Laurie Hart 0:20
Good morning. My name is Laurie Kane Hart, professor of anthropology and director of the UCLA Center for European and Russian studies. And on behalf of UCLA International Institute, it's my great pleasure to welcome you to this morning's distinguished panel. Today's event is part of a yearlong series, inspired by the groundbreaking movement for Black lives, and the urgent political issues it raises about systemic racism and institutional violence both in the U.S. and around the world.
Laurie Hart 0:58
Today's event is part of a series that we began to organize last summer, galvanized by the massive global movement for Black lives and the urgent political issues it raises. Given both the global history and the contemporary sweep of racial capitalism, an international perspective is fundamental. Our events this year have moved widely across global landscapes, from the U.S. to Jamaica, Latin America and the Pacific, examining the complex global afterlives of slavery, segregation and abolition movements; the impact of racial and decolonial liberation in the context of Cold War and militarism; U.S. empire building and global racial capitalism.
Laurie Hart 1:49
Our last two events focused on the everyday life of racialized policing in France, the U.S. and Sierra Leone. And today, our panelists turn the powerful lens of history, art history and art activism on the horrifically violent phenomenon that was Belgian colonialism, its legacy in Belgium and contemporary activism to end what has been called colonial amnesia. Before we get to the main event, I wanted to offer some brief words of acknowledgement and gratitude. I wish to note that UCLA, as a land grant institution, acknowledges our presence on the traditional ancestral and unceded territory of the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples, the traditional land caretakers of Tovaangar (the Los Angeles Basin and South Channel Islands). As a land grant institution, we pay our respects to those ancestors, elders and relations past, present and emerging.
Laurie Hart 2:47
I want to give our special thanks to International Institute Senior Associate Vice Provost and Director Chris Erickson, and Vice Provost Cindy Fan, who strongly supported this first-ever collaboration across the institute's many centers and programs, and to my wonderful colleagues on the organising committee, including Jorge Maturano, Robin Derby, Shaina Potts, Ippy Kalofonos, Alden Young, Erica Anjum and the chair of our group, Jennifer Chun. I also thank CERS Executive Director Leanna Grancea here and communications director Sanja Lacan. We are, as always, indebted to the excellent staff at the Institute, who make all this possible in and out of pandemics: Kathryn Paul, Peggy McInerny, Kaya Mentesoglu, Alex Zhu, Oliver Chen, Chloe Hiuga and Steven Acosta. Today's event is cosponsored by our collaborating centers, the Center for European and Russian Studies and the African Studies Center.
Laurie Hart 3:49
So with that, let me briefly introduce our speakers, you will find the full bios and links to selected publications in the chat. So I couldn't list them all and I can't speak them all -- they're just simply too many. So briefly, first, the convener of our panner panel, and our first speaker, UCLA Professor Debora Silverman. Professor Silverman is distinguished professor of history and art history, UCLA, and University of California Presidential Chair in Modern European History, Art and Culture. Professor Silverman is the author of many books on the arts, culture, politics and psychology. Her recent publications explore the impact of the Congo Free State on Belgian modernism, Art Nouveau's whiplash style as Congo style, the cultural history of violence, the Tervuren Museum and the politics of memory generally in Belgium. In June, De Standaard in Belgium published her opinion essay on BLM in Belgium. Her book, nearing completion, is enticingly entitled Art of Darkness.
Laurie Hart 4:56
Stef Craps is professor of English literature at Ghent University, Belgium, where he directs the Cultural Memory Studies Initiative and he's a past holder of the Antoon van Dijk Chair for the History and Culture of the Low Countries at UCLA. His research interests lie in 20th-century and contemporary literature and culture, memory and trauma studies, postcolonial theory and eco-criticism and environmental humanities. His latest books are Trauma, out from Routledge in 2020, co-authored with Lucy Bond, Memory Unbound: Tracing the Dynamics of Memories Studies, Bergen 2017, co-edited with Lucy Bond and Peter van Moulin, and Postcolonial Witnessing: Drama Out of Bounds, in 2013.
Laurie Hart 5:48
Sibo Kanobana, our third speaker, is completing his doctorate in sociolinguistics at Ghent University, pursuing ethnographic case studies of language, race and work. He is a frequent public speaker on the dilemmas of Afro-Belgian identities, decolonization and multilingualism. His most recent publications include, in 2021, "Who is Not on the List: Navigating White Academia" in the Vienna Linguistics Gazette, in 2021, "Black Identity Making in Flanders: Discourses and Cultural Practices among Transracial Adoptive Families and Black Native Speakers of Flemish," with Katrien de Graeve, and "The Mixed Race Children in Belgian Congo: Silenced Stories of Afro-Belgian Mixed-Race People."
Laurie Hart 6:39
So I welcome all of our panelists, that we're very excited to hear from you today. Let me just say a word on our format. Our format will include the speaker's presentations, followed by comments from our respondents, followed by moderated discussion and Q&A. We ask that the attendees submit their questions on the webinar's Q&A, which you'll find at the bottom of your screen. Feel free to write questions in the Q&A at any point, although we'll be a little limited in time, so we'll answer probably fewer questions than we'd like. Your questions will all be very valuable and will be saved for the speakers. A recording of the event will be posted on the International Institute's website. So now, let me turn the screen over to Professor Debora Silverman as convener and first speaker, Debora.
Debora Silverman 7:44
Can you hear me? Okay. Good morning, everyone. Very pleased to be here, hosting this panel. And I'd first like to thank Laurie Hart for being such a wonderful collaborator, as well as the center, Alex, Leanna, and Sanja. And I'm very pleased to be able to be here with two colleagues from whom I've learned a great deal about Belgium past and present. So without further ado, I'll just explain, we're each going to make short presentations of 15 to 20 minutes, and then we'll have some panelists' questions, and then we'll turn it over to the Q&A. And we'll try, I will try, to watch the time. So I'm just going to open my screen and the slide to begin.
Debora Silverman 8:38
One moment. Sorry, that wasn't the first one. Okay, the May 25  murder of George Floyd reignited protests in Belgium against colonial amnesia and contemporary racism. Activists had long demanded an end to official silence about the particularly violent history of Belgian colonialism in Congo. The new conjuncture of global eruptions forced the blight of what has been called the "Great Forgetting" into the mainstream and intensified calls to confront racism in Belgium, in [the] economy, society and culture. And just a few examples of this extreme form of denial and forgetting, this is... the celebrations of Leopold [II] continue in his monuments across Belgium. But especially there are no history curriculums for colonial history until last month across the nation.
Debora Silverman 9:42
And if you go to the Congo Museum, the Royal Museum for Central Africa, which has now completed its first overhaul for the last six years, until 2012, you would enter and see in the rotunda, Belgium Bringing Well-Being to the Congo in a gilded statue as you look up. Below, you would see the artist Congolese splayed out with his finger by Henry Ward, the Arab slaver for whom the Belgians were summoned to destroy, 100,000 stuffed mammals and dead fish and 6 million bugs. And in 2012, this was also in the galleries. So the first overhaul in 2012 with a memory plaque for 1,059 Belgians who died in the Congo, and not a single Congolese native mentioned or present.
Debora Silverman 10:41
In recent months, the statues of King Leopold [II] suddenly started to be removed, this one in Ghent, followed by two significant events. King Phillipe expressed "his deepest regrets" for the brutal colonial past, and the parliament announced the creation of a special commission to scrutinize the history and violence of the Congo Free State, 1885 to 1908, and the Belgian Congo, 1909 to 1960. If and how the commission will engage issues of apology, reparations and reconciliation are to date unclear. I should note as all of our work happens quickly in the present moment, yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives sent on the plan to have a commission of inquiry for slavery reparations. So these are things in Belgium, this had happened first, but they're deeply interconnected as well.
Debora Silverman 11:38
Now in this multidisciplinary panel today, we are going to discuss various themes of past and present in Belgian activism, racism and colonial memory. And we're going... I will speak first, setting the context of the Leopoldian regime and the unusual violence of the regime. And then STef will turn to memory politics in Belgian activism now and to issues of contemporary racism, as well as Sibo will will talk about contemporary issues of race and identity as well. So we're going to parry between past and present. My talk now will focus on three points, and I will try to set the framework for three issues: the first, the two phases and important difference between he first phase of the Congo Free State, an internationally sanctioned entity and I stress, not a colony, and the second phase... [unclear]
Debora Silverman 12:41
I'll turn briefly, to highlight the intertwined histories of the United States, of the U.S. and the Congo, which Black Lives Matter has brought back to the limelight in some ways. And the last part, I will try to show you one example of the way that monuments have long been sites of artistic activism against colonial amnesia, particularly in the context of the Great Forgetting.
