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Canada Belgian colonial past: King Philippe expresses his "deep regrets" to the Congolese

12:15  30 june  2020
12:15  30 june  2020 Source:   pressfrom.com

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The King of the Belgians presented on Tuesday "his deepest regret for the injuries "inflicted during the Belgian colonial period in Congo - the current Democratic Republic of Congo -, a historic first in the wake of the wave of global emotion after the death of George Floyd in the United States.

King Philippe, who has reigned since 2013, has chosen to send a letter to the president of the DRC Félix Tshisekedi on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the independence of the Congo on June 30, 1960.

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In this letter communicated to the press , he evokes - without naming his ancestor - the time of Leopold II, which has been deemed the most brutal by historians, when the late king managed the Congo and its riches as his private domain from Brussels.

Des policiers protègent une statue équestre de Leopold II, à Bruxelles le 2 mars 2020 © VIRGINIE LEFOUR Police officers protect an equestrian statue of Leopold II, in Brussels on March 2, 2020

"At the time of the independent state of Congo (from 1885 to 1908 when the ex-king ceded the territory to the Belgium, editor's note) acts of violence and cruelty have been committed, which still weigh on our collective memory ", writes Philippe.

"The colonial period which followed (until 1960) also caused suffering and humiliation. I would like to express my deepest regrets for these wounds of the past, the pain of which is today revived by the discriminations still too present in our societies, "he continues.

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Un soldat congolais salue le roi Beaudoin de Belgique à son arrivée le 18 décembre 1959 à Kisangani, alors Stanleyville © - A Congolese soldier greets King Beaudoin of Belgium on his arrival on December 18, 1959 in Kisangani, then Stanleyville

The daily Le Soir welcomed the royal initiative in an editorial: "Finally this gesture if necessary, which is growing the King and his country ".

King Philippe ensures that he will continue to "fight all forms of racism", while the mobilization in the name of the "Black Lives Matter" movement has led to demonstrations around the world.

"I encourage the reflection that is initiated by our parliament so that our memory is definitively pacified", he adds, with reference to a parliamentary commission charged with examining the colonial memory with Belgian and African experts who should see the day following an agreement between political groups.

In 2000-2001, a parliamentary commission of inquiry had examined the context of the assassination in January 1961 of Patrice Lumumba, short-lived Prime Minister of the Congo. It concluded that "certain Belgian ministers and other actors" had "moral responsibility".

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- Hands Cut -

The death of the African-American George Floyd, asphyxiated at the end of May by a white police officer in Minneapolis in the United States, has revived in Belgium the debate on the violence of the colonial period in the Congo and on the personality very controversial of Léopold II who reigned from 1865 to 1909.

Many statues representing the former sovereign with the long beard were vandalized, in Brussels and Antwerp in particular, most often covered with red paint symbolizing the blood shed by the Congolese.

Some universities and municipalities have also decided to remove statues or busts, as should still be the case on Tuesday in a public park in Ghent.

In a petition which collected more than 80,000 signatures, the collective of anti-colonial activists "Let's Repair History" demanded that "all the statues" in tribute to Leopold II be removed in Brussels, including the most famous equestrian statue erected opposite at the royal palace.

The text of this petition, one of the triggers for the mobilization now relayed by Belgian elected officials, accuses Léopold II of having been "an executioner" and of "killing more than 10 million Congolese".

Through concession companies, Leopold II used forced labor to extract rubber in particular in the Congo. Abuses - to the point of cutting hands for underproductive workers - have been documented.

According to most historians, the violence did not stop after 1908, and a regime of strict separation of blacks and whites, comparable to apartheid in South Africa, was maintained for decades.

"We have highlighted the famous + benefits of civilization + brought by the Belgians, but between roads, hospitals, schools, we know that everything that was built was essentially aimed at serving this system of extraction and producing wealth for the settlers, "Romain Landmeters, a researcher at Saint Louis University in Brussels, told AFP.

clp-mad / fmi / jhd

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