Belgium has made no ‘apologies’ for its colonial past

A Belgian parliament’s commission on the colonial past, set up in 2020 in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, ended its work on Monday on a report of failure, with no consensus on granting “amnesty” to former colonies. .

In the Netherlands, the announcement came on the same day that Prime Minister Mark Rutte issued an official government apology for the Dutch government’s role in slavery.

The Belgian Commission spent almost two and a half years considering the three former colonies of Belgium “and the consequences to be assigned to them”. It concerns the Congo – the current DRC -, Rwanda and Burundi, which became independent between 1960 and 1962.

“Colonial Obstinacy”

The Belgian Socialists and their liberal partners in the ruling coalition of ecologists take responsibility for the commission’s failure by refusing to vote on a report that included such an “apology”.

read more: Prime Minister Mark Rutte officially apologized for the Netherlands’ role in slavery

The French-speaking liberals (Mouvement réformateur, MR) and the Flemish (Open VLD) responded by accusing the head of the Commission – Flemish ecologist Wouter De Vriendt – of “hanging on to his unique perspective”. I sacrificed more than two years of hard work”.

Monday is the day of the final meeting of the “Special Committee on the Colonial Past”, which will lead to a series of recommendations made to the House of Representatives. But due to lack of consensus within the majority, the 128 recommendations made by Wouter De Vriendt were not put to any vote.

Targeting the political family of Prime Minister Alexandre de Crouw, French-speaking environment deputy (Ecolo) Guillaume Defosse accused the “liberals of sabotaging the commission’s work with colonial obstinacy.” “It’s a waste, a great disappointment,” he added, “that liberals in our country today have not been able to embrace that past.”

In November, the French-speaking Liberals, through MP Benoît Piedboeuf, declared that Recommendation No. 69 was a deadlock in their view.

“Deep Regrets”

The Chamber apologizes to the people of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda for colonial rule and exploitation, violence and atrocities, individual and collective human rights violations and racism and discrimination.

Benoît Piedboeuf said he was “vehemently against” apologetics “for the universality of truths”, which would have created two opposing groups; “Victims on one side, perpetrators on the other”. “Why should all Belgians apologize today?” said Flemish liberal Maggie de Blok on November 28.

On June 30, 2020, a descendant of the much-vengeful Leopold II (who exploited the Congo as his private property from 1885 to 1908), King Philippe of Belgium revealed to Congolese Chancellor Felix. Shisekadi’s “deepest regrets” for the wounds of colonialism. The comments were repeated in Kinshasa during the sovereign’s first visit to the DRC in June 2022.

From the point of view of liberals, the Commission should have stuck to the King’s words, acknowledging the wrongs of colonialism, which “implies no legal responsibility and therefore cannot award reparations”.

MR and OpenVLD further argued that the “obstinacy” in recommending amnesty was “very regrettable” as the parliamentary majority received “120 recommendations out of 128 recommendations”.

Since the summer of 2020, voices have been raised among Belgium’s Afro-descendants demanding an “apology” from the King beyond these “regrets”. The global shock wave over the killing of African-American George Floyd led to demonstrations in Belgium and the removal of several statues of Leopold II.

According to Guillaume Defossé, the impossible consensus on “forgiveness” is “a new hard blow” to the Congolese, Rwandan and Burundian peoples. “However, with all this work, unpublished ideas, a debate needs to be developed and continued”, he notes.

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