Protests damage statue of Belgian king outside museum

Published August 4, 2020
BRUSSELS: A bust of former Belgian king Leopold II, covered in red paint with “BLM” spray-painted on its base, sits in the Africa Museum’s park. The statue, which had already been painted in June, is regularly defaced.—AFP
BRUSSELS: A bust of former Belgian king Leopold II, covered in red paint with “BLM” spray-painted on its base, sits in the Africa Museum’s park. The statue, which had already been painted in June, is regularly defaced.—AFP

BRUSSELS: A bust of late Belgian king Leopold II, who exploited the country’s brutally-run former central African colony as a personal estate, has been vandalised for a third time.

Ruling the Belgians between 1865 and 1909, Leopold II was revered at home as the builder of his country, but his legacy came under the spotlight this year as anti-racist protests spread around the world.

During his reign, the land that was then the Belgian Congo and is now largely in the Democratic Republic of Congo was run for his profit and millions of Africans were killed, tortured or died of the hardship of forced labour.

When “Black Lives Matters” protests erupted this year triggered by anger in the United States at the latest police killings of unarmed black suspects, Leopold’s many monuments were targeted.

The latest incident is thought to have taken place late Friday, when a statue of Leopold outside the Africa Museum just outside Brussels was once again daubed in blood-red paint.

The plinth under the late king’s head is now emblazoned “BLM II”, a reference to Black Lives Matter.

Museum director Guido Gryseels said on Monday that the museum — a former colonialist institution which reopened after a renovation in 2018 with a mission to put Belgium’s history in Africa in proper context — had already been planning to add an explanatory plaque to the statue.

But he said the entire future of the statue was now up for debate and that “a lot of people would like to see it taken down”.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2020

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