Only a few of the human qualities were left in him. Love, kindness, generosity – these words had no meaning to him, nor was there any existence. He was lived in the midst of atrocities. Hitler’s forces killed about 6 million people in the Holocaust in World War II. There are much talking of the Holocaust. How can a person kill so many people ? But there was someone else, more barbaric than Hitler, who was born in Belgium, you know him ? His mind was not satisfied with million. He killed more than ten million people! He is King Leopold II, the second King of Belgium and the founder and sole ruler of the ‘Congo Free State’
Early life Of King Leopold II
Leopold II was born in Brussels, on April 9, 1835, five years after Belgian independence. The second Leopold was born in the womb of King Lyopold’s second wife, Louise of Orléans. In 1850, Queen Louise-Marie died of tuberculosis in the former Royal palace of Ostend. Shy Leopold started to tear himself down on the death of his mother, and his father became worried about it. As his eldest son died in childewood, Leopold II would sit on the throne in the future. So king Leopold II gets married with Marie Henriette of Austria as his father thought it would help King Leopold II to come out of the shy nature. Marie Henriette was a cousin of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. Marie was a very beautiful and talented. Besides singing and painting, she was also a good horseback rider. In addition to her kindness, her name becomes ‘Rose of Brabant’.
But on the other hand, Leopold was not very satisfied with his wife in a married life. He had many concubines. However, the separation with Marie failed due to the succession. The only son born of Mary and Leopold died of pneumonia when he was nine years old. Although Leopold had two daughters, he became very desperate for a son as a legacy. In the last attempt, when another daughter (Clementin) was born, their marital life ended. In 1895, when he was separated from the marriage, he was 60 years old. However, it does not change at all his concubine addiction! His last relationship was with his concubine to be heard. When Leopold took the 16-year-old French prostitute mistress Caroline Lacroix in 1899, he was 65 years old! and they remained together for the next decade until his death. Although two sons were born in the Caroline’s womb, but no one was recognized as the child of Leopold and could not get the left property of Leopold.
Leopold was quite brave even though initially shy in nature. As elder brother died in childhood, he was the successor to the throne of Belgium. At the age of nine, he was appointed as a sub-lieutenant of the Belgian Armed Forces. He was in the Belgian army until he ascended the throne and was elevated to the rank of lieutenant general. In 1855, Leopold became a member of the Belgian Parliament and started working to make Belgian commercially advanced. For the next 10 years, he traveled many countries including China, India, Egypt, Africa. In December 1865, when King Leopold died, his son King Leopold II sat on the throne.
His political life
King Leopold II walked on the path shown by many more tyrannical and authoritarian kings in history. The first part of his reign was also full of development and public welfare. He announced that he would make Belgium “Strong, Prosperas, Beautiful and Peaceful” nation. He swear to support the country by cooperating with the party that is in power in parliament. Leopold continued to defend this oath well. During his regime, sometime the Liberals party, or sometime Catholics came to the power, the Parliament’s activities were going well. During his regime, the new political power ‘Labor Party’ emerged in Belgium.
The biggest achievement of Leopold’s regime was the establishment of labor rights. “Labor Union” was established in collaboration with him. He banned child labor. During his time, workers got the right to get compensation for the accident and Sunday is known as the weekly holiday. There were three aspects of his labor laws-
- Under 12 year old children will not be able to work in the factory.
- Children under the age of 16 can not work at night.
- Women under the age of 21 can not be employed in any underground work.
During his regime, King Leopold II developed Belgium infrastructurally. He builds numerous government buildings and parks and works to enhance beauty. Hippodrome, the Royal Gallery and the hendrikapark made in Brussels, in one word, are visually impaired. On the other hand, the ‘Royal Museum for Central Africa’ is one of his remarkable achievements. Apart from this, Dadeen Park, and the Triumphal Arc are unique. His works gave him the ‘Builder King’ title. On the other hand, apart from public welfare, he also built several palaces and bungalows outside the country as part of his luxurious life.
