Princess calls for Belgium to 'apologize' for colonial past
Princess Esmeralda believes Belgium should 'apologize' for its colonial past John THYS AFP

Belgium's Princess Esmeralda has repeated her call for Belgium to "apologize" for its colonial past and not simply express regret.

Her comments, made in an interview with AFP this week, come as the royal palace announced that King Philippe will visit the DR Congo, a former Belgian colony, next month.

Two years ago, he expressed regret for his country's colonial abuses, but Esmeralda says Belgium must go further to help repair the damage.

"Belgium must apologise," she told AFP.

"As in a couple, apologies are important to restart a balanced relationship."

The princess first made the call in 2020 on the back of the Black Lives Matter movement.

A great-grandniece of King Leopold II, a monarch who has gone down in history for his violent conquest of the Congo at the end of the 19th century, she also advocated the removal of statues of her ancestor and their dispatch to museums.

That stance earned her "a lot of mail" and criticism, she admitted.

"I was not attacking my current family. We are not responsible for our ancestors," but "we have a responsibility to talk about it".

She said she "understands the expressions of rage" against these colonial symbols.

Prison cell

The 65-year-old princess has made a name for herself over the years for weighing in on sensitive issues.

For 16 years, she worked as a journalist in Paris under the pseudonym Esmeralda de Rethy. More than aware of the "extra weight" her royal name conferred, she again became Esmeralda of Belgium to propel her activism.

Her battles: women's rights, indigenous peoples' rights, and denouncing the environmental damage caused by mining and oil industries.

"I wanted to go further than just reporting the facts," said Esmerelda.

In 2019 she made headlines when she was dragged away from a climate change demonstration in Trafalgar Square by police and thrown into a London jail cell.

She was participating in a sit-in organized by Extinction Rebellion and defied an evacuation order by the police.

She spent five hours behind bars with no favor given to her royal status.

"Shoes taken off. Front and side photos. DNA and fingerprints taken," said the princess, who presides over the Leopold III Fund for the study and conservation of nature.

"I thought it would help the cause a bit because it would be talked about in the media, that's why I chose to do it."

But "I was very privileged, I knew that if I was arrested I wouldn't lose a job or be prevented from picking up my children".

King Philippe's visit, his first to the DRC, will take place from March 6 to 10.

It will also be the first Belgian royal visit to the country since Albert II, Philippe's father, travelled there in 2010 for the 50th anniversary of the former colony's independence.

© 2022 AFP