The town Council of Mons put a plate in honor of assassinated Patrice Lumumba
The echoes of Charlottesville resonate in Belgium by opening with violence and pages of a story relegated to dusty shelves. The unrest surrounding removal of statue of confederate general Robert E. Lee in this town in united states have given a new impetus to debate on treatment that Belgium provides to its controversial colonial past. 57 years after independence of Congo, central european country avoids revisiting critically one of darkest times of his biography as a nation, but public devotion to standards of colonization has returned in recent weeks to political agenda.
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The city Hall of Mons (95.000 inhabitants), a town near French border, approved in night of this Tuesday, by unanimity, installation of a plaque at entrance of your building in tribute to leader-colonial congolese Patrice Lumumba, assassinated in 1961 at age of 35 with help of agents from belgium. The act, though born of a local authority and not by belgian Government, has historical value, being first time that hero of independence congolese is recognized in Belgium officially.
The activist, who came into office as prime minister upon independence, but was overthrown and executed a few months, remained relegated to ostracism. There is a street in French city of Montpellier, statues in Germany, and his memory appears recurrently throughout Africa, but in country with which he tried to break chains your trail is almost non-existent beyond a library in main district of african presence in Brussels and very near re, in fictional Future square Patrice Lumumba, named in Google maps by his followers after authorities refused to give his name in 2013 but non-existent on street real.
The initiative of placing plaque at Mons came from liberal reform Movement, same party that flatly refused to put his name to square. Plan to situate it next to each or in remembrance of settlers from belgium, bears inscription "To our pioneers", a regular recipient of floral offerings. The measure has been applauded by organizations that have spent years fighting to give prominence to icons of independence in congo: a small concentration to support label were deployed in front of town Hall and some of its members witnessed n full.
Image shared by City of Mons on recognition of Lumumba.
But centre of debate does not only revolve around honoring personalities up to now absent from story to public about colonization. Also reframes glorification of politicians and military personnel responsible for episodes bloodthirsty. A party ecologist of Anderlecht has proposed a name change for plaza of Veterans in colonial and launch a public vote for its new name. In addition, impressive Africa Museum of Tervuren, closed for renovations until mid-2018, and criticized for his benevolence with excesses of colonial era, has received consultation of local politicians wondering what to do with statues that exalt stage before continuous acts of vandalism that suffer.
The figure of king Leopold II appears as that which arouses greater suspicions. The attacks against symbols that remind you of have been recurring. The most publicized occurred in 2008, when writer Théophile de Giraud covered red paint on statue of monarch situated in centre of Brussels to full light of day. Then he was arrested. More close in time, in 2015, city Council of belgian capital had to suspend a tribute next to same statue on occasion of 150th anniversary of his accession to throne at convening of a manifestation opposing gesture.
In order to understand rejection that produces his character —also a subject of unwavering support, especially among associations of former members of expedition— it is necessary to go back more than a century. Between 1885 and 1908 Leopold II was king of Belgium and Congo. In a strange move, officially called Independent State of Congo, 76 times larger than Belgium, happened to be under its sovereignty without being at time a belgian colony. That would come after. In this period, attracted by vigour of nascent automobile industry, Leopold II led in his new territory, a regime of exploitation to extract compulsively rubber for manufacture of tires.
Concentrated near statue of Leopold II in Mons, this Tuesday.
The hardness of work decimated ostensibly population of african State, reduced to status of a private residence of a monarch who would never set foot in country, located 6,000 kilometers to south of Brussels, approximately four weeks of navigation. The threats with authorities to intimidate congolese work. According to belgian writer David van Reybrouck, author of famous Congo, une histoire, to produce 100 tonnes of rubber in 1891, was passed to collect approximately 6,000 tonnes a decade later.
Some historians cite figure of 10 million dead because of mutilations, executions, diseases, hardship and malnutrition that y suffered ir inhabitants, forced to perform forced labor to deliver a certain quota of rubber. For or experts that number, higher than that of those murdered in nazi death camps, is far-fetched, and considered impossible to know exact figure of deceased.
Discomfort of identity
Among congolese community based in Belgium is still a malaise of identity in absence of recognition of ir heroes, which contrasts with glorification of colonizers. Have been raised voices that compare presence of symbols of second king of belgians with that of Adolf Hitler. "Regardless of our origin, we must not tolerate in Belgium's streets in tribute to a king who for more than 20 years he led from his palace to a brutal regime in Congo," cries out from pages of weekly flamenco Knack Sandrine Ekofo, a lawyer belgian origin congolese. There is No unanimity about it. Or voices believe that solution is not to do away with symbols and hide gloomy colonial period under rug, but rar contextualising it. Among proposals on table, to make mandatory ir teaching in school, currently optional.
The defenders of grant to liberators congolese to play a greater role in streets of belgian cite gestures as placement of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in London, capital city of metropolis, against which he fought peacefully, or mea culpa sung by Emmanuel Macron. "Colonization is part of French history. It is a crime against humanity. A real barbarity," said president in remarks to an algerian television.
waiting for Lumumba to occupy its niche of honor in Mons for your fight against domination of belgium, park Nelson Mandela exists in town of Wavre, and equestrian statue of Simon Bolivar, anor icon of emancipation, in his case of Latin american nations, erected since 1992 in Brussels. Between libertadores re are also classes, and Bolivar and Mandela represent, without doubt, a past that is much less confrontational to local memory.