Congo Free State
He did’t want all his palaces, estates and land go to his daughters hand so he arrange a Royal Trust. It was formed in 1900. He did not want to give his property to his daughters. It doesn’t mean he don’t love them. His three daughters got married to foreign kings. And he did not want anyone else to take possession of the country’s property! As a result of the, most of its welfare installations became the state property of Belgium. The dynasty will be able to use it, on this condition, he regulates his property. However, there is no reason to see his works positively. Because he done all this by looting the Congo. Belgium may have been improved by those, but by exploiting the natural resources and minerals of the Congo, he “plummeted” the crisis for the future generation of the Congo.
‘Congo Free State’, a name of sigh for today’s democratic Republic of Congo. King Leopold’s Belgium was swollen by exploiting the rich natural resources of the Congo. In the beginning of 1884-85 In Berlin conference, Leopold appealed for “Congo lease” so that he can help poor people of Congo to improve their livelihood. When the European colonial countries received the application in the conference, Leopold became the individual master of the Congo Free State. And he begins his torture and atrocities.
Leopold always dreamed of establishing a colony outside the country. Only the establishment of the colony could make Belgium a stronger nation, it was his thought. From that point of view, he tried to establish colonies in many places in Africa. Finally, he was successful in Congo. He created his own barbaric force for the Congo Free State, which is named ‘Public Force’. He started importing ivory from Congo for profits. At that time the price and demand of rubber in the world increased suddenly And in order to earn more profits from rubber, Leopold began to break the conditions of the Berlin Conference.
At first Leopold stopped the foreign investment in the Congo Free State, which was against the first conditions of the Berlin Conference. He then forced the Congolese to rubber plantation. But at the Berlin conference it was clearly stated that Leopold would not be able to emphasize anybody. This rubber industry has become a nightmare for the workers of Congo. According to the demand of Leopold, there was a lot of torture on workers who didn’t want to produced rubbers, and due to the slightest reason the killings would have happened.
On the one hand, by accumulating the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of Congo and improving the economic condition of Belgium, Leopold, on the other hand, was on a demonic mission to reduce Congo’s population. Leopold’s order was somehow called ‘Zero Tolerance’. His army killed people for even silly mistake. Leopold, one of the most notorious of the twentieth century. The type of evidence can be found from its oppression. As a punishment for crime arms and legs were cut off. The number of people face his anger, according to various historians, from 5 million to 15 million! But the most acceptable number (said by most historians) is 10 million! At the time of Leopold Kongo’s takeover, the population of Congo was 2.2 billions. That means when he was leaving power, he destroyed half of the population of a nation! For his brutality, he is called ‘Butcher of Congo’
The unimaginable barbarity of Leopold II continues to spread. There is a worldwide storm of condemnation. The British sent an investigation team to the Congo under Roger Casement. In the investigation, the description of Leopold’s inhuman cruelty to the people of the Congo come out. Famous American writer Mark Twain and British Fiction writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle join to the criticism of Leopold. Arthur Conan Doyle ‘The Crime of Congo’ and Mark Twain’s sarcastic ‘King Leopold’s Salilaki’ responded to the public throughout Europe.
International pressure over Leopold has become paramount. On the other hand, Labor Party and the Catholic Party both took positions against Leopold.on the parliament. Finally, after a huge pressure, the ‘Congo Free State’ broken down and the Congo debuted as the Belgian Colony ‘Belgian Congo’. Leopold II tried his best to hide all the torture information. He burned the entire ‘Congo Free State Archive’ in the fire.
King Leopold II died on December 17, 1909. He was buried in ‘Church of Our Lady of Laeken in Brussels. His funeral cortege was booed by the crowd. After the death of King Leopold II, the long time ruler in Belgium’s history, people simply hated him. But surprisingly since the 1930s, the new generation of Belgium forgot about the Brutality of Leopold. Leopold was recognized as a great king in Belgian history. Many monuments and sculptures were set up in his memory. Especially in some sculptures shows that even Congo’s people are grateful to him! Even written in the history of Belgian, Leopold liberated the Congo from the slavery of Arabs! A person who wiped out half of a nation’s population, whether he made the ambassador of salvation! During the 44-year regime, he did much for Belgium, but it can’t hide his cruelty.