Debora Silverman 13:11
So first, I wanted to make a very important point that we slipped too easily into the notion of Belgian colonialism and we need to distinguish between colonialism and imperialism. The first type is a nation state settlement called a civilizing mission, as in Britain and France, the mouvement civiliatrice, organized to turn natives into citizens of a nation. The latter is a different type of private, non-settler, entrepreneurial venture called by King Leopold and the Belgian diplomats and the society that flourished to support him, this is called the civilizing movement, mouvement civiliasateur, which is a movement of trade, conceived to turn natives into customers, not into citizens of the Belgian state. This reduces empire to a distant entity and extraction to products, not people. And this is a very important issue in relation to the distant empire and distant violence of the Congo Free State, which for 23 years flourished as a separate free state apart from Belgium, but it was a form of abstraction, of conjury on a map, and a site of extraction of ivory, palm oil, and wild rubber.
Debora Silverman 14:35
Now, just to give you a sense of this, King Leopold put a giant mark on a map called the Pou de Crayon [sp?] by [Henry Morton] Stanley and the national and international communities, the parliament -- first the international community and then the Belgian parliament -- authorized him to claim this area of the Congo as an international free zone for trade, free trade and free labor. Within 10 years and with every expedition, this entity expanded with every expedition it was claimed and annexed, until in 1895, we have 1 million square miles of the État Indépendent de Congo, the Congo Free State. And there was a sense of great glee and exhilaration that Belgium, a small country squeezed and exposed on the map of Europe, who had been cut up and "amputated" in 1831 by the great powers, who set its borders from the outside, chose its ruler, and dictated that Belgium would be perpetually neutral. This is an arrested independence movement that was not allowed to be done by national will. And the title of books in this period are called "the dismemberment of Belgium."
Debora Silverman 15:55
So in the Congo Free State, they are open and free with no... with the borders surrounded by those countries, who are now jealous of them. And there was a sense of outwitting and outmaneuvering the great powers, who had confined them to limited horizons and to artificial boundaries, where they couldn't even go from one end of a river to -- they cut off access to the sea purposely to prevent European powers from wanting to swallow up Belgium again. So this was a great redemptive, second-stage nation building, I argue. Every map shows the comparative granduer of Belgium and the Congo, and Belgium to scale in the lower left -- including to this day in school textbooks, you see Belgium, [and] the Congo was 80 times larger than Belgium.
Debora Silverman 16:47
Now, the notion of this free state as an entity of extraction is formed for products, not people, and not a national colony. I'm showing you here the organizing framework is civilization and barbarism, not Belgian nationalism, because it is a free state virtual empire. A fictional state owned by the king, but run from Brussels by diplomats, army officers, lawyers, entrepreneurs and investment companies. What we see here is the fantasy that the natives will go from barbarism to civilization by buying textiles that will be imported by Belgium into the Congo and in return, the Belgians and the other international companies that were invited in, will harvest ivory and wild rubber. These are vines to be leaked, and not trees to be tapped. Arial vines, each and every one, "curtain walls of miraculous rubber vines" as that was called in the papers at the time. This is manna from heaven that is fallen into the laps of us lucky Belgians and our visionary king. The wild rubber was seen as infinitely open to extraction, vegetable boas with veins of gold, they were called.
Debora Silverman 18:06
So the Belgians sent less textiles than hyper militarization, mostly sending guns and warfare. They pressed into service native troops called the force publique, the militia gendarmerie, who were given cast-off uniforms and cast-off Albini guns from the Belgian Army, which didn't need them because they were humiliatingly neutral and could not fight at home. So we have native troops, a few officers, and a very violent period of... this is a staged photographed of how to leak the vines: to cut, drip dry and ship the latex out. It's at the moment when Dunlap has invented the pneumatic tire. So the rubber vines turn to tires for cars and bicycles, creat[ing] an incredible stunning surge of imperial profit and profusion in a very short period between 1885 and 1908: 23 years of a boom of economy, an architectural burst and imperial surge. What we do know, starting in 1896, published in international press and in Belgium, we have an unleashing of forced labor and unchecked atrocities in the Congo Free State. By 1908, and debated in Belgium from 1900 to 1908, called Belgium's Dreyfus affair, it was... had to be verified. By 1908, the Belgians had... King Leopold had to cede the Congo to the Belgian nation, because we have the flourishing of a "red rubber regime," as it was called.
Debora Silverman 19:52
This is an international human rights movement with Belgian parliamentarian critics, as well as E.D.Morrell, who discovered this British shipping merchant, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain -- this is an international movement to expose the atrocities in the Congo that included invasion, terror, hostage taking, and the practice of hand severing -- a vicious accounting system, which required that native troops, whose ammunition was carefully rationed, present their post commanders with a severed hand for every bullet shot as proof they had not wasted bullets. Now, it's often seen that this is a punishment for a rubber quota. It is not the case. What we know is it was a kind of perverse accounting system because the militiamen had exchanged a spear for a rifle, there was a lot of ammunition shot into the air or shot hunting. So if they didn't have proof of a casualty to bring to the post commander, they brought a hand that they cut off of living people. This is part of the atrocities of the Congo Free State.
Debora Silverman 21:06
Mark Twain published a brilliant expose this, along with others, called "King Leopold Soliloquy," I urge you to read it, it's online. It's a very brilliant and searing expose and he had this as the frontispiece of the book, 1906. And we know that the evidence of 1906 of mass death in the Congo; historians are still estimating and are not sure of how many Congolese died during the red rubber regime. They died by famine, disease, murder and other forms of flight. but it was between three and eight million. Those are still the debates historians have to this day.
Debora Silverman 21:49
Now, I want to just turn very briefly to the American entanglement with the Congo because this is something that Black Lives Matter has brought back into the limelight, and it's been a somewhat underemphasized and very important. The U.S. was the first to recognize King Leopold's claims to the Congo Free State and it can be said that the Congo Free State exists because of the United States. So the great forgetting extends not only to Belgium and its history. but to the U.S. and the American role in this history as well. This was... the reason for this is General Henry Sanford a Connecticut and Florida businessmen diplomat who is a close friend of King Leopold after being a diplomat in Belgium. And Sheldon... General Sanford won the approval of Chester A. Arthur for the U.S. approval for a kind of mini-Liberia fantasy that he presented. But we also know that Sanford lobbied the Senate in 1884, and got the approval of Southern Southern senators in particular in post-Civil War America, because he promised them philanthropy and profits in the Congo Free State, as it would be called, but also that it would be a place that would draw blacks back to Africa. So the freed slaves could be sent back; and that was part of the interlocking racisms -- two racist histories are interlocking.
Debora Silverman 23:20
Now Sanford went on because he gained the approval of the United States. King Leopold gave him the very first concession to go on the Congo River, called the SS Florida. He had an expedition company, he had all these ideas about being on the Congo River, Sanford, and he had his first pilot to be trained on the SS Florida was none other than Joseph Conrad. Conrad could not make it to the SS Florida because it ground on the bank. So he ended up on the Wadi Belge, a different ship. But Sanford's ship, the SS Florida, is the first ship, an American ship, and Conrad was due to be its first officer. In the end, Sanford founded Sanford, Florida, with a plantation of his own making for steamers and orange groves. And it is here in Sanford, Florida... [unclear] -- the papers of Leopold and Sanford are there -- but this is where Trayvon Martin was killed. So these cycles of American intervention.
Debora Silverman 24:24
The last example is that in 1905, at the height of the criticisms and the international movement for the atrocity campaigns, which included many U.S. critics, King Leopold offered a very lucrative mining concession to some of the gilded robber barons, Guggenheim, Cabot Lodge, Rockefeller, among them, in exchange for trying to suppress Mark Twain's King's Soliloquy, as well as to suppress some of the criticisms of King Leopold. It was these concessions that led much later to the uranium supplies that were used for the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So the Leopoldian connections and the American role in the Congo is ongoing, as well as we know, the U.S. role in the assassination of Lumumba, which was ordered according to Ludo De Vittes book [The Assassination of Lumumba], by Belgian officers in cooperation with the CIA. So this is a long spiral. This cartoon, just the cartoon of 1906, "Business is Business": King Leopold saying to Uncle Sam, "Don't look back here, you're not allowed to look at what's going on. If you have any remorse, rest assured, I will give you as much rubber as you require to render your conscience elastic."
Debora Silverman 25:47
Now I want to turn for the last four minutes to monuments as a site for protest against colonial amnesia. This is a long-term movement in Belgium. This is one of the monuments recently set afire in Antwerp that was also taken down to be repaired. The mayor of Antwerp said it was not being removed because of King Leopold, but because it had to be... it had been damaged. But this monument burning and breaking is is part of a long history.
Debora Silverman 26:20
I'm going to show you one example because we can see in real time what happened to this monument as a site for protest against colonial amnesia. This is a giant equestrian monument of homage to King Leopold in Ostend, which is a beachfront resort that was developed by King Leopold. It was his favorite resort, he built a 1,200-foot neoclassical arcade, as well as the largest hotel in Europe, in Ostend between 1900 and 1908. This statue is from 1931 and it is a celebration of King Leopold, as an homage by, on the one side, Congolese natives, and on the other side, the fishermen of Ostend. This monument is celebrating quote, "The kneeling of Congolese natives, who are grateful to King Leopold for liberating them from Arab slavery." And on this side, for protecting the fishermen. In 2004... here you see a close-up of this, the liberation from the chains of slavery and their deliverer, King Leopold.
