the petition, which was posted under the name Reparons l’Histoire. “We are requesting that Brussels-City remove every statue of Leopold II, starting with the one on Place Trône. Brussels is made up of 118 neighbourhoods with 200 nationalities and is the capital of Belgium and of Europe. These images no longer belong in Brussels, nor in Belgium.”
The petition also states that a deadline is set for 30 June 2020, the 60th anniversary of the independence of the Congo, though what might follow should the city not make a statement by then is unclear.
In any case, La Dernière reports that Brussels-City councillor of heritage, Khalid Zian (PS), indicated that the subject will be raised during the next council meeting on 8 June. The petition, launched two days ago, sets a goal of 25,000 signatures and was up to more than 23,500 as this article went to press.
One ‘hanne vande v’, meanwhile, has launched another petition to get a bust of Leopold II removed from the city park in Halle. “Everyone has seen what is happening in America,” she writes on the petition page. “But we could also take steps to create a better Belgium when it comes to racism. In Halle, there is still a statue of Leopold II, which I find shocking considering that he is responsible for the murder of millions of Congolese. We don’t learn anything about this in school, but 50 metres from the school you can find this bust of a murderer.”
The petition was posted three days ago and has collected just over 3,000 of its 5,000 signature goal. Both petitions refer to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Photo: The statue of King Leopold II in Place Troon