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Activists pull bust of Leopold II from pedestal in leafy Brussels suburb

A bust of King Leopold II has been pulled off its pedestal and daubed with red paint in Brussels municipality of Oudergem. The incident that happened on Thursday night was filmed by our colleagues from the Francophone public broadcaster RTBF. This is the latest in a string of attacks on statues and busts of the second King of the Belgians. King Leopold played a highly controversial role in the atrocities committed in the Congo Free State in the late 19th and early years of the 20th century. 

The area of the African continent that is now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo was ruled in person by King Leopold II between 1885 and 1908 when control was taken over somewhat reluctantly by the Belgian government.

In addition to the incident in Oudergem, street signs along the Leopold II-laan in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek were daubed with paint as was a statue of Leopold II's great grandson, the late King Boudewijn, outside Brussels Cathedral.

A group of around a dozen activists are responsible for damaging what they describe as “symbols of the colonisation of Congo and abuses against the Congolese population”.

While the role of King Leopold II in what was a particularly brutal and inhumane subjugation of the Congolese people has long been controversial, the death of the Afro-American George Floyd at the hands of police in Mineapolis has brought the issue of Belgium’s colonial past the fore again.  

While some believe that statues and busts of Leopold II should stay put and plaques be added explaining his role in Congo others believe that there is no place for such a character on our streets.

Those that carry out action to damage or remove statues without permission risk hefty fines. 

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