King Philippe ought to take it upon himself to apologise on behalf of Belgium for the atrocities committed in the name of his ancestor Leopold II in what was then the Belgian Congo, according to Joachim Coens, president of CD&V.
The ongoing debate about Belgium’s position in relation to its colonial past has been sparked by recent events, including demonstrations across the country last weekend against institutional racism, particular in the police, as well as a movement to have statues of Leopold II removed from public places.
According to Coens, who presides the Flemish Christian democrat party CD&V, part of the caretaker government, “It has to be recognised that this is a problem on some levels. And I think the king is the most appropriate person.”
But while the statement should come from the king, Coens said, it also needs to be backed by the government, of which his party is a member.
“Ultimately, it is the politicians who bear responsibility for the statements of the king,” he told the VRT’s programme De Afspraak.
The anniversary of the independence of Congo, on June 30, would be a good time, he said.
The question of Belgium’s colonial past, never far from the surface, has come to light again in recent days on the back of the anti-racist Black Lives Matter demonstrations last weekend.
Spurred on by that current of opinion, moves have been undertaken to demand the removal of statues of Leopold II from public places, as well as other memorials to the country’s colonial past.
Among the moves made in the last few days, the universities of Mons and Leuven have bowed to internal pressure to remove busts of Leopold from their premises. And both the Flemish and the French Community education ministers have said colonialism and its effects will now form an obligatory part of the curriculum for older students in secondary schools.