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Belgium in Brief: Leopold II Falls

Credit: Belga/Wikimedia

The debate about monuments honouring King Leopold II in Belgium has reawakened as new calls to remove his statues see genuine change, sparked by the death of George Floyd in the United States.

On Tuesday morning, a statue in honour of the former king, whose colonial reign brutalised the Congolese people during the years he exploited the territory for his personal gain, was removed from its place on the market place in the Ekeren district of Antwerp.

The statue was set on fire last week, and has now been transferred to the Middelheim Museum, where it will be restored and probably remain part of the museum’s collection.

This, however, was just the first in a series of changes set in motion across Belgium, as the country begins to once again openly discuss the legacy left by the notorious Leopold II.

So, what else is new? Brussels remains among the most expensive cities for expats to live in, sex workers were not prepared to start working again so fast, and a recap of the latest coronavirus figures.

With so much information, and so little time to catch up before it potentially changes again, here are some of the top stories from around the country to get you up to speed.

Belgium in Brief is a free daily roundup of the top stories to get you through your lunch break conversations. To receive it straight to your inbox every day, sign up below:



1. Leopold II statues in Brussels could be removed, says minister

The Brussels State Secretary for Urbanism and Culture Pascal Smet is willing to remove the statues of former Belgian King Leopold II from Brussels, if a working group considers it the best course of action.

The worldwide protests against police violence and racism sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in the United States, have revived the debate about the monuments of Leopold II in Belgium.

“We are going to have that debate with the Congolese people of Brussels, with Belgians and with experts,” said Smet on Tuesday, adding that “a quick decision is necessary.” Read More.

2. Syllabus for Belgian secondary students will include colonialism

Students at Flemish secondary schools will have colonialism as part of their standard curriculum, according to a proposal by the region’s education minister Ben Weyts (N-VA).

The subject forms part of the history syllabus for students in the third grade – fifth and sixth year of secondary school.

The subject will include imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism and decolonisation. This would be the first time such topics have expressly been included in what are called the end terms – a list of subjects that must be covered in class and will appear in examinations. Read More.

3. Brussels remains among most expensive cities for expats

On the list of most expensive cities for expats in 2020 by consultancy firm Mercer, Brussels was ranked in place 78 on a list of 209 cities.

Belgium’s capital dropped one place, from place 77 in 2019 in the ranking, which takes into account the cost of living, transport, food or leisure, among other things.

For the third year in a row, Hong Kong is the most expensive city for expats, followed by Ashgabat (Turkmenistan), with Tokyo (Japan) and Zurich (Switzerland) in third and fourth positions. Read more.

4. Calls to remove Leopold II bust from Leuven University

© Belga

The University of Leuven is being urged to remove a Leopold II bust from its library halls, in calls that come amid a wave of national and global support for the removal of monuments of “colonial propaganda.”

In an open letter addressed to University Dean Luc Sels, fifty signatories said the university must take a “pioneering role” in tackling structural racism and urged it to take the first step by pulling down the bust. Read more.

5. Coronavirus: 24 hospital admissions, 68 discharged in Belgium

132 additional people have tested positive for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in Belgium in the last 24 hours, according to figures by the Federal Public Health Service on Wednesday.

This brings the total number of confirmed cases in Belgium, since the beginning of the pandemic, to 59,569. The total reflects all people in Belgium who have been infected, and includes confirmed active cases as well as patients who have since recovered, or died from the consequences of the virus.

83 of the newly-infected people live in Flanders, 31 live in Wallonia, and 18 live in Brussels. Read more.

6. Swissport Belgium: workers protest at Brussels Airport

About 70 Swissport employees gathered in the staff car park at Brussels Airport on Tuesday from 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM to show their displeasure about the company’s bankruptcy.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Commercial Court declared Swissport Belgium bankrupt, and nearly 1,500 jobs are threatened.

The demonstration was not supported by the trade unions, who have scheduled a staff meeting on Thursday, in compliance with the health regulations in place. They are calling on everyone to continue working to ensure the resumption of activities at the airport. Read More.

7. Belgium’s sex workers were ‘not prepared’ for quick restart

Sex workers in Belgium are happy with the clarity they received about the restart of their work, even if they could have used a little more time to prepare.

Even though many sex workers are happy to be allowed to work again, they were not prepared for such a quick restart. “We could have used a little more time. We had proposed 15 June or even 1 July, but then after the National Security Council, we found out that it could start again on Monday,” Daan Bauwens of UTSOPI, a union for sex workers in Belgium, told The Brussels Times. Read More.

Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times

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