The King of Belgium has sent his “deepest condolences” to the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the “suffering and humiliation” of his nation as it colonized the region – but stopped apologizing to his predecessors. Leopold IIatrocities.
On the 60th anniversary of DRC independence, King Philippe of Belgium wrote a letter to President Flix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo in which he acknowledged that “to further strengthen our ties and develop an even more fruitful friendship, we must be able to talk about very long common history in all truth and serenity. “
Gratitude is a distant moment in Belgium’s post-colonial history and a rare acknowledgment of imperialist sins by the royal family – even if Philippe did not go so far as to formally apologize.
“Our history has been made with common achievements, but it has also experienced painful episodes. During the Congolese Free State, acts of violence and cruelty were committed, which still weigh on our collective memory, ”the King wrote.
Philippe is a distant nephew of Leopold II, who owned what was then called the Free State of Congo between 1885 and 1908 and ruled its people brutally, exploiting their work and committing atrocities against them. Historians estimate that under Leopold’s error, 10 million people died.
“The ensuing colonial period also caused suffering and humiliation,” the letter adds, referring to the subsequent 52-year rule from the Belgian state to the independence of the Congo and the formation of the DRC.
“I would like to express my deepest regret for these wounds of the past, the pain of which is now being rekindled by the discrimination still very much present in our societies,” he added.
“It was not announced (before), so it was surprising that it was today. But I think it’s a very good sign,” said Els Van Hoof, a Belgian lawmaker heading the committee’s representative committee. external, told CNN the monarch’s letter. “It’s the beginning of a process – and it’s a process in parliament, but also in society.”
The letter also marks a significant victory for anti-racism protesters, who have demanded that Belgium address its colonial past and remove public monuments to Leopold II.
An impossible leader of demonstrations is a 14-year-old named Noah, whose petition to demolish the monuments of Brussels has been signed tens of thousands of times. He told CNN on Tuesday that the letter was “a good first step.”
“I want concrete acts,” he added, calling for a broader education of Belgium’s colonial past. “There are still people who don’t know this story … there are a lot of people who want to deny or don’t understand what happened. It’s a lot to find the truth. It’s never too late. It may have happened 60 years ago. but if it happens now it’s fine. “
A reassessment of Belgium’s colonial heritage has occurred following Lives Matter’s global protests, with some statues depicting the former leader being torn down in the country. Earlier this month, the Belgian parliament approved an investigation into its colonial history, led by lawmaker Van Hoof.
“I welcome the process of reflection that our parliament has begun, in order to finally achieve peace with our memories,” the King wrote. But he did not take the opportunity to apologize to the DRC for the actions taken by Leopold II or the Belgian governments until 1960.
“Is it only the King who should apologize or should he go further than that? I think he should go further than that,” Van Hoof told CNN on Tuesday. “That’s the committee’s job – in the end, we we will see who should apologize. “
The legislature did not commit to recommending that all Leopold II statues be demolished, as many activists demanded. “You have to contextualize and explain, and make it part of a process,” she said.
But Van Hoof said the voices of Black Life activists will be heard when the investigation public areas towards the end of the year. She added that Philippe’s statement was “a good first step so that we can finally deal with our past, because it has not happened before.”
The DRC was finally created on June 30, 1960, a date marked by a historic speech by independence leader Patrice Lumumba in which he described eight decades of subjugation that were “filled with tears, fire and blood.”
A statue of Leopold II in Antwerp was removed after Black Lives Mat protests erupted around the globe earlier this month. while another in front of the Royal Palace of Brussels is constantly covered in anti-racist inscriptions.
“We want an apology, a truth. Not one that requires us to read between the lines,” Joelle Sambi Nzeba, a Belgian activist Lives Matter, told CNN on Tuesday.
Sambi Nzeba said all such statues should be demolished and replaced with monuments recognizing Congolese people who were killed. “We want to discuss who benefits from colonization,” she added.
Without an immediate visa offer, very few Congolese people came to Belgium until late – so as the country became home to people from a number of European nations, colonial feelings about African cultures have never been completely shaken in the country.
This prevailing attitude has led to a number of high-profile black-incident incidents in the country, including by leading politicians, and a general lack of education about Belgium’s imperialist past. Last year, a group of UN human rights experts visited several cities in Belgium and found “clear evidence that racial discrimination is endemic to institutions in Belgium”.
But Berry College historian Matthew Stanard, who specializes in colonial memory in Belgium, told CNN that a direct acknowledgment of past deeds by the royal family is a new release.
“There is a whole generation of young people in Belgium who have nothing to do with colonialism and who are willing to question the colonial past,” Stanard said. “The images of (Leopold II) are deeply polarized – the number of people who have spoken out against him has definitely increased.”
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the pronunciation of Joelle Sambi Nzeba’s name.
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