One of my first jobs as a reporter outside of my home country was in, of all places, Belgium. As you can imagine, heading into my editors office with a head full of Asia, Africa and South America (you know, places where stuff happens) I was not to happy when he handed me a ticket for, of all places, Belgium. But it was an opportunity I still had to take, so I headed over there.
What I found was a beautiful city with a long history. What I found was a western European capital city with all the culture and heritage you’d expect. What I found was, somehow, both fascinating and boring. From the perspective of a critical historian the most interesting thing about Belgium and Brussels is how both where built through an especially brutal colonialist project which Belgium in some ways has managed to hide away from its public image these days, where it clings to the UK and their ‘British Empire’ firmly and deservedly so. But Belgium’s crimes are often forgotten.
I live in Liverpool now, and regularly travel over to Brussels, people should make the trip more often I feel, I’ve found great ways of parking before my flight from Liverpool to Brussels and great ways of finding cheap flights and all that kind of stuff so the journey is really pretty affordable. I go because Liverpool and Brussels are too cities with a dark history of reaping huge and brutal wealth from the African continent, but in very different ways. Their different stories are also told very differently by the architecture, structure and culture of the two cities. Liverpool’s slavery history is well known and it attempts to confront it through its International Slavery Museum and what not, but it still has statues of slave owners and people who were involved in the slave trade around the cities with captions like ‘built orphanages’ and ‘cared for the cities blind’. These people where experts in philanthropy as public relations. Philanthropy as a lie.