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VUB awards honorary doctorates, including to Ganshoren mayor Pierre Kompany

16:47 17/11/2021

In a ceremony this evening, the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) is finally awarding the five honorary doctorates it announced two years ago. The event was postponed from 2020 because of the coronavirus crisis.

The doctorates are being awarded to five international professionals whose work has in one way or another connected people – across a city or country, or across the world. The recipients are from diverse sectors: an American producer, a South African artist, a Brussels politician and two immunology scientists.

“But they have one thing in common,” says VUB rector Caroline Pauwels. “They create connections. That’s what the world needs right now – people who reach out their hands to others. Who do not look for differences but for what we have in common. People who want to listen to each other.”

One of those people is Pierre Kompany (pictured above), the mayor of Ganshoren in Brussels. In 2018, he became the first black person to be elected mayor of a municipality in Belgium.

See the person, not the party

It has been an impressive trajectory for Kompany (ProGanshoren), who entered Belgium from Congo 45 years ago as an asylum-seeker. As a student, he had spent more than a year in a military prison for helping organise a memorial march for the students murdered by the Mobutu regime two years earlier.

Kompany finished his engineering degree in Belgium and went on to marry and have three children – one of whom is famed footballer Vincent Kompany. The elder Kompany had also played with a pro club back in Lubumbashi before coming to Belgium.

He entered politics in 2006 as a city councillor for PS in Ganshoren. In 2012, he joined others to create ProGanshoren, made up of former socialists and Christian-Democrats, among others. Kompany “is proof that Belgium is gradually leaving its colonial past behind,” says VUB in a statement. “He has never denied his origins while at the same time speaking with great respect about his new homeland.

“I cannot deny that this is a major recognition,” Kompany, 74, told Bruzz this week about his honorary doctorate. “Especially because it comes from a university. That shows real respect.”

He also mentioned on a Flemish talk show that the honour was coming from a Dutch-speaking university. “I am French-speaking, but the Dutch speakers have seen very well who I am and what I do.”

Kompany has always maintained that politicians should work to unite communities. “Politics should never be something that divides society,” he told Bruzz. “It allows us to share ideas, and those ideas don’t need to appeal to everyone, but that shouldn’t work against solidarity. I am someone who brings people together, even if you are from another political party, that doesn’t matter. I see the person who I see standing before me.”

Dr Thierry BoonDr Thierry Boon is an internationally recognised authority in cancer research and has won numerous awards, including ‘Belgium’s Nobel’ the Francqui Prize  ©Hatim Kaghat/BELGA

The other four who are being awarded an honorary doctorate this evening are: Anne Druyan, a specialist in science communication who writes, produces and directs astronomy-related programmes, including Cosmos: Possible Worlds; William Kentridge, a filmmaker and artist who has been an outspoken opponent of apartheid in his homeland; Antoni Ribas, a Spanish-American specialist in immunotherapy,  particularly in the treatment of skin cancer; and Belgian Thierry Boon (pictured above), also an immunologist and head of the Duve Institute in Brussels, a multidisciplinary biomedical research centre associated with Louvain University.

VUB’s ceremony this evening is also paying tribute to two more notable Belgians – Simon Grownowski, who as a child in the 1940s famously escaped a train taking him to Auschwitz, and Koenraad Tinel, a sculpture and illustrator who grew up in a family with Nazi sympathies. The two are fast friends today, which, says the VUB, “is a powerful symbol of hope, happiness and peace”.

Photo top ©Belga


Written by Lisa Bradshaw