Debora Silverman 27:30
In 2004, an artist's subversive group called the Bold Ostendians attacked the statue at night by sawing off the hand of the native in chains to protest the denial of history in the monument that was ongoing into the 2000s. They took the hand and kept it and said they would not return it. And they put the sawed-off hand in various cities around Belgium as a pop-up. And they required the city of Ostend to put a plaque or to reform some of the comments, which were none, about the monument. So from 2004 to 2015, this monument waffled between having a plaque, but it had the severed hand of the statue of the native that was left there by the Bold Ostendians. In 2019, there was a film made of it called Sikitiko [Sikitiko: The King's Hand], which was a film showing Leopold apologizing to Congolese, that was made and shown, but there was no plaque or the city of Ostend did not reform or provide any more history. So this was, this monument went on for 10 years or more as the site for debate but no consensus about what to do with it.
Debora Silverman 28:49
In 2019, before Black Lives Matter's eruption in 2020, the head of this artists group who had remained secret, burst into a meeting on decolonization and colonialism in Belgium. He burst into the meeting with the giant hand, put it `on the stage and said, I will be buried with this cut-off statue hand unless the king apologizes to the Lumumba family, and he left the room. So, this past winter, for the first time in Ostend, there was a response. The mayor of Ostend said we will not no longer avert our eyes from colonialism, we need to have a debate about it. The statue of King Leopold was left intact, it was not removed, but instead, an artist was hired or was commissioned, to make a gigantic mural, a 1,200-foot mural was put up in Ostend of King Leopold on horseback.
Debora Silverman 29:50
This figure here with his head, his decapitated head. Now this is part of a Folk Festival and art festival in Ostend every year. The mural was done in spray paint by a graffiti street artist, but it is also none other than an international movie star named Matthias Schoenaerts. Matthias Schoenaerts created this as a temporary, it's not clear how long this lasts, but it's a mural that's part of an actor. This is not an established artist, but it is a graffiti art by a movie star. He's a big Hollywood star as well as a star internationally. And I believe this Headless Horseman is inspired actually by the Johnny Depp movie of Sleepy Hollow. There's no precedent for defacing a monument in Belgium with decapitation, at least not yet, as I've seen, so we have a very bizarre form of what the mayor called this will start our discussions for colonial debate. And Matthias Schoenaerts is a supporter of Black Lives Matter in Belgium, but they chose this artist and this way to respond to the statue.
Debora Silverman 31:01
Now my last minute, I just want to draw your attention to the center of the great forgetting in the Tervuren Museum for Central Africa [Royal Museum for Central Africa , in Tervuren]. Two artists, first an artist, a Congolese-born artist, Aime Mpane, whose work was shown in LACMA, Los Angeles, in 2014. Aime Mpane was asked to make a counter-monument, or counter-statue in the rotunda to some of those gilded statues that glorify Belgian colonialism. He did this one first, a skull, and another that showed the breathing life of the Congo. But this past year, there was a new installation put in, in collaboration of two artists, Aime Mpane and Jean-Pierre Müller, a Belgian artist and a Congolese artist collaborating to put up semi-transparent veils over these gilded statues. Heritage laws prevent these statues from being touched, or even to have any plaques put on.
Debora Silverman 32:08
So I just want to draw your attention to this. This installation is the subject of a chapter of a dissertation by UCLA graduate student who is now a Ph.D., named Elaine Sullivan. And she's been studying this and these two artists ... created this idea of putting a semi-transparent veil to confront past and present in the rotunda in King Leopold's entryway as a way to force colonial history and the true history or some form of anti-falsification of the past [see: http://jeanpierremuller.com/re-store/4594954695]. Here we have char..., we have Fecundity of the Congo, and Jean-Pierre Müller put a rubber, the rubber tire man over it as the veil, semi-transparent. They superimpose the veil, so they're not touching the heritage wall, but they're keeping it in that way. This is Aime Mpane's response to Charity, the gilded celebration of Belgian charity in the Congo, and he shows the missionaries carrying the Word of God. And as he wrote, they can... all they need to carry the Word of God far and wide is to let himself be carried. So his veil shows, overlays, Charity with the Congolese, and the missionary spreading faith in the Congo.
Debora Silverman 33:29
So I wanted to draw your attention. This is a new installation, it is still controversial, but it is a permanent installation that brings into the form of monument after, during and after Black Lives Matter, not as a result of it. But it shows a very different kind of engagement with the visual world of historical rendering that will engage the end of the great forgetting or forcing new kinds of ideas and discussions. It's still very..., in this case, Jean-Pierre Müller put up a para-commando over the Security in the Congo, which drew a lot of controversy among those still retired a para-commandos from the Simba Rebellion. But in any case, that's where I will end and turn my floor over now to Stef.
Debora Silverman 34:22
But we see two forms of colonial engagement of amnesia, denial and the great forgetting through the visual world of public monument culture, one by a temporary cartoon graffiti art/actor, responding to the artist subversives of the Bold Ostendians, and in this case, in the Tervuren Museum -- the belly of the beast of the great forgetting -- engaging a collaboration of a Congolese and a Belgian artist to confront the history of Belgian imperial and colonial violence. Thank you and I will turn it over to Stef Craps. I'm very delighted to have you here and to listen to your presentation.
Stef Craps 35:13
Okay, hello, everyone. Let me start by sharing my screen. Just a moment. It's good to be back at UCLA, even if only virtually. Thanks to Debora for the invitation and to Laurie for putting this great series together. I'm very honored to be part of it. I will start by explaining why I see the impact that the BLM movement has had in Belgium as an instance of successful transnational memory activism, and then I will qualify this in two ways. First, I will show that BLM did not change things overnight or single handedly, it acted as a catalyst, accelerating the decolonization process that was already underway, as Debora also indicated. Second, the success of this process is only partial and precarious. It's not guaranteed. I'll start with the apparent success story of BLM in Belgium. BLM has led to a global racial awakening, its impact has been felt not least in Belgium.
Stef Craps 36:50
I think it's fair to say that the BLM movement has contributed very significantly to ending was Adam Hochschild has famously called the great forgetting: Belgium's persistent tendency to sweep its colonial atrocities under the carpet, to deny its history of brutal colonial oppression and exploitation. The historian Ides Baltchwaveres [sp?] speaks of a true watershed in the way Belgium deals with its colonial past. He claims that the death of George Floyd triggered a new era in Belgium's post-colonial memory. And I think he's right. I'll mention four striking things that took place here in Belgium last June and July, which Debora has already alluded to as well.
Stef Craps 37:39
On the seventh of June, protest marches in support of Black Lives Matter took place in cities across the country, with the one in Brussels attracting some 10,000 participants. The turnout was very impressive, despite the fact that all mass gatherings were banned under COVID-19 rules, so the participants risked hefty fines, but that did not deter them. These [unclar] demonstrations were the largest anti-racist protests in the country's history. Secondly, following the killing of George Floyd, quite a few statues of key figures in Belgian colonial history and of King Leopold II in particular, were vandalized. There were as many as 17 Leopold statues in public spaces across the country at the time. In contrast, there are no monuments in Belgium to victims of colonialism or heroes of the anti-colonial struggle. Many Leopold's statues were covered in red paint, set on fire, or plastered with graffiti at night by an identified anti-racist activists. A number of street signs bearing the names of colonial figures were also covered in paint. These clandestine actions were soon followed by actual removals of colonial monuments by local authorities, the town of Aiken, near Antwerp, and the cities of Ghent and Leuven, and by institutions, the Universities of Mons and Leuven.
Stef Craps 39:17
This was the very first time that anything of the sorts had happens in Belgium. As far as I'm aware, not a single colonial monument had ever been taken down until then. So this was big. This was quite extraordinary. There was some support for these local initiatives at the regional level. The Flemish Home Affairs Minister set up a working group charged with writing a manual that would assist cities and municipalities in decolonizing monuments and street names. BLM also reverberated at the national level. On the 30th of June, the 60th anniversary of Congolese independence, King Philippe made world new by writing a letter to the Congolese president, in which he expressed his deepest regret for Belgium's brutal past. This is the first significant development related to BLM. It was the first public acknowledgement from a member of the Belgian royal family of the damage inflicted on the Congolese people over 75 years of colonization. Like his predecessor, Albert II, his father, the current king had until then remained silent on the subject. His uncle Bowdoin, who had been king from the 1950s to the 1990s, had sung the praises of Leopold II for bringing civilization to Congo.
Stef Craps 40:43
So King Philippe's expression of regret was really unprecedented. He acknowledged the wounds of the past and linked the colonial periods to racism today. Until May 2020, I would say this had been all but unthinkable. Pressure from the BLM movement clearly played a major role in bringing about this moment. In his letter, the king also welcomes the Belgian federal parliament's move to launch a commission to address the country's colonial past, as well as contemporary racism.
