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Working group on decolonisation launches in Brussels

20:10 04/11/2020

The Brussels-Capital Region has launched its working group on the decolonisation of public space. The group was put together following a barrage of criticism, petitions and graffiti aimed at statues and busts of Leopold II earlier this year.

King Leopold II is responsible for the colonisation of the Congo in the late 19th century, a situation that would last until the 1960s. The barbaric conditions in the Congo, whose people were forced to produce the rubber that made Belgium rich, have made Leopold’s name synonymous with Colonial exploitation.

In July, Brussels state secretary for heritage, Pascal Smet (one.brussels), called for applications for members of a decolonisation committee, who will consider what should happen to monuments and street names honouring Leopold II as well as other lasting signs of colonialization in Brussels, such as metro stations named after colonialists.

“There are often discussions on whether or not to remove colonial symbols from our public space,” says Smet. “Together with my colleagues in the Brussels government, we want to talk to the people. How should we deal with this colonial period that keeps recurring in our street names, statues or through other references? Do we take it away, contextualise it or do we do something completely different? Do we, for example, place a memorial for decolonisation in Brussels? There are a lot of questions.”

‘A common future’

Smet received 84 applications from people to be on the committee, which were whittled down to 16 members. They include lawyers, historians, journalists and professors, some of them with Congolese roots. The 16 members are:

  • Marie-Sophie de Clippele, a lecturer in law and postdoctoral researcher at Université Saint-Louis in Brussels
  • Sandrine Ekofo, a lawyer with Congolese roots who has often been quoted in the media on the subject
  • Colette Braeckman, editor at Le Soir in charge of coverage of Africa
  • Didier Viviers, ULB philosophy professor
  • Dieudoné Lakama, co-ordinator at Change asbl, which promotes and shares African culture
  • Gia Abrassart, journalist and decolonisation activist
  • Laura Nsengiyumva, artist and researcher at Ghent art school Kask
  • Lucas Catherine, author and expert on colonisation and Islam
  • Maarten Liefooghe, professor in architectural history at Ghent University
  • Margot Luyckfasseel, researcher at the Centre for Anthropological Research at Ghent University
  • Georgine Dibua, co-ordinator of Bakushinta, which promotes the contribution of the Congolese community in Belgium
  • Salomé Ysebaert, African studies postgraduate at Ghent University
  • Sandrine Colard, historian associated with Vesalius College
  • Yasmina Zian, historian
  • Bambi Ceuppens, anthropologist at the Africa Museum
  • Alexandre Chevalier, president of the International Council of Museums Belgium

“I am pleased that all these people want to participate in the working group,” said Smet. “That they want to think together about how we can write a common future for Brussels by acknowledging our colonial past and, above all, recognising the mistakes. There may be things that need to be erased, but they should certainly not be forgotten.”

The working group will ensure that the debate “is conducted in a serene manner among various experts from civil society, science and the diaspora,” said Smet. “Brussels does not have a dominant culture. Many people in Brussels have a common past, but above all we have a common future.”

Written by Lisa Bradshaw

Comments

danbruylandt

And what, for example about the wage slaves?
Sioen makes the Belgian police and army uniforms in... Romania, employing local seamstresses.
They pay them... 260 euros a month, the legal minimum!!!
If that is not slavery, I'll eat my sandals!

Nov 5, 2020 13:11