Belgium's King Philippe Expresses "Deepest Regrets" for the Country's Brutal Colonization of Congo

Chloe Foussianes
Photo credit: Olivier Matthys - Getty Images

From Town & Country

In recent weeks, as Black Lives Matter protests have spread around the globe, Belgium has been reckoning with its legacy of colonialism and racism, and particularly with the widespread atrocities committed in Congo under King Leopold II's rule. Now, reigning monarch King Philippe has sent a letter to the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), addressing this history—though, notably, not apologizing for it.

The King wrote to President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo on the 60th anniversary of the DRC's independence, expressing his "deepest regrets" for the "suffering and humiliation" Belgium had put the DRC through. Philippe stated that he and the President "must be able to talk about our long common history in all truth and serenity."

He wrote, "During the time of the Congo Free State acts of violence and brutality were committed, which weigh still on our collective memory. The colonial period that followed also caused suffering and humiliations. I would like to express my deepest regrets for the wounds of the past, the pain of today, which is rekindled by the discrimination all too present in our society."

Photo credit: NurPhoto - Getty Images

King Philippe is a distant nephew of Leopold II, who reigned from 1885 to 1908, and ruled over what was then called the Congo Free State during the most brutal period of its colonial history. Historians estimate that during that time, as many as 10 million people died in the country—an event that some have compared to the Holocaust.

Activists and citizens in Belgium have been calling for the removal of statues and other public memorials (such as street names) to Leopold II for some time, but the push has seen a renewed momentum amid the ongoing anti-racism protests. Monuments have been splattered with red paint, set on fire, and otherwise damaged as a part of this. Earlier this month, protesters saw some success, after a statue of Leopold was removed from a public square in Antwerp.

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