On the 60th anniversary of the DRC’s independence, King Philippe of Belgium wrote a letter to President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo during which he admitted that “to further strengthen our ties and develop an even more fruitful friendship, we must be able to talk about our long common history in all truth and serenity.”
The acknowledgment is a watershed second in Belgium’s post-colonial historical past, and a uncommon admission of imperialist sins from the royal household — even when Philippe didn’t go so far as formally apologizing.
It additionally marks a big victory for the anti-racism protesters who’ve been demanding Belgium handle its colonial previous and take away public monuments to Leopold II.
“Our history is made of common achievements but has also experienced painful episodes. During the period of the Congo Free State, acts of violence and cruelty were committed, which still weigh on our collective memory,” the King wrote.
“The colonial period which followed also caused suffering and humiliation,” the letter provides, referring to the next 52 years of rule by the Belgian state till Congo’s independence and the formation of the DRC.
“I would like to express my deepest regrets for these wounds of the past, the pain of which is now revived by the discrimination still too present in our societies,” he added.
‘Process of reflection’
A reassessment of Belgium’s colonial legacy has taken place within the wake of the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests, with a number of statues depicting the previous chief have been taken down within the nation. Earlier this month, Belgium’s parliament authorised an inquiry into its colonial historical past.
“I welcome the process of reflection that our parliament has started, so that we may finally make peace with our memories,” the King wrote. But he didn’t take the chance to apologize to the DRC for the acts dedicated by Leopold II or by Belgian governments till 1960.
The Democratic Republic of Congo was lastly established on June 30 1960, a date marked by a historic speech from independence chief Patrice Lumumba during which he described eight many years of subjugation that had been “filled with tears, fire and blood.”
With no speedy provide of visas, only a few Congolese folks got here to Belgium till lately — so whereas the nation turned house to folks from plenty of European nations, colonial sentiments in direction of African cultures have by no means been absolutely shaken off within the nation.
A Leopold II statue in Antwerp was eliminated after Black Lives Matter protests swept across the globe earlier this month, whereas one other reverse Brussels’ Royal Palace has been repeatedly coated in anti-racist graffiti.
Els Van Hoof, a Belgian MP who leads the chamber of consultant’s international affairs committee, says the parliamentary inquiry could deal with the query of what to do with statues of Leopold II, although the precise scope of labor has but to be decided.
CNN’s Stephanie Halasz, Scott McLean and Sebastian Shukla contributed to this report.