Stef Craps 41:16
And this is the fourth important outcome of the BLM protests: the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Patrick Dewael, first floated the idea on the 12th of June, and the commission was formally established by mid-July. The House Speaker had used the words truth commission and reconciliation in his original tweet about the initiative. However, the commission's official name does not include these terms -- it's a ... you can see it on the slide. It's quite a mouthful. But it's a special commission, not a truth and reconciliation commission. But when you read the founding documents, it's obvious that parliament took a page out of the transitional justice playbook. And this initiative signals the country's willingness to engage in a process akin to transitional justice, at least in order to confront the legacies of its colonial past. The goal is to address and repair its colonial harms in Central Africa and to bring about societal transformation. Truth, reconciliation, and reparations are all on the table.
Stef Craps 42:31
The commission consists of 17 MPs from across the political spectrum. And it aims to shed light on the colonial past to investigate the role of the Belgian state but also of the monarchy, the church and the private sector, to examine the impact that colonization has had on Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, and to make recommendations on how to deal with this dark chapter of history, and offer proposals for reconciling peoples, making reparations, both symbolic and material ones. The Commission has appointed an expert group, consisting for the most part of historians, legal scholars and political scientists to assist it with its tasks. It has commissioned a report from them that is meant to serve as a roadmap for the commission itself. So the role of the expert group is to prepare the work of the commission. And as I understand it, the expert group has yet to submit its report.
Stef Craps 43:31
The commissioners meetings will be public, and it's due to complete a report of its own containing its findings and policy proposals within one year of its being established, so by the summer. So this deadline can and in all likelihood will be extended. And that report will be debated and eventually voted on by the House of Representatives in plenary session. The special commission is a big deal. It's no exaggeration to say that the world is watching it closely. After all, this is the first time that a country has decided to conduct a comprehensive inquiry into the role its institutions have played in the colonization of other countries, and to face the devastating impacts that colonial rule has had on those populations.
Stef Craps 44:21
This Belgian initiative is seen as an interesting experiment, a daring innovation on the traditional positional justice model. For one thing, that transitional justice model was developed to deal with intrastate conflicts, it's not normally applied across national borders. Moreover, it was devised to come to terms with violations that are temporarily proximate, not with historical injustices which are temporarily distant. If this transitional justice process were to be successful, other former colonial powers could conceivably follow the Belgian example, or at least learn some lessons from it. So that's why there's widespread interest in it beyond the countries directly concerned.
Stef Craps 45:06
This brings me to the second part of my presentation in which I want to broaden the perspective a little beyond Black Lives Matter. While the BLM protests definitely played an important role in bringing about the developments that I have mentioned, a lot of groundwork has, in fact, already been laid. Activists and artists had already been chipping away at the great forgetting for years. And in 2019, the UN Human Rights panel had put pressure on the Belgian authorities to take many of the measures that they finally did take in June and July 2020.
Stef Craps 45:44
After a country visit in February 2019, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent had urged Belgium to recognize the true scope of the violence and injustice of its colonial past in order to tackle the root causes of present-day racism faced by people of African descent in the country. It had issued a blunt statement, saying, closing the dark chapter in history, and reconciliation and healing, requires that Belgians should finally confront and acknowledge King Leopold II's and Belgium's role in colonization and its long-term impact on Belgium and Africa. The working group went on to recommend, among other things, that colonial monuments be removed, that the Belgian government publicly apologized for atrocities committed during colonization, and that it set up a truth commission. It's all there and much else besides.
Stef Craps 46:43
There wasn't much enthusiasm at the time to implement the changes demanded, to put it mildly. In fact, Charles Michelle, our then Prime Minister and the current president of the European Council, said he was baffled by the working group's statement, and called it "a very strange report." However, these ideas were in the air and the BLM protests push the authorities to finally act upon them. Much of the credit should definitely go to the local activist groups, which have been calling for action against systemic racism and for the decolonization of mines and societal structures for more than 15 years. I'm thinking of such groups as Collectif Memoire Colonial [et Lutte Contres les , Discriminations], Bamako, Change [ASBL], Black Speaks Back (BSB), Decolonize Belgium and Hand in Hand Against Racism.
Stef Craps 47:36
I mentioned earlier that no colonial monuments had been taken down in Belgium until June last year. While that's true, attacks on these monuments were nothing new. Several of the monuments to Leopold II had been defaced, some quite regularly even, since the BBC documentary "White King, Red Rubber, Black Death" was broadcast in 2004. Pressure from activists had also led to some colonial monuments being recontextualized with a plaque to a square in Brussels and a street in Charlotte, one being named after Lumumba and to several Leopold II streets in other cities being renamed. So this process of toppling colonial statues, etc., was already well underway before. The BLM wave of anti racist demonstrations are just needed -- a little push, literally and figuratively.
Stef Craps 48:33
I'd also like to mention the remarkable artistic intervention that played a role in creating a space in the social and cultural imagination for the possibility of a truth and reconciliation process, a historical apology and reparations. I'm thinking of a performance by Action Zoo Humain, which is a Ghent-based theatre company, called "The Truth Commission," a performance that took place in the Belgian federal parliament in the Senate chamber in December 2018. It brought together historians, artists, witnesses, experts and the public to seek the truth regarding the exhibition of exotic people from Congo at the World Fairs in Tervuren in 1897 and Brussels in 1958. This was actually a reworking of a performance that had already been put on in Ghent, Cape Town, Antwerp and Mechelen by then. And I was lucky enough to attend the performance in Brussels. The commission was chaired by a senior former politician, and one of the witnesses was a historian, who, as it happens, was asked to join the expert group advising the real parliamentary commission set up last year. Seated in the Senate chamber, the audience was asked to vote on a series of policy recommendations for dealing with the Belgian colonial past at the end of the performance. These ranged from financial compensation to restitution of stolen African art to including the "human zoo" phenomenon in school curricula. This artistic project has also led to actual official apologies by the mayors of Ghent and Brussels for the human zoos that have been staged in their cities.
Stef Craps 50:25
All of this felt a little outlandish at the time, but less than three years later, the House of Representatives, which is right next to the Senate in the same building, would establish a very similar real-world commission. In this case to the path had already been paved. So when in June 2020, the House Speaker suggested setting up a truth and reconciliation commission to deal with the Belgian colonial past and its legacies. It's not as if the idea came to him out of the blue. He and his colleagues had recently witnessed just such a truth commission right under their noses, albeit an artistic one. Artists had handed the politicians the idea on a platter, you might say, then, that this is a case of life imitating art.
Stef Craps 51:09
In the third and final parts of this presentation, I will argue that we shouldn't get carried away by the developments of June and July 2020, significant though they were. While progress has been made, much work remains to be done. For one thing, the colonization, or the decolonization rather, of public space is far from complete. Several towns and cities resisted calls to remove colonial monuments or rename streets called after colonial figures. Some individuals and groups even staged counter protests in support of Leopold II. And remarkably, these included the Federal Minister of Social Integration Denis Ducarme, who defiantly posed in front of the cleaned-up equestrian statue of Leopold II on Place de Throne in Brussels on the 15th of June. That's him in the photo on the right. That statue, which is located right next to the Royal Palace, remains standing. And to this day, as an emblem of the national amnesia regarding the colonial past, it's a frequent target of decolonization protestors and has been for years, but it's always cleaned up again.
Stef Craps 52:20
Secondly, unprecedented though it was, the king's expression of regret should not be mistaken for an apology, which would carry far more weight. Indeed, the king stopped short of making an apology, presumably because that's a costly business for heads of state. After all, apologizing means taking responsibility, which can have serious legal consequences. It could create a legal basis on which the formerly colonized or their descendants could claim reparations. It's safer and cheaper to just express one's regret, which is what the king did. And some felt that he could and should have gone much further. An official apology could in fact be one of the outcomes of the transitional justice process initiated by the Belgian parliament last July, but that remains to be seen.
Stef Craps 53:09
The special commission hasn't really started its work yet. So it's too early to pass judgment on it. But it's already clear that it's fighting an uphill battle. It's hard to see how it could successfully execute its mandate. First of all, its remit is huge. Its concerns two phases of colonialism, three former colonies or protectorates with rather different histories, and the post-colonial period all the way up to the present moment. Moreover, the commission must reflect on reconciliation, colonial heritage history, education, restitution, apologies and compensation, among other things. So that's a lot of ground to cover, to say the least. Indeed, the commission is wildly ambitious. That's exciting, of course, but it's likely to result in disappointments. If it fails to live up to the expectations it has created for itself. The commission may have bitten off more than it or any commission, really, can chew.
Stef Craps 54:09
A second problem is the commission's unilateralism. In order to be effective, transitional justice has to be a participatory process involving all key stakeholders and the whole of society. The special commission isn't off to a great start in this regard. The African diaspora in Belgium and the populations of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi feel largely excluded. First of all, the commission was the product of a very Belgian debate. The initiative was taken not in response to actual concrete demands for reparations or apologies from the former colonies, but as the outcome of a debate in the Belgian media in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing BLM protests. Moreover, all the members of the commission are Belgian MPs. It's not an international body, despite the international nature of its mission. Furthermore, the composition of the expert group was and continues to be controversial. In fact, four of the 10 experts turned down the invitation and had to be replaced by others.
