Calls for removal of statues of Leopold II

Summary

In the wake of questions surrounding statues honouring Confederate generals in the US, many in Belgium are suggesting that similar monuments to colonising king Leopold II be taken down

‘Mass murderer’

Statues of the “mass murderer” King Leopold II should be removed from public view in Belgium, according to Tracy Bibo-Tansia, a parliamentary assistant for CD&V as well as a vice-chair of the Vrouwenraad (Women’s Council).

Her call comes in the walk of recent controversy in the US over the presence of statues commemorating figures from the Confederacy in the Civil War. “It’s high time,” Bibo-Tansia told Bruzz. “I live in Elsene, and if I’m sitting on the 95 bus going past Troon, it’s disturbing to see the statue of a mounted Leopold II. As a Belgian of Congolese origins, I want to feel at home here, and that’s not easy when you see statues of the oppressor of your ancestors.”

Leopold II, the second king of Belgium, claimed the Congo Free State as his own personal property in the late 19th century. His iron-fisted regime is held responsible for the deaths of millions of Africans, as well as mutilations, torture and rape.

In 1908, he relinquished control to the Belgian state, and the Belgian Congo remained in force until independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1960.

Bibo-Tansia’s call is not the first. Aside from the statues across the country occasionally being doused with red paint to symbolise bloodshed, community action groups have long complained of statues featuring the former king as well as squares – and a whole city in Limburg – named after him.

At the end of last year city authorities in Ghent decided to add a panel to a bust of Leopold II in Zuidpark expressing “regret” for the many victims of the Free State. Earlier this year a similar panel was added to a colonial monument in Geraardsbergen.

But Bibo-Tansia insists that this is not enough. “There is no place for statues of Leopold II in the streetscape,” she said. “And the same goes for places that carry his name, such as the Leopold II tunnel. Every Belgian, whatever their origins, ought to ask themselves whether they want to see statues to a criminal in their city.”

In addition, she said, the city should add explanatory panels to all parks and public buildings financed during the period 1885 to 1908 with income directly derived from the vast natural resources obtained in the Congo Free State.

Photo: The statue of Leopold II at Troon in Brussels
©EmDee/Wikimedia