Honours on hold as Belgium considers its colonial past

The bestowal of honours including decorations from the Order of Leopold II and the Order of Leopold in parliament on Thursday 30 June has been abandoned.  The dropping of the ceremony comes at the request of floor leaders now a discussion is underway about King Leopold II’s colonial role.

Honours were about to be bestowed on former ministers and lawmakers in recognition of their services to the country over a long period.  The honour is a decoration that doesn’t offer any privileges.

The matter has been under discussion for a while now.  Some parties feel it's antiquated.  There are also objections to the link with King Leopold II.  Moreover, the ceremony  coincided with Congo’s Independence Day.

Floor leaders have requested a deferral of the ceremony until the parliamentary commission examining Belgium’s colonial past comes up with a report.  Flemish green lawmaker Wouter De Vriendt says Belgians with merit must be rewarded but that can’t be done using a name associated with the horrors of a regime headed by a former Belgian head of state.

After 36 years of parliamentary service former Flemish Christian democrat lawmaker Eric Van Rompuy was in line for the Grand Cross of the Leopold Order.  He suggested a name change so that he would not have to refuse the decoration.  “A decoration in the name of a Belgian king who has been discredited due to his colonial role is no longer appropriate.

The names of a number of people being honoured have also raised eyebrows.  Those honoured include Emir Kir, the Mayor of Sint-Joost-ten-Node (Brussels), who was thrown out of his party after a meeting with far-right Turkish mayors.  Veerle Heeren, the suspended Mayor of Sint-Truiden, who jumped the queue to get a corona vaccine, is also on the list.

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