It seems unconscionable that an historic figure such as Leopold II of Belgium retains the veneration afforded to heroes by monuments throughout his native country. This monarch murdered more people in the Congo than Adolf Hitler did during the Holocaust, yet his statues retain prominent visibility across the nation, and especially in the capital Brussels, home of the European Parliament.
In the wake of the growing controversy in the United States over statues to Confederate soldiers such as General Robert E. Lee, which led to the shameful standoff between pro-democracy protesters and murderous neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, it is not surprising that voices are rising throughout Belgium for the removal of King Leopold II’s statues.
The brutality of the regime he inflicted on the Congolese people is sickening to reflect upon, even a century later. It was a genocide against African people, motivated by greed and the theft of precious Congolese resources. The sheer force of brutality inflicted on women and children, as well as men, was a crime against humanity.
A Belgian parlimentary assistant and vice-chair of the Vrouwenraad (Women’s Council), Tracy Bibo-Tansia, called last year for the removal of statues of the “mass murderer” King from public view.
“I live in Elsene,” Bibo-Tansia commented, “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.”
It seems unfair that such calls should be confined to objectors such as Tracy. Surely it is time that the entire European parliament protested the continued honouring of Africa’s Hitler.
As Irish people, we are rightfully very proud of the exposure of Leopold’s cruelty and genocide by Roger Casement. Perhaps, in Casement’s honoured memory, our MEP’s should be the first to raise their voices in support of Tracy Bibo-Tansia in demanding the removal of such statues, or call for the removal of the parliament from Brussels. The two are not compatible.
Below is a very disturbing short BBC documentary that offers just a glimpse into the hell on earth Leopold created in the Congo. While his statues remain on public display in Brussels and Belgium, we are all shamed as Europeans.
You may read more of Tracy’s comments in Flanders Today by clicking here.