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Schaerbeek turns bust of controversial ex-mayor backwards

21:26 06/12/2023

A sculpture of former Schaerbeek mayor Roger Nols displayed in the municipality’s town hall has been turned backwards, signifying a condemnation of Nols’ discrimination against Flemish people and migrants.

The action was taken after years of debate and the creation of a working group co-chaired by mayor Cécile Jodogne (Défi) and alderwoman for gender equality and equal opportunities Sihame Haddioui (Ecolo), Bruzz reports.

The working group, which was also made up of political representatives, experts, citizens and associations under the guidance of the Brussels Studies Institute, made several recommendations last year, one of which was to flip the statue. The city council agreed to the proposal in December 2022.

“Flipping it is an original idea,” said the mayor’s spokesperson, Baptiste Buidun. “The advantage of not removing it is that you can still refer to that period and talk about it.”

Buidun stressed that the values of Nols, who died in 2004, were no longer the same as today's Schaerbeek. By turning the statue to face away from the public, the municipality says it is distancing itself from him.

“This is the beginning of a new history,” Buidun said.

The idea is to invite school students to work on a counter-object that can be placed near the bust and convey the current values of Schaerbeek.

Nols was a mayor in the 1970s and 1980s known for creating separate counters for French-speakers, Dutch-speakers and foreigners, sparking a national controversy.

He also protested migrant suffrage by riding a camel through the city while dressed in a djellaba - typically worn in the Maghreb region of North Africa.

A small ceremony took place when his statue was rotated to face the opposite direction.

“By turning the bust around, the aim is to challenge visitors, who will wonder why this bust is the only one of all the mayors present in this hall that has been turned backwards,” mayor Cécile Jodogne said.

"The idea is to get them to wonder about Roger Nols, who was a controversial figure."

A QR code now links to an unvarnished biography of Nols, who ULB professor Serge Jaumain once described as “a leading opportunist” who rode a populist wave into office through, among other means, media manipulation.

Written by Helen Lyons