Adam Hochschild, who authored “King Leopold’s Ghost” revealed that about half the population of the Congo Free State perished under the King Leopold II and that villages that missed rubber collection quotas were made to provide severed hands instead.
A bust of Leopold in Brussels was disfigured and removed from its plinth by activists overnight.
This ‘dark past’ came to light recently as the statues of Leopold, who ruled over what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo for 23 years until 1908, have been marred as anti-racism protests against the police killing of black American George Floyd goes globally viral.
Prince Laurent, brother of King Philippe (Belgium’s current king), argued that the abuses had occurred in the Congo Free State and Leopold should be blamed because he never visited his personal fiefdom and source of wealth.
In his words: “He never himself went to Congo,” he said. “So I do not see how he could have made people there suffer.
Joachim Coens, chairman of the Flemish Christian Democrats said the matter must be addressed and the king should lead the discussion but the royal household said it never commented on statements by political leaders.
Coens said there must be an acknowledgement that it (the controversial dark past) was a problem in certain aspects.
The national newspaper Le Soir led its Friday edition with the headline “Leopold II, the king unnerving the palace”.
A chronology of Leopold II on its website does contain a reference to “abuses”, adding: “Following the excesses committed by the Europeans in Africa, Leopold’s reputation and his overseas venture were questioned.”
However, Auderghem Mayor Didier Gosuin told TRBF that democracy does not progress with acts like these (anti-racism protests) and that history may not be fairly re-written in the face of this kind of protest.
Popular opinion among protesters is that Leopold did not need to be in Congo to kill and maim but he ordered it as the Supreme Ruler whose subjects carried out his mandate.
On the issue of the protest, an anonymous protester said: “When black people fight for their rights, it is wrong. When white people oppress, it is right. We gotta stop this biased narrative”.