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Is Belgium really embracing its colonial past?

The French singer Yseult assures that Belgium assumes its colonial past. Myth or reality ? Since June 2020, the kingdom seems to have another look at this period in its history.

In the English daily The Guardian, the French singer Yseult claims to have left France to put her bags in Brussels. The reason ? In Belgium, she assures, "the inhabitants welcome diversity and assume their colonial past, which is still a taboo subject in France". Since this media release, the French artist has been mocked on social networks. Internet users accuse her in particular of having gone into exile for tax purposes in Belgium and ensures that Brussels does not assume its colonial past any more than France. What is it really ?

First of all, if we consider that Belgium accepts its colonial past, this has not always been the case. It was not until last June for a parliamentary committee to take an interest in this past. All the parties in the Belgian parliament, with the exception of the far right Vlaams Belang, have decided to create this parliamentary committee for the start of the 2020 school year.

The statues of Leopold II unbolted

The role of elected officials is to re-study the role of Belgium during the colonial period, until the independence of Zaire on June 30, 1960. Congo, but also Rwanda and Burundi are among the issues studied by parliamentarians since. A decision motivated by the Black Lives Matter movement, which had caused a global earthquake: degradation of statues, which referred to the Belgian colonial era, had been observed throughout the country. In particular those of Leopold II.

Since then, Brussels has tried to take an interest in its colonial past and to offer symbolic acts. As the city was able to do with the Leopold II tunnel, renamed tunnel… Annie Cordy. This was without forgetting the accusations of racism against the Belgian singer and her famous hit "Chaud cacao".

More seriously, King Philippe of Belgium has spoken publicly on the subject. In June 2020, at the time of the debacle of statues, the sovereign spoke to affirm: "At the time of the independent state of Congo, acts of violence and cruelty were committed, which still weigh on our collective memory. ".

As stated by Vincent Dujardin, professor of contemporary history at UCL, at Paris-Match, it is "the first time that a Belgian head of state thus publicly recognizes the atrocities and abuses during the colonial past. , whether under the EIC or under the Belgian Congo ”. A message intended for the Congolese, since the king had written to the president in Kinshasa, but also to the Belgians "saying that these wounds of the past are rekindled by the discrimination still too present in our societies".

A king who, for the first time, assumes

Of course, Belgium has started to work on itself. "It is obvious that the recognition of the dark side of the colonial past facilitates the journey towards a peaceful memory, which frees and facilitates dialogue", continues Vincent Dujardin. But we are still far from a country which would fully assume its colonial past, as Yseult indicates. France, via Emmanuel Macron, has moreover on several occasions expressed regret over this same period, in Algeria in particular.

Between 2000 and 2001, a Belgian parliamentary commission of inquiry had already worked on the assassination on January 17, 1961 of Patrice Lumumba, former prime minister of Congo. A commission which concluded with the “moral responsibility” of certain Belgian actors.

Belgium, therefore, continues its work. Like Paris, Brussels calls on historians, but also political scientists and jurists. In all, ten experts were appointed to the parliamentary committee devoted to this study on the colonial past. One of the members of the commission, at the time of its opening, however doubted the future results. “This exercise is important but ambitious and delicate. Do we have a chance to succeed? He asked.

The kingdom is in any case ready to do its introspection… “It is time for Belgium to make peace with its colonial past. The Parliament is the ideal forum to carry out the investigation and the societal debate on this subject. I will discuss with the group leaders on how we can bring together experts to set up a truth and reconciliation commission ”, initiated the elected Patrick Dewael, President of the Chamber (Open VLD). A job that will bear fruit? Answer in a few months.

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