Stef Craps 55:16
The commission initially turned to the Royal Museum for Central Africa for help with selecting experts for the expert group. And that's an institution that's deeply implicated in colonialism. It's seen by many as part of the problem, rather than as part of a potential solution. So that didn't go over well with the African diaspora. Neither did the preference for academic expertise over experiential expertise, nor the under-representation of experts from Central Africa. What is more, several diaspora organizations refused to work with the expert group because they object to the presence of one of the members, a lawyer of Rwandan descent, who is part of an organization that has been accused of denying the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. One organization has even set up a parallel, rivaling truth commission of its own, as they don't believe the official commission will do a proper job. So that's not a very promising start.
Stef Craps 56:18
There is a perception that instead of healing the wounds of the past, the former colonizer is actually adding insult to injury by once again marginalizing and disrespecting the victim communities. Maybe that perception can still be turned around. But it's definitely another problem that the commission will have to confront. The UN Working Group on People of African Descent that visited Belgium in 2019 wrote in its report that "There is clear evidence that racial discrimination is endemic in institutions in Belgium." It's added that "The root causes of present-day human rights violations lie in the lack of recognition of the true scope of violence and injustice of colonization." Indeed, in a recent University of Antwerp survey, half of the respondents said Belgium had done more good than bad in Congo. And this statistic gives you an idea of the size of the challenge that the parliamentary commission is up against. Again, I think 2020 was a momentous year in terms of post-colonial memory politics in Belgium, thanks to the BLM movements, but it's clear that the road ahead is still long and arduous. Thank you.
Debora Silverman 57:36
Thank you. I'd now like to turn our floor over to Sibo Kanobana, who's going to speak to us on contemporary politics, memory and racism following Stef. Thank you, Sibo. Right, we can't hear you. He's muted.
Sibo Kanobana 58:08
Yes, now I'm unmuted. You can hear me? Okay. Yeah, thank you. I'm very much honored to be here today, to somehow have my first visit to Los Angeles, I've never been to that place before. So yeah, so I will focus today on race and decolonization and I will try to give you a Belgian perspective. There will be some overlap with what Professors Craps and Silverman just have told you, but I hope that I will give you some some new things to think about.
Sibo Kanobana 58:46
So, I will give you a quick overview of the history of the black presence in in Belgium, and how racism has been addressed in Belgium. And to do so I will explore, first, the Belgian migration policies and colonial policies, then the Basel concepts and discourses of ethnic diversity in Belgium, and how decolonization and anti-racism are very much intertwined. And finally, I will conclude with some perspectives of some contemporary black Belgian thinkers who center blackness and decolonization in their efforts to fight racism.
Sibo Kanobana 59:24
Now, until the 1990s, the black presence in Belgium was fairly limited, and the Congolese population was estimated at around 80,000s. Today, Afro descendants are estimated to represent about 250,000 people. However, next to Black people, many other communities in Belgium experienced racism and in the 1950s, following World War Two, and similar to other places in Europe, a lack of labor force prompted the Belgian government to attract migrant workers for its industry and infrastructure. Now finding laborers for these industries proved, in Europe in general, difficult, since Belgian workers and European workers in general had, thanks to colonialism, acquired rights and better working conditions than ever before. Therefore, Western governments, rather than improve these working conditions, chose to recruit foreign workers who would accept exploitative working conditions. And these workers would usually be found in the colonies or in the former colonies.
Sibo Kanobana 1:00:31
Yet, contrary to the neighboring countries, such as the Netherlands or France or the UK, in Belgium, they didn't recruit in their colonies or in their former colonies, but rather arranged with countries such as Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Morocco, to stimulate migrants to come and work in Belgium. And it's important to say temporarily. Now, this policy stands in line with Belgium's colonial policy in general. During the colonial period, the Belgian authorities explicitly avoided to promote Congolese settlement in Belgium and developed measures to prevent Congolese migration. One of the reasons why we... Congo didn't have a lot of highly skilled or highly educated Congolese at independence.
Sibo Kanobana 1:01:18
Now the Belgian colonies were never considered a labor force reserve for Belgium's industry in the 1950s. And two reasons can be discerned for this, specific to the Belgian situation. First, in the 1950s, there was a shortage of workers for the industrial and agricultural exploitation of Congo itself and second... resulting in a lot of internal migration, internal forced migration within and between the colonies from Rwanda to Congo, etc. Now, second, the Belgian political elites were concerned that Congolese immigration would undermine the imagined homogeneity of... racial homogeneity of Belgium. And the Belgian color project was early on concerned with racial homogeneity, as it also established policies of spatial segregation based on race in the colonies made far-reaching efforts to invisibilize the issue of mixed-race children in Congo, in Rwanda and in Burundi.
Sibo Kanobana 1:02:22
Also, the labor migration policies after World War Two were not supposed to threaten the imagines wide homogeneity of Belgium. These policies were thought of as temporary measures, promoting temporary migrants. Research shows how the first generation of Moroccan, Turkish, Italian and Greek labor migrants all experienced similar forms of stigmatization and marginalization. However, the experience of belonging among the second and the third generation of so-called migrants shows a clear difference between Italian Belgians and Greek Belgians on one hand, and Turkish and Moroccan Belgians on the other hand. The latter experienced to be reduced to being Muslims, and to be viewed as illegitimate and unvalued citizens. While people of Italian and Greek descent do not appear to experience tensions between belonging to Belgium and simultaneously priding themselves of their origins.
Sibo Kanobana 1:03:21
I would argue that this process clearly points at a specific kind of racial homogenousness deployed in Belgium: whiteness. However, the social processes are barely addressed in terms of race, let alone in terms of whiteness. Whiteness, as far as I know, never been on the table as a power relation to take into account seriously in Belgium, which, however, could at least partially explain, I think, the different experiences of third-generation Italian and Greek Belgians versus Moroccan and Turkish Belgians. Now, so why, why don't we in Belgium talk about these things in terms of race? Now, it has been argued that in Europe since the Holocaust, there is a silence about race. Because race was associated with eugenics with fascism, it was increasingly avoided by progressive social scientists. As a result, in Belgium, ethnicity, ethnic group, ethnic minorities, are the favorite concepts to refer to groups of racialized others. Other concepts have informed how the debate of ethnic inequality is to be understood as an essentially cultural issue related to recent history of migration.
Sibo Kanobana 1:04:40
Ethnic minorities have since the 1950s, indeed, being framed collage chronologically with different words: guest workers, immigrants, migrants, Muslims, alectones (sp?) -- which is a very popular word now -- and anderstalige, which I would argue is increasingly the new word to refer to these racialized others. That word "anderstalige" literally means other linguals, and refers to people who have another mother tongue than Dutch. While anderstalige you may also refer to white other linguals, the word appears to frequently be a proxy for racialized people, that is, people with a non-European migrant background. Anderstalige, other linguals, and ethnic minorities both encompass the possibility of white ethnic minorities or white on the south. Consequently, the words have the potential to deny the discourses that make use of them may actually be discourses about racialized others. Furthermore, the word anderstalige in a context of ethnic inequality frames that inequality essentially as a linguistic issue. Moreover, anderstalige entails not only a Dutch-centric binary perspective on language, but also otherness and linguistic inadequacy.
Sibo Kanobana 1:06:01
Thus in the same vein as the aforementioned words that have been used in Dutch since the 1950s,, and also in French, to designate racialized others, anderstalige has a clear potential for negative connotations. New words may pop up or may be found in the future, which would then still come from that... still comprise the possibility to confuse ho we are actually talking about. And as a consequence of these words, we still serve the possibility to refute that one is actually talking about racialized others. Therefore, it may be essential that we start to accept what is really going on here and start to talk about racialization and social processes that produce whiteness. Because racism in Belgium was essentially formed as a problem that emerged following the labor migration flows from Italy, Greece, and Morocco and Turkey after the Second World War. The roots of racism in colonialism, in anti-Semitism, in Orientalism are erased, as well as how these sources have shaped Europe's and Belgium self-image as a place of whiteness.
Sibo Kanobana 1:07:16
Now, following the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and subsequent Congo wars, people of Sub-Saharan African origin started to migrate in higher numbers than ever before to Belgium. And the high numbers of Afro Belgians in Belgium in the late 20th century and early 21st century made it eventually impossible to ignore how the logics of racism are implicated with a colonial legacy. It seems that as long as Black people were not a ... not a part of the conversation on racism, race could be disregarded as a valid analytical tool to understand ethnic inequality in Belgium because issues were mainly understood as cultural, linguistic, migratory and religious issues inherent to the stigmatized groups themselves. The structural violence of whiteness, which creates a categories of the subaltern other of the racialized other, could be completely rendered invisible.
Sibo Kanobana 1:08:13
In the early 2000s, white Belgians started to organize in the struggle against racism, and put decolonization from the beginning at the center of their efforts. Together with the colonial past, Afro-descendants have been until then, basically forgotten in the debate. However, because of the ways in which Belgium celebrated the 50th anniversary of Congolese independence in 2010, where they firstly ignored the critical perspectives of Black Belgians, predominantly Black anti-racist organizations started to raise their voices louder than ever before.
