We can all learn from history so that it does not repeat itself. In ‘If amanece we leave’, Víctor Lloret shares with Roberto Sánchez lessons from events lived years ago in a week like this. The first one attacks supremacist ideas at the root.
Leopold II had always wanted an empire for Belgium, but he had two obstacles: the first, that his country was an extra in the concert of nations; and the second, that his own government ignored him. So Leopold chose a third way: to conquer an empire in his own name. And he did it in a way that was as ruthless as it was ingenious.
The second week of September 1876 summoned various international organizations to a conference in its capital, Brussels. Leopoldo declared that the meeting had two official objectives: “to fight against the trafficking of blacks, as well as to allow the scientific exploration of unknown territories to establish civilization there.” At the conference, Leopoldo achieved his real objective: that the other countries cede him the right to explore an immense part of the continent.
He obtained the services of a famous explorer, Henry Stanley, and he made it very clear that what he wanted from the area near the Congo River was wealth. And for him, not for the natives. Thanks to Stanley’s cunning, the monarch established a network of exploitation that in 1885 was recognized as a country: the Congo Free State. A name that had its joke, because it was anything but free. Nor was it exactly a state, although it obviously had the Belgian king as monarch. Between that year and 1908, Stanley and his men set up a state tailored to Leopold’s ambitions.
They established a ‘Force Publique’, which was a mix between the army and the police, but whose main objective was to coerce the Africans, with extremely brutal methods. If they did not agree to work on the rubber plantations, for example, they burned villages, cut off hands, and destroyed crops. The number of people who died during Leopold’s rule cannot be calculated, partly because Europeans also introduced disease, but they were at least hundreds of thousands.
At first, it denied all the information that warned of the atrocious treatment and how it was subjecting the population to what in theory it wanted to eradicate: slavery. In the end the powers of the time pressed and the country became a Belgian colony, and not the monarch’s. This does not mean that things improved a lot, but it did mean enough to silence European consciences.
In addition, Víctor Lloret has commented on another terrible and much better known example of social Darwinism: Nazi Germany. Specifically, two terrible laws: The Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor.
And if you want to boast of knowing a historical curiosity lived this week many years ago, you should know that, in the United Kingdom, the night of September 2 gave rise to the morning of the 14 of the same month. The explanation is due to the fact that the British switched to the Gregorian calendar, which they resisted considering it a concession to the Pope of Rome, and definitively abandoned the Julian calendar. There were people who protested the eleven-day “robbery” without fully understanding what the measure consisted of.