“The policy of Leopold II was a reign of terror, characterized by forced labour and repression,” Sels wrote in an online statement explaining the decision to take down the bust.
“It may (…) be supposed to do what busts are supposed to do: honour a historical personality. I note with many that Leopold II, although historically important to our country, is not the kind of personality that we as KU Leuven community want to assign such a place,” he wrote.
Leopold II declared himself sole owner and ruler of the Congo Free State in the late 1800s, brutalising Congolese people to extract resources from the colonised territory for his personal gain.
Extensive accounts and records of forced labour and systemic brutality characterised Belgium’s occupation and rule over the Congo, with millions estimated to have died as a result of the country’s colonial exploits.
“So yes, the bust is taken away as a tribute and stored in our depot,” he said, in a text in which he also quoted American philosopher Susan Neiman’s reflections that monuments are “values made visible.”
The removal of the bust from Belgium’s leading university comes after other Leopold II statues were taken down in Antwerp and in the University of Mons, as anti-racism protests build momentum across the world.