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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Plucky King Leopold

Louis Michel, the former European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, is reported by the EU Observer as offering his opinions about Leopold II, King of the Belgians and one-time private owner of the Congo:
“Leopold II was a true visionary for his time, a hero,” he told P-Magazine, a local publication, in an interview on Tuesday 13th July. “And even if there were horrible events in the Congo, should we now condemn them?” … “Leopold II does not deserve these accusations,” continued Mr Michel, himself a descendent of the Belgian king and a “Knight, Officer and Commander” in the Order of Leopold, Belgium’s highest honour. … “The Belgians built railways, schools and hospitals and boosted economic growth. Leopold turned the Congo into a vast labour camp? Really? In those days it was just the way things were done.” …. Admitting there were “irregularities,” he said: “We can easily be tempted to exaggerate when it comes to the Congo … I feel instinctively that he was a hero, a hero with ambitions for a small country like Belgium.” “To use the word ‘genocide’ in relation to the Congo is absolutely unacceptable and inappropriate.”
Let’s be clear about this: what Michel has said is comparable to Holocaust-denial. If you doubt this, or even if you haven’t read it yet, then Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost should set you right. Perhaps 10 million people, perhaps half the population of the area, died during the “Free State” period, victims of Leopold’s greed for the region’s natural resources, chiefly rubber.

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