Belgium: Commandos versus Africa Museum

Brussels 29.09.2020 The lawyers of seven Belgium associations representing former para commandos and officers who have served in Africa have given notice to the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA, or AfricaMuseum) in Tervuren. They ask that “any damage to the honour and reputation of the Belgian para commandos” be obliterated in a text next to a statue at the large rotunda of the museum, Antwerp newspaper reports

The associations demand that any link between the operation of the para commandos and the “crushing” of the rebels be removed. They want the museum to remove any reference “that damages the reputation of the Belgian para commandos”, by 12 October 2020 at the latest.

In the absence of action within the set term, the associations will start legal proceedings, the lawyers say in the notice of default.

It concerns the statue “La Belgique opportant la sécurité au Congo” (Belgium brings security to Congo) by Arsène Matton. In addition, Belgium is portrayed as protecting a sleeping man and child in the folds of its flag. A semi-transparent veil has been applied over that image, with a postcolonial image intended to evoke a “visual and semantic shock that should shed new light on a heavy heritage”.

The picture shows an armed soldier with the text “A Belgian para commando in Stanleyville in 1964, crushing the Simba rebels. The formal independence of Congo in 1960 has by no means sounded the death knell for foreign intervention ”. The seven associations consider that the first sentence of the text is “particularly misleading, hurtful and an attack on the honor” of the then Belgian para commandos. They already sent an open letter in July to the general director of the museum, Guido Gryseels, with Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès in copy.

According to the associations, this sentence establishes a “direct and unmistakable link” between the operation of the Belgian para commandos in Stanleyville, the former name of the current Kisangani, and the crushing of the Simba rebels. “This link is a clear historical untruth”, it sounds. “The intervention of the Belgian para commandos in Stanleyville from November 24 to 28, 1964 was after all a humanitarian operation that made it possible to free 2,375 hostages and was in no way intended to” crush the Simba rebels “. The humanitarian operation of the para commandos had no military purpose; and if Simba rebels were killed by para commandos during the humanitarian operation, it was only in situations of absolute necessity. ”
The associations demand that any link between the operation of the para commandos and the “crushing” of the rebels be removed. They want the museum to remove any reference “that damages the reputation of the Belgian para commandos”, by 12 October 2020 at the latest.

In the absence of action within the set term, the associations will start legal proceedings, the lawyers say in the notice of default.

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