Sibo Kanobana 1:08:49
Now, the efforts to decolonize public space are very much implicated in this and I think Professor Silverman and Stef Craps already talked about this. But I'd like to say that it really began in 2004 when, when activists took that hand that Professor Silverman was talking about in the coastal town of Ostend. In the capital city of Brussels, the first public actions seem to have taken place in 2005, following the decision to renovate a monument called Monument Aux Pionniers Belges Au Congo, the Monument for the Belgian Pioneers in Congo, in a very important debat de Sain Contenere (sp?).
Sibo Kanobana 1:09:28
Now 2008 seems to be really a landmark year because in that year, there was a philosopherand activists, Le Refus de Giroux (?), who did did a critical performance against a huge Gastrin statue of Leopold II that you've all seen in the pictures that Professor Craps and Silverman have shared. But there was also the first commemoration of the Unknown Congolese Soldier organized by Black associations that took place at the memorial for the African campaigns because this is also one of these elements that is completely forgotten, the role of the Congolese soldiers in the First World War, which is ... I'm not gonna elaborate on this, but it's kind of an essential page in the history of Europe and of the First World War. And also in 2008, there was the first the decolonial Brussels city tours, from which eventually, the CMCLE that Professor Craps was talking about, the Collectif Memoire Colonial, which links explicitly the colonial memory to the fight against racism, which is today still a very influential, I would say, pan-African organization in Belgium.
Sibo Kanobana 1:10:45
Now, these developments didn't occur in isolation from the international context. "Coloniality of power" was coined in the late 1990s and early 2000s by Latin American scholars, and it drew the attention to the dark side of modernity, as Manoro calls it, and the historical sources that still mark the contemporary world order, that is the power that is involved in the perpetuation of racialized social inequality. Subsequently, in South Africa, decolonization became a method in the actions against structural racism. And what happened in South Africa made its way to the UK, and then to the Netherlands, to France and, eventually, to Belgium. The fact that these efforts find their roots among Black thinkers is not insignificant. Black people in Belgium are a tremendously various population, a very diverse population that can barely be understood as an ethnicity or a culture.
Sibo Kanobana 1:11:39
In all their internal ethnic and cultural diversity, however, they often have close linguistic, religious, historical and sometimes even family ties with white people. The racism they experience cannot be de-racialized is a linguistic issue or a migration issue or a cultural issue or a religious issue. And recent research in Belgium, from 2017, shows that even as a minority that is more highly educated than the average Belgian, about 60% of Afro-descendants in Belgium have a higher education degree, still they do experience significantly more discrimination on the labor market and on housing market than any other demographic in Belgium, including the so-called Muslims. So I mean, this is a pretty significant entity.
Sibo Kanobana 1:12:35
The Dutch cognate for race, in French it's race. But these are words that are not in the evidence, it's not everyday words that you can just throw around in a conversation in Belgium, without raising really questions. It has a very heavy ideological weight. I can much more easily talk about race in English, Moreoever there was in Dutch, no widely accepted word that means whiteness, let alone Blackness. I mean, those words are not, I mean, some academics are using it, but they are not widely circulated. And these concepts are avoided because they are generally experienced as inaccurate words.
Sibo Kanobana 1:13:15
But similar things can be actually said about Europe. Europe is a concept that we use every day that we consider as a valid word, but it's a concept that is not discredited as inaccurate, although Europeans have long been unsure about where Europe ends in the East, while in the West, and to the South, the sea provides a splendid marker as the historian Roberts said. Now likewise, while phenotype, language, culture and/or religion inform in complex ways the limits of what is whiteness in the East, Blackness somehow functions as the seas, as that splendid marker that defines precisely where the continent or where whiteness begins and where it ends. Also, Paul Gilroy uses the sea as a metaphor for Blackness, Blackness as the rhizomorphic fluid in constant flux, [an] historically contingent form of identity in contrast to the continuing lure of ethnic absolutism, that's similarly, similarly rooted in whiteness. With its rhizomorphic and fluid characteristics, Blackness reminds Belgium of its own exclusionary, hardened self-image of whiteness.
Sibo Kanobana 1:14:32
Now, black Belgian intellectuals addressed this in their work. Melat Nigussie, for instance, pushes forward at what [unclear] right to opacity, or reappropriation of Blackness not as an ethnic essence, but as a resistance against the colonial idea of fixed and immutable differences. Olivia Rutazibwa has the idea of epistemic Blackness that is less about skin color or rigid identities, but more about erased insights and experiences of people on the receiving end of oppression.
Sibo Kanobana 1:15:09
With these perspectives, Black thinkers in Belgium in their efforts to center insights and experiences of Blackness defy established structures of nation states, not only with content and with this course, it's also with method and practice, because they work, they write and they publish together across conventional borders, across the across the Dutch-Belgian divide, across the Flemish-Francophone divide within Belgium and across the activists/academic/ and artistic institutional divide also within Belgium.
Sibo Kanobana 1:15:40
Now Black people in Belgium seemingly make coloniality, and thus, also race and whiteness, and how they are imbricated in institutions of nation states, unescapable. Indeed, the roots of whiteness are to be found in colonialism and contemporary coloniality. Undoing it means to decolonize whiteness and Europe and, citing Falon, whatever may be the headings used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon. Now in line with Olivia Rutazibwa, I would resist to interpret this violence as a race war, or an identitarian exercise of exclusion, but rather, as a contestation of hegemonic ideologies and an invitation to share and to listen and to center the echoes of different marginalized experiences. And as Stef Craps has said, like the commission actually failed in doing exactly that. And that's how I want to end my short presentation. Thank you.
Debora Silverman 1:16:51
Great. Thank you so much, both Stef and Sibo. And thank you for staying to the time so we have time to discuss among the panelists, as well as have questions. So each of you was really... I mean, you informed us about many things, but also raised so many interesting and important analytical questions. And I thought I would try to draw you out about two. Each of you can respond in your own materials or thoughts about contemporary life now.
Debora Silverman 1:17:39
So it's to draw out a little bit more the last comments of Sibo about the moving across borders and the international character of Black Lives Matter and the national particularity of Belgium, and how you think about the global context -- more comments about that. What is the nature of memory politics in relation to other kinds of memory projects, for example, the Holocaust paradigm or other forms of thinking about the past in relation to violations and violence? But if you could talk a little bit more about the global significance, as you see it, in relation to how you presented. Both of your talks showed both very clear particularities of the Belgian case, especially even the linguistic ones in terms of categories, but also the activist role of memory among different groups. It's so fractured and dispersive in Belgium because the nature of authority and community is very decentralized. But what do you see as the possibilities for global connections? if any?
Stef Craps 1:19:03
I'd be happy to answer that, I'll try to answer that question, thank you. Yeah, I mean, as for global significance, you know, Belgium is obviously a tiny country. And, you know, you might wonder why anyone should take notice of what's going on here. How could, you know, how could that possibly be relevant to other, larger, more powerful countries? But it seems to me that, you know, Belgium is actually a kind of microcosm of the EU to begin with, right? So in Belgium is emblematic of the EU as as a polity of diverse groups of people bound together by history. And in the case of Belgium, you know, these groups are the Dutch-speaking Flemish in the north, the French speaking Waloons in the south and a small, you know, German-speaking minority in the east. It's no coincidence, I think, that the two, or two of the three presidents of the European Council that we've had since that position was created, have been former Prime Ministers of Belgium. You know, except for the different scale, holding the EU member states together is actually a challenge that's comparable to holding the different regions and communities in Belgium, together. Belgium is and sees itself as as a kind of bridge between northern Europe and the Mediterranean countries.
Stef Craps 1:20:35
And, you know, just as Belgium is located in the heart of Europe, so Congo is located in the heart of Africa. Belgium, as you pointed out in your presentation, Debora, was created as a buffer states between belligerent European countries. And, you know, in a sense, it's been trying to pacify the.., internal tensions that that has created ever since. And similarly, the Congo Free State was meant to be a buffer state between British and French spheres of influence in in Africa. And, you know, the Congo Free State was intended, as you also pointed out in... to be an international free trade zone where every European power could could do business. And, you know, Joseph Conrad writes in a Heart of Darkness, and I know you'd like to quote that line as well, Debora, that all Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz. So in other words, Kurtz is not just a Belgian colonist. He's actually the arch European imperialist and he stands not just for Belgian colonization of Congo, but for the European colonial project at large. And his moral failure is Europe's moral failure. So there's a sense in which both Belgium and Congo were quite central to, to the making of a kind of Eurocentric world order, if you like. So, how Belgium and Congo fare is significant, I would say, to the whole of Europe and, and possibly even beyond that, to the world at large.
