‘I can’t breathe’: Leopold II statue defaced in Ghent
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    ‘I can’t breathe’: Leopold II statue defaced in Ghent

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    On Tuesday, a bust of former Belgian King Leopold II was defaced in the Flemish city of Ghent, with red paint symbolising blood and a message referring to the death of George Floyd in the United States. 

    The statue has been defaced several times before, but this time, the bust was gagged as well. Red paint was also thrown over the rest of the sculpture, as well as the pedestal, reports Het Laatste Nieuws.

    The face of the bust was covered with a canvas with the message “I can’t breathe,” the last words of George Floyd, the black man who died after a white police officer put his knee on his neck for minutes in the United States last week, resulting in protests against police violence across the world.

    In July 2019, the city placed a sign in the park with the words “The city council regrets the many Congolese victims who died during the Free State” after activists wanted the bust removed, along with all other references, such as street names, to Leopold II and his colonial rule. Since then, the bust has been left alone for the most part.


    On Monday, a protest against racism took place in Ghent, with about 500 attendees who gathered on the Sint-Pietersplein in the city, while respecting the social distancing measures, reports Het Nieuwsblad.

    Officially, the manifestation was not allowed to continue, but because everyone wore face masks, kept their distance and stayed calm, the authorities did not intervene. It is not clear if the bust was defaced as a part of the protest.

    The statues of Leopold II throughout Belgium have been the subject of scrutiny several times before, with many opponents wanting them all removed. On Monday, a petition was launched to remove all statues in his honour from the City of Brussels.

    Under Leopold II’s colonial regime, millions of Congolese people died. Lack of reliable sources have made it difficult to form an accurate estimation, but modern estimates range from 1 million to 15 million. In recent years, a consensus of around 10 million deaths has been reached among historians.

    Maïthé Chini
    The Brussels Times