Today in Belgium, the country celebrates Belgian National Day day. The public holiday commemorates the moment Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg swore allegiance to the new Belgian constitution and become the country’s first monarch.
However, this day also obscures the dark and twisted history that Belgium shares with its colony in Africa – Congo. The memory and legacy of King Leopold’s successor – Leopold II – still looms as the region continues to be over-exploited for minerals and resources while its people are misplaced and abused by multi-national companies for profit.
The well-documented monstrous treatment of the Congolese at the hands of the Belgians between the 19th and early 20th centuries is captured powerfully and unforgettably in the film White King, Red Rubber, Black Death. It is a must see documentary on a day like today, where the so-called greatness of a nation is celebrated, while the source of the country’s wealth is conveniently misplaced within its mainstream and accepted memory.
To celebrate Belgian National Day day is to ignore the horrors of imperialism in Congo and beyond. It is to endorse European superiority at the expense of humanising and empowering indigenous people all over the world.