Opinion: Leopold II and Congo: a plea for constructive debate

By: The Benelux National Week Committee

As part of the Benelux national week, pictures of the monarchs of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg were posted on the walls of the canteen. After all, the fact that our three countries are monarchies, is something that we have in common. Among those photos, as has been correctly observed, was a picture of King Leopold II of Belgium. If this has offended anyone, we of course sincerely apologize.

Because it is indeed undoubtedly true that Leopold II is responsible for extreme atrocities in the former colony of Belgian Congo. Millions of people were killed, injured or saw their living conditions severely worsened. The reason for all this human misery was a never-ending imperialistic quest for power and money. Many monuments and buildings in Belgium have been built with the profits of the former Belgian Colony, on the back of the Congolese people.

So why did the picture of Leopold II end up on the canteen wall? Whether we like it or not, Leopold II is an important part of Belgian history. After all, he is Belgium’s longest-serving King. The buildings that he had constructed all over Belgium, are still being used. We refuse to run away from our history, even though it includes very dark parts. That is why we did not exclude Leopold II’s picture and why we treated it the same as the others. Instead, we should learn from these dark parts and learn from the mistakes that were made by those who lived on this planet before us, when we have jobs at the European Commission, the central bank of our home country or an international law firm. It is the only way to make this world a better place.

Leopold II’s actions in Congo are still subject to much academic and popular debate in Belgium. We discuss the Belgian colonial history in class, we read about it very often in the media. It is true that we did not provide any specific context in this case. However, we do find it very important to keep this difficult debate going at the College of Europe as well, but we would like to do this constructively and respectfully and within the broader context of Western colonialism. Moreover, we hope that this debate will not overshadow our countless and voluntary efforts to organize a Benelux National Week that you hopefully all enjoyed. We also feel that on many other occasions, be it in class discussions or friendly conversations at Poatersgat, Leopold II’s atrocities have indeed been discussed. We think that many of the students at the College of Europe are aware of what he did, and if you are not, feel free to ask any Belgian friend about it. We have always been the first to acknowledge his crimes against humanity. And that is exactly what we will keep doing.

/The Benelux National Week Committee

La Voix du Collège welcomes you to submit your own opinion piece on this, or other matters relating to life at the College or beyond, for online-publishing throughout the semester

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