Leopoldo 2º, the controversial king of Belgium responsible for the deaths of millions of Africans at the end of the 19th century, has his days numbered in a tunnel in Brussels.
From this second (1st), the inhabitants of the Belgian capital will choose, among 11 names of women, which will replace that of the so-called “destructive king” on the road which connects the north-west to the city center, under the Elisabeth park.
The name change is part of a Brussels “feminization” project launched last March by the Secretary of State for Equal Opportunities, Nawal Ben Hamou. A survey carried out at the time by the Secretary for Mobility, Helke van den Brandt, showed that only 6.1% of the streets in the capital were named after women.
“Brussels has built its history with men and women, and they too must find their symbolic place in the public space,” the secretaries said in a statement. Leopoldo 2º was chosen to lose his place on the plate as part of a movement of decolonization.
A few months after the contest launched, statues of the king were attacked during protests by the Black Lives Matter movement, and the city set up a commission – still ongoing – to discuss the possibility of removing them from public places.
The options competition for the new name of the tunnel received 13,000 honored submissions – provided they are already dead and have contributed to society.
A committee selected 10 finalists, from a list that includes women known as the French writer – born in Brussels – Marguerite Yourcenar (1903-1987) and the Polish scientist – naturalized French – Marie Curie (1867-1934), first woman to receive the Nobel Prize and the only one to receive it twice, in two different scientific fields.
Other names refer more explicitly to the fight against racism, such as the American Rosa Parks (1913-2005), who refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man in the 1950s, later driving the Supreme Court to decree segregation. unconstitutional, and Semira Adamou (1978-1998), a Nigerian woman killed by suffocation by five Belgian police officers during an action to expel her by force.
The Brussels government included Belgian singer and actress Annie Cordy (1928-2020) as the 11th option in the final vote, which received the most nominations. The vote will last for a month and the result should coincide with the end of the reforms in the tunnel.
Street name changes in Brussels often take time, as legislation requires locals not to be harmed by postal changes, but this process was made easier by the fact that no one lives in the tunnel.
According to the secretaries, the intention is to repeat the participatory process to change other names in the future.
Who are the 11 women in the conflict
Andrée De Jongh, leader of the resistance during World War II
Annie Cordy, singer and actress
Chantal Akerman, filmmaker
Isala Van Diest, first Belgian doctor
Marguerite Yourcenar, writer
Marie Curie, scientist
Rosa Parks, symbol of the American anti-racist movement
Semira Adamu, Nigerian refugee killed by police
Simone Veil, politician
Sophie Kanza, Congolese Prime Minister
Wangari Muta Mathaai, first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize