BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A statue in Belgium of King Leopold II that was daubed with paint and burnt during protests inspired by the death of black American George Floyd was removed on Tuesday for possible renovation.
A damaged statue of former Belgian King Leopold II is seen being removed for possible renovation in Ekeren, Belgium, June 9, 2020. Footage ATV – Antwerp Television/Handout via REUTERS
Statues such as that of the colonial-era monarch whose troops killed and maimed millions of people in Congo have become a focus of anger and debate during the worldwide protests.
In Belgium, the number of people campaigning both to remove and to keep figures of him is growing. Another statue of the king, in the park of the Africa Museum, in Tervuren, near Brussels, was found sprayed with graffiti on Tuesday.
An online petition against the king passed 64,000 on Tuesday. It says Leopold killed more than 10 million Congolese people in a 23-year reign over the colony.
Congo was Leopold’s personal fiefdom from 1885 to 1908. Adam Hochschild, the U.S. author of the best-selling book “King Leopold’s Ghost”, concluded that about half the local population perished under the Belgian monarch.
Villages that did not meet their rubber collection quotas were made to pay the debt by providing severed hands.
Another petition, wanting to keep the statue of Leopold in the Antwerp suburb of Ekeren and insisting he was not a “slave king”, crossed the 8,000 mark. It said that Leopold should not be held responsible for the actions of those running the colony.
After the order for it to be removed by Antwerp council, the defaced statue was taken on Tuesday to the city’s Middelheim Museum of open air sculpture, whose staff would make an assessment of the damage.
It was not clear if the statue would return. Council officials could not immediately be reached for further comment.
The local mayor told Belgian media there were already plans to make some changes in the area where the statute stood and he was not certain whether it would fit in in the future.
London’s mayor has ordered a review of the capital’s statues and street names after the toppling of the statue of a slave trader in the English city of Bristol by anti-racism protesters triggered a debate about Britain’s imperial past.
Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Alison Williams