Debora Silverman 1:22:21
Sibo Kanobana 1:22:23
Yeah. Yeah, I agree, Stef, with everything that you said about this role of Belgium, an emblematic space, in a way really representative of Europe. And from, from, from the black perspective, I mean, it is it is also important to know that a city like Brussels is, has the highest amount of people born outside of the country in.... the second highest, after Dubai, its most diverse place on Earth. So, so Belgium is kind of a weird place and its capital is also very much a crossroads. And I was thinking about two authors who are... there is Caryl Phillips, who wrote the European Tribe in the 80s, where he writes about his travels as a Black man in Europe, and also tells about about Belgium. And there was a Johnny Pitts, who, a few years ago, I think, two years ago, released a book Afropean, which is also a website, afropean.org where ... And I know, I know Johnny Piits and he reconsiders Brussels. Yeah, I mean, it's the capital of the EU, so it's kind of a special place with all these all these monuments and no reckoning of the colonial past, but at the same time, it's a place where so many things are happening. Maybe not officially, but where where a lot of people from all over the world meet and where the Black European experience is actually taking root. Because there is really something like that.
Sibo Kanobana 1:23:54
I mean, between 2008 and 2013 I was writing a blog. It's still online. It's called afroeurope.blogspot.com. Together with a, with a, Eric Campbell from the Netherlands, in which we try to to collect the Black experience all over Europe. And that is also what Johnny Pitts was inspired by, because of his book. So I think in a way I'm repeating a bit what what Stef said, but. but it is it is an emblematic space where we are here. And it's much more, I mean the colonization of Congo is much more than just a Belgian endeavor. So I mean, it's definitely an international thing, where everybody is involved in this.
Sibo Kanobana 1:24:38
Now what I want to say about internationalization, I'd like also to point out the importance of social media in capitalizing these efforts because I talked about 2008 being an important year. This is about the time that smartphones started to be mainstream. Everybody got on social media. And that has really... that, that plays a really huge role in the fact that this conversation could could take place and that people could find each other and, and yeah, empower, actually, the anti-racist of the Afro against Afrophobia. And another element that is not very much connected to it, but it's something that I really experienced very much here in Belgium is that it's much more easier. We have now a Mandela Stadium that has been built in Brussels. There is a Miriam Makeba Square in Ghent that has been inaugurated. So it's very easy to find, I mean, to find South African icons, and to put them in the public space. But once Belgium has to face its own history, it's much more complicated and much, much more painul. Yeah.
Debora Silverman 1:25:56
The Lumumba Square, as I learned?
Sibo Kanobana 1:25:59
Yeah, but but the Lumumba Square is just a piece of pavement. I mean, there will be nobody with that address. It's actually I mean... there was another square that the activists were aiming for, and it's really a nice place with trees. And there's still like a plaque there, too. But it's not even a square, its a place where two streets cross and there are a few trees, and they want to make it into a square. But the, yeah, I mean, the mayor of that of Brusells didn't want to.
Stef Craps 1:26:30
It's a pathetic little square, not even worth that title. I would say it's quite, you know, it exists, but that's, you know, the best thing you can say about it. But yeah, I think, you know, talking about, you know, Belgian memory culture, I think it is clear, I think this, to some extent illustrates that, you know, that memory of the colonial past takes a backseat to either memory of the world wars and the Holocaust. So, you know, we've got high-profile First World War museums, Holocaust museums, and in Ypres and Mechelen, for example, as well as you know, various other commemorative sites. And, you know, these honor the memory of, of the victims of those tragedies, but we don't really have anything comparable to that to commemorate the colonial past, rights.
Stef Craps 1:27:29
I mean, there is, of course, the Royal Museum for Central Africa. However, that was clearly, you know, never conceived as a memory museum honoring the victims of colonialism. Quite the opposite, even, right? I mean, its function was to spread colonial propaganda. So yeah, I think, you know, that museum hardly serves the same purpose as the First World War and Holocaust museums, for example. So... And, you know, I think an important reason why Belgium struggles, to to adequately memorialize the colonial past, whereas there is plenty of commemorative activity surrounding the world wars and the Holocaust, is that, you know, this is a history in which Belgian or Belgians appeared in a distinctly unflattering light. We're, you know, we weren't victims or bystanders, but perpetrators in this case. So there is, you know, a high emotional cost to acknowledging one's role as a as a perpetrator. I think that's a... that's a big part of it.
Debora Silverman 1:28:45
Yes, I mean, I also would argue that's one of the reasons there was such a very quick and solid suppression or burial of the Congo Freespat Free State period and the violence that was publicly acknowledged that, you know, 1908, 1910, there was even an attempt to take Belgium to the World Court. And once World War One, created such a terrible victimization of Belgium by the Germans, it was inconceivable that that history could come back for a long time. And there was a rehabilitation of Leopold after World War One, and there were the civilian casualties. And very strikingly, and I think people... no one's really written about this, yes, but the doubling of the kind of violence enacted in the Congo. And the violence that was enacted against Belgian civilians by the Germans are very parallel and some of the discourses get confused. Verharen (sp?) wrote poetry about during the war people taking around sacks of severed hands and body parts and it wasn't clear if that had actually been part of the atrocities or not. And at the time of the Belgian atrocities, the defense against it was that, "Oh, everyone's exaggerating. The British are just jealous of us, that couldn't have happened."
Debora Silverman 1:30:10
And similarly, in the debates about the propaganda wars of the Germans against the Belgians, there was a sense, "Oh, this never could have happened. It's just the British whipping up anti-war sentiment against the Germans." So there's some very powerful parallels in the histories of victimization and perpetration that the Belgians couldn't really adopt that after... Even into the 1950s, after World War Two, it was even more problematic. So the sealing up of that history, which was very quick after international explosion of scandal is is very unusual, and related to the problems of Belgium during the wars. So it is a very fraught issue.
Debora Silverman 1:31:01
I wanted to come back to one thing, which is, I was going to suggest in the German case, and possibly in the U.S., there are possible national initiatives for memory, work, education, the past being reconsidered. And Belgium has no state. I mean, the decentralization and centrifugal power means, can this commission actually initiate a nationwide program? Or will it be how will it be adopted, given that Brussels has 11 governments and all of the dispersal of authorities. I wanted to draw you both out about how you see the commission. You both, I think Sibo even a little more than Stef, is the one who's skeptical. But on the other hand, it's unprecedented and surprising that it's happening. So, do you... how do you see the commission working in terms of repair remorse, accountability, reconciliation, reparations? First, there has to be the apology, as you mentioned, Stef, but what could that process be? Just yesterday in the U.S., there was finally a step taken towards this in the U.S. after many years. And that's... it's hard to conceive, since the U.S. has become so much more fractured regionally, how it will actually unfold. But in Belgium, it'll take its own form. So what possibilities do you see for the commission, if any?
Stef Craps 1:32:42
Yeah, it's hard to say at this point, right, in part because the, you know, the exact contours of the commission remain to be determined. I mean, the expert group has started working and it's sort of due to submitt its report. But, you know, that's supposed to act as a kind of roadmap for the commission. And I suspect it won't be long now. But at this point, we can really only speculate about, you know, how the commission will operate and what will be the outcome. So we can sort of taken an educated guess, I suppose, about what will come out of this process. Personally, I think, you know, truth telling, sort of public acknowledgments of wrongdoings in the past, which is an important step in the transitional justice process -- I've got good hope, personally, I suppose that you know, this parliamentary commission will will manage to deliver on that promise to some extent, in any case, right.
Stef Craps 1:33:46
After all, you know, the problem is not... it's not so much a lack of historical research on or, you know, on Congo or Rwanda or Burundi or the colonial past, I would say. Nor is it disagreement among historians, really. But it's the the inadequate dissemination of the available historical knowledge beyond academia. So there is sort of a lack of societal awareness, if you like, about the colonial past. And I think it's important that, you know, the parliamentary commission help ensure that knowledge about the colonial past becomes more widespread across society, including, indeed, in the education system. And indeed, our complicated, convoluted state structure might might be an obstacle there, but, but still, most of the major the political arena itself, I think, you know, there's several, you know, myths to be dispelled where I think, you know, the parliamentary commission can play a role, you know, the myth of Leopold has as a great man, bringing civilization to Congo. But also, and maybe even more urgently, the myth of Belgian Congo as a model colony, which is arguably, you know, even more tenacious, because many Belgians believe that after 1908, when, you know, the Belgian state took over from from Leopold, that the situation in in Congo improved dramatically at that point. And that since then, colonialism was actually a blessing for Congo rather than a curse. You know, that's sort of what many people still think, after all, you know, Belgium built schools and hospitals, roads, railways, and so on and so forth. And I... pardon?
Debora Silverman 1:35:39
But there were 16 college graduates of 13 million.
Stef Craps 1:35:42
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. They were educated.
Debora Silverman 1:35:46
Hold it there for one moment, maybe Sibo can say one thing about reparations or the commission, and then Laurie would like us to take questions in the last 10 minutes.
Stef Craps 1:35:55
Sibo Kanobana 1:35:57
Yeah, I don't know if I can just address that briefly. But, but I think I mean, that there are two, two other debates that are very much connected to this that might be inspirational. There's first, like the story of the mixed-race children that have been taken away from their mothers and put in institutions and then adopted in white families. That is also recently, just recently, also, the Catholic Church officially apologized about this. But one of the I mean, it's it's people, it's about people who are still alive, and who experienced these things and who have now the access to, to, to the documentation and to the archives to find their families and stuff. So that's very palpable. So what is going on there? And, and, and how important it is. Now, I still think that even there, not enough... I mean, a lot of words have been produced, but then I know that factually, people are still confronted with a lot of problems to gain access to these archives and stuff like that.
