A London university removes plaques in honour of Leopold II
Sunday, 18 December 2016
Queen Mary University in London has removed two plaques in honour of Leopold II after complaints. These complaints are due to the second Belgian King’s colonial politics, the British press reported on Saturday.
The commemorative plaques were added to the Octagon library wall in 1887, when Leopold II visited the London university. He also laid the first stones for the establishment.
A group of Black students started a petition to get the plaques removed in June. They thought these plaques, which were not criticised at the time, should not be given to “a genocide, colonialism and imperialism museum”.
The plaques were discretely removed in December. “Renovation” was given as the official reason, but the British media claimed the complaints were not completely ignored on Saturday. “The size and visibility of the inscriptions could indicate that the relationship between Leopold II and the university was closer than it actually was. Therefore, it was decided they should no longer be visible to the public”, a university spokesman told the Times and the Daily Mail. The plaques have now been moved to the archives.
This incident at Queen Mary University is similar to one at Oxford University. A statue of Cecil Rhodes, a 19th century British colonist, was also criticised. However, that university refused to remove the statue.
King Leopold II is known internationally for a reign of terror in his private colony, the “Congo Free State”, between 1885 and 1908, when Belgium took over the administration of Congo.
Not everyone across the channel is happy with Queen Mary University’s decision. “King Leopold is part of history. It makes no sense to reinterpret his actions as racist today”, says Professor Alan Smither of Buckingham University.