A statue of Belgian King Leopold II was removed from a public square in the city of Antwerp on Tuesday.
Local authorities are mulling whether to transfer the monument to a museum after its restoration due to damage over the past years, likely inflicted due to the monarch being widely associated with the cruelty of colonialism on indigenous populations.
Red paint was poured on another statue of Leopold on the outskirts of Brussels on Thursday in an act likely inspired by the Black Lives Matter protest, while 63,000 people signed an online petition over a week calling for the removal of all his monuments.
Recent anti-racism marches in the US and across the world gave new momentum to the protests against the king’s legacy, though his statues had been vandalized multiple times in the past and civil movements had called for the removal of the figure from public spaces.
Local authorities in the country’s Flanders region have compromised with such demands by adding a short historical explanation to Leopold’s statues in the past years.
The king is believed to be responsible for the death of approximately 10 million people on the Belgian colony of Congo Free State between 1885 and 1908, which was treated as the kings’ personal property.
Leopold’s administration used remarkably cruel methods against locals in rubber production, such as cutting off their hands for low productivity. Following the reports of abuse of power, the Belgian government took over the administration of the colony in 1908.
Despite his cruelty, Leopold is one of the most highly praised Belgian monarchs, known as the builder king who contributed to the prosperity and development of the country during his reign from 1865 to 1909.
Several streets, squares and parks honor him across the country and many Belgians believe he should not be discarded from the country’s history despite the colonial controversy.
A counter-petition has been recently launched advocating to keep his statues and public signs as a sign of acceptance of history.
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