King Philippe today expressed for the first time in the history of Belgium his “deepest regret for the wounds” inflicted during the colonial period in Congo, in a letter addressed to the president of the current Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“I want to express my deepest regret for these wounds of the past, whose pain is relived today by the discrimination still present in our societies”, says the Belgian king in the letter sent to the president of the DRC, Felix Tshisekedi, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of independence from the country.
In the text, the monarch evokes the time of King Leopoldo II. but without mentioning the name of the sovereign, whose management of the Belgian Congo is considered brutal
“At the time of the Free State of Congo (from 1885, when the African territory was the property of ex-king Leopoldo II), acts of violence and cruelty were committed that still weigh on our collective memory,” wrote Philippe, who has reigned since 2013 .
The sovereign also recognizes that in this territory, under control of Belgium between 1908 to 1960), “sufferings and humiliations” took place.
The Belgian Congo gained independence on June 30, 1960 and was renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In the midst of a worldwide movement against racism that began after the death of George Floyd in the United States, which in Belgium provoked criticism of the country’s colonial past, King Philippe emphasizes in his letter his commitment to “fight all forms of racism”.
“I encourage the reflection initiated by our Parliament so that our memory is definitely pacified,” he said, referring to an agreement in principle between political groups to create a parliamentary committee on colonial memory.
In this sense, the Belgian Prime Minister, Sophie Wilmès, said on Tuesday that the time has come for Belgium to start the “path of investigation, of truth, of memory” about its colonial past, “without taboos”.
Between 2000 and 2001, another commission examined the context of the January 1961 assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the fleeting prime minister of the DRC, and pointed out the “moral responsibility” of “some Belgian ministers and other figures”.
The newspaper Le Soir praised the “necessary gesture, which magnifies the king and the country”, while the newspaper La Libre regretted that it did not make an apology. “” Perhaps it will happen at the end of the work of the parliamentary committee, “added the publication. .
The death of African-American George Floyd, asphyxiated in late May by a white policeman in Minneapolis (United States), prompted the resumption of the debate over colonial violence in Congo and the very controversial role of King Leopoldo II.
Many statues of the sovereign between 1865 and 1909 were attacked in Brussels and Antwerp, mostly with red paint to symbolize the blood of the Congolese. Some municipalities have decided to remove them from the public space.
In a campaign that registered more than 80,000 signatures, the collective of anti-colonialist militants “Let’s Repair History” calls for the removal of the images of this king, accused of “the death of more than 10 million Congolese”.
Through concessionary companies, Leopoldo II resorted to forced labor to extract rubber from Congo. Abuses have been documented, such as cutting the hands of workers considered unproductive.
According to most historians, the violence did not stop after Congo’s cession to the Belgian state in 1908 and, for decades, a system of separation between blacks and whites, similar to apartheid in South Africa, was maintained.