Amid ongoing anti-racism protests in the US, two petitions have been launched in Belgium demanding the removal of statues depicting King Leopold II. Estimates suggest the late monarch’s brutal Congo rule left some 10 million dead.
The petitions, launched several days ago, have already attracted nearly 40,000 backers. The campaigns demand the removal of all statues of King Leopold II, who ruled the country between 1865 and 1909.
While for Belgium itself he was a constitutional monarch, Leopold was also a brutal oppressor of Africans. The king was the founder – and sole owner – of the so-called ‘Congo Free State’, a colonial entity that existed in Central Africa in the late 1800s.
The ‘state’ produced rubber and ivory, making a fortune for the king, while his brutal rule took a heavy toll on the locals. According to modern estimates, some 10 million people died at hands of Leopold’s colonial troops, due to rampant diseases and various abuses.
Given this background, the petitions argue, monuments honoring the king have no place in Belgium – especially in Brussels, which sees itself as the capital of the united multicultural Europe. One petition requested that the statues be completely removed from the country by the end of June.
The campaign against the Leopold monuments is apparently not just limited to gathering signatures online. In the city of Ghent, a bust of Leopold II was doused in red paint, with a bag reading “I can’t breathe” placed on its head. Another statue of the king was set on fire near the city of Antwerp.
The bust of King Leopold II of Belgium, who orchestrated the colonial genocide of 10 million Congolese people, has been defaced by protesters in Ghent, Belgium.The movement against racism and injustice is truly global! pic.twitter.com/MZLlX7eeFZ
— Facts About Africa (@OnlyAfricaFacts) June 3, 2020
The US protests against racism and police brutality, sparked by the death of black man George Floyd at hands of Minneapolis police, have been going on for over a week already, spreading to all of the nation’s states. In many locations, the protests turned into full-blown riots, with rampant arson, looting and violence.
The unrest in the US has triggered solidarity protests in Europe, with thousands taking to the streets to defy racism and condemn local problems with policing. In certain countries – the UK and France, for instance – some of the rallies have also turned violent.
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