Brussels statue of colonial king could be melted down and turned into memorial for Congo victims, report says

A bronze statue of Belgian colonial King Leopold II in central Brussels could be melted down and turned into a monument to the millions who died during his rule of the Belgian Congo in the 19th century, a group of experts has recommended.

The group, made up of historians, architects and other scholars, also proposed creating an outdoor statue park in which the equestrian figure could be displayed in historical context alongside other controversial memorials.

The Brussels regional government commissioned the group to write a report on the “decolonization” of public spaces in the Belgian capital after a backlash against monuments to its colonial past during the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.

Protesters targeted the statue of Leopold II, known for his brutal treatment of his colonial subjects.

The notorious monarch ruled what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo as his personal fiefdom for decades in the late 19th century. Experts say his brutal rule left as many as 10 million dead.

The Belgian state took possession of the huge territory of Central Africa in 1908 and retained power until the DRC became an independent nation in 1960.

Brussels is full of commemorative monuments of the Belgian empire built during the reign of Leopold. Along with a slew of statues, there are dozens of streets, squares, and transit stops named after colonial figures.

The report says the capital’s public space has been shaped by a “one-sided, propagandist perspective” since the empire.

He does not recommend demolishing all the statues but suggests a case-by-case approach that consults locals before making a decision. Some could be renamed or put into context with information plaques.

Streets and public spaces with colonial names should all be renamed, the report says, warning against public consultation due to the controversial outcome of a recent referendum on the name of a Brussels tunnel.

The public voted to have the Leopold II tunnel renamed in honor of Annie Cordy, a recently deceased singer whose songs were littered with colonial stereotypes.

Pascal Smet, minister responsible for urban planning for the Brussels region, said the report offered a nuanced approach to addressing colonial monuments. “The easiest thing would be to get rid of all the statues, but they didn’t choose that,” he said.

“Of course, we all know that for the individuals who live in our city today, no one is responsible for colonization, so there is no question of guilt, but it is a question of collective responsibility. “, did he declare.

“I think that’s very important, especially in the times we’re living in now…not to be stuck in the story, but to understand the story.”

The report indicates that the “decolonisation” of public space could trigger a wider consideration of the position of the descendants of the former colonies in modern Belgium.

He said: “This requires an ongoing social, political and cultural process which should not be limited to Belgium’s colonial past, but should also include other areas such as health, housing, education and use.”

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