Sibo Kanobana 1:36:59
Another thing is the restitution debate, where I think and I think we have to think about, about all that stuff at the museum that has been stolen, and elsewhere. I think we have to think about reparations in similar ways, in a way to, to trigger a conversation to face what is going... what what went on and what is still going on in the interest of Belgium, because I'm always asking my question, like, whose interests are served here? Why are we doing this? Why suddenly, does the king feel the need to express his regrets? Not because there is BLM. I mean, that there's much more there going on, what I mean, we've been saying this for a long time. So there's much more going on there. And there's about economic interests in the Congo with the Chinese getting into the picture and stuff like that. It is definitely also influencing these, these, these these things. So I just want to drop that. But I think we have to take the questions from the audience. Yeah.
Debora Silverman 1:37:58
OK, thank you. No, it's very normal.
Laurie Hart 1:38:01
Thank you so much. Thank you for these extraordinary presentations. And we have many wonderful questions. So I'm going to try to just start with with two different aspects of the discussion that have been raised by our questioners and that were, in some sense, raised by Debora right at the beginning, concerning that kind of composition and fragility, and sort of, let's say, affect of the, of the Belgian state itself. So the first question from Margaret Jacob is why do we leave out of the discussion the nature of Belgian society and the inferiority assigned to Flemish speakers well into the 20th century? Does that not set up a mentality at ease with discrimination?
Laurie Hart 1:38:49
And let me just read one other question along the same lines. There seem to be plenty of right-wing Flemish nationalists who are not particularly anti-racist, but are quite happy to use history and memory to scapegoat the Belgian state and the Belgian monarchy as racist and even to take on the mantle of a shared oppression by Belgium." So that's on the sort of Belgian and Flemish side. And let me just add one other question because we have little time remaining. I just want to put these two in conversation. The second is, while Belgium has a lot of self-reflection to do, Belgian colonization occurred not in Belgium, but in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. Stef pointed out complaints have been raised about the lack of representation of Belgians of African descent on the commission, but what of Central Africans living in Congo, Rwanda, Burundi most different will never visit Europe. Is there a risk of talking about their histories and heritage without ever including them? So enormous questions, I know, but perhaps we start with Sibo and...
Sibo Kanobana 1:40:01
Yeah, I mean, the Flemish thing is completely up my alley. So I'd love to, to talk about this. I'm currently actually editing a book, where we are we reading Flemish colonial literature, read by Afro-Belgians. And they are particularly assessing these these works and, and trying to reflect on what that means. Now, it's true. I mean, it's, it's that, when you look at the 19th century, the Flemish were, I mean, maybe for an English-speaking audience, you know, the history of the Irish in England, and of industrialization in England. Anyway, the Irish were racialized, right? So they were, they were, they were marginalized, they were exploited. And the same thing could be said, or the same argument could be made about Flemish workers in the 19th century with the industrialization of Belgium. So the Flemish... Belgium was when created in the 19th century, understood as a French-speaking space where the Flemish people were considered inferior. And there is this, really this link between race and class, between language and class, ethnicity and class, it was really a thing.
Sibo Kanobana 1:41:08
Now, it is interesting to see and I'm going to be really quick because it's very complicated and very complex. But I'm just going to try to... It is interesting to see that the Flemish emancipation movements and the giving of rights, linguistic rights, because eventually it was a class struggle that has been understood as an ethnic struggle. This, this is giving of rights to Flemish people to speak their language to organize their own education, stuff like that, goes completely in parallel with the colonial project. It seems that the colonial project makes it possible to emancipate the Flemish or makes it possible, let's say, to give, to make Flemish people get access to middle classes to, to yes, to be legitimate citizens of Belgium. The same could be said actually about the Irish in England. But anyway, I'm not I'm not going to going to make that comparison.
Sibo Kanobana 1:42:05
But it's interesting to see. I mean, if you look at the literature, the books that have been written by Flemish authors, which was actually a political statement to write in Dutch, about your experiences in Congo. It's what... There are two things that I would say. You see that the Flemish people who went to Congo -- we're generally speaking of ones who were in first contact with the Congolese because they were the lower hierarchically, they were at the lower echelons of the colonial system. So they were in contact, direct contact with the local population. Usually they spoke the language, Swahili or Lingala Chiluba, or the Congo, they spoke that language because for them French was just as foreign as speaking the local languages. And that resulted to the fact that the Congolese elites today, when they refer to Belgians, they still talk about the Flemish. I mean, that that's, that's the Flemish, it's like the emblematic Belgian. It's like the first white man that you encounter during colonization, while the Francophones were in the cities. I mean, I'm making it I'm making it abstract because it was more nuanced than that. And that Congo really worked for a lot of Flemish people as an emancipatory tool, as a way to go to Congo, make money, come back and become middle class, buy a home and you find that, again and again, in all these stories, even if [unclear] gave us, which is you find this again and again, this frame.
Sibo Kanobana 1:43:28
And, and I also said in my presentation, how social welfare in Europe and colonialism our interests are intricately intertwined with each other. So the wealth generated by colonialism made it possible to create a society that was more equal in in Europe, and one of the things in Belgium is the emancipation of the Flemish people. And the fact that until the 60s, I mean, starting the 60s, they could like be considered as a full-`fledged Belgians. And it's only I would say recently, in the last 20 years, they shouldn't be ashamed to being speak Dutch in Brussels anymore. Although I mean, not everybody agrees with what I'm seeing right now. But I mean, that's, that's what I want to say. I could go on and on about this subject because I really think it's super relevant. And certainly, what is pointed out, the fact that for a lot of right-wing Flemish people, they are against the king. They don't like the royal family, they are anti-Belgian. So for them, the anti-colonial discourse is... actually it fits perfectly with with a pro-Flemish agenda, which doesn't mean an anti-racist agenda per se. I mean, I don't want to say that everybody's pro Flemish is racist. That's not true. But yeah, I didn't even talk about their involvement in the Second World War, stuff like that, although there were also left-wing Flemish nationalists. Let's make that clear, but, but it's too much for right now. I think that's what I want to say.
Laurie Hart 1:45:01
Yeah, thank you so much. I wish we had a lot more time. Stef, Debora, final remarks?
Stef Craps 1:45:10
I can briefly answer the question about, you know, involvement of people in Burundi and Rwanda or Congo for that matter, right. So from what I've heard, that the parliamentary Commission does actually plan to, to involve Congolese, Rwandan and Burundian citizens by holding hearings in Central Africa. Right. So there's the first meeting of the commission and so far, I think the only meeting, which took place in October last year. [It] was actually, you know, an exchange between the commission members and the, the expert group. And the experts, you know, they gave the commission an update on their work, but they also advised them on the way forward and they sort of made it clear to them, they urged the commission to really sort of open its doors -- to leave the parliament building and to, to, to actually go to Central Africa, for example. And for what I've heard, they sort of have taken that advice to heart and are indeed planning to, to sort of reach out to people in Central Africa in that way.
Laurie Hart 1:46:10
Thank you. Thank you, Debora, final remark?
Debora Silverman 1:46:14
No. Well, I mean, I guess I would say as far as the, the Franco-Flemish divide is always the sort of the place that we redound to for Belgian history, and there's so many, they're different phases in different periods. At the beginning of the Congo Free State period in the 1880s, both the Francophones and the Flemish, as far as we know, went to the Congo and there wasn't much of a, of a difference in terms of the experience there in the very first decades of this initiative. Mostly the army officers, who were bored and had nothing to do. So there wasn't a divide there, except they all had to speak French in those periods.
Debora Silverman 1:46:57
But the inferiority of the Flemish is very central to the whole pre-post–colonial debate. The Flemish were known in the late 19th century as the Blacks of Congo, and indeed, they were enlisted to fight the atrocities of the Congo as fellow "natives." So, those things are phased in different periods and the contemporary period, as Sibo said and Stef, is much more complicated because you also have Rwanda, Burundi and Congo. But the early period is still very understudied in terms of how the Congo Free State provided a unifying redemptive project for at least those who were drawn there. And galvanized by the king's vision that there should be a plus grande Belgique, a bigger balast for..
Laurie Hart 1:47:47
And that, of course, is a, is a global dimension of of many of these discussions, this sort of connection between those kinds of affective investments, and, and so on. So thank you so much for those comments. And thank you for a wonderful set of presentations and discussion. So much more to talk about, I wish we were not running out of time. And unfortunately, we have to close. I want to thank our great audience, and we will preserve your questions for the speakers because they are really valuable. We hope to see you all at our next BLM Global Perspectives event, the book talk on Friday, May 7 with Olivia Otele on her book, African Europeans, with SA Smythe and Dominic Thomas commenting. So for now, thank you, Debora, Stef and Sibo for this panel, and have a wonderful weekend to all.
Debora Silverman 1:48:40
Thank you so much...
Stef Craps 1:48:42