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Confronting Belgium's colonial legacy
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
03 Jul 2017

Decades after Belgian rule in Congo ended, and a century after the atrocities in Congo Free State - where up to 10-15 million Africans were killed - people in Belgium are beginning to confront the troubled history. The unaddressed atrocities are fuelling frustration among the Congolese, who are to this day surrounded by statues, buildings and streets dedicated to one of history’s most brutal rulers. Through art, culture and advocacy, the diaspora and Belgian people are paving the way for an uneasy reconciliation of the past.

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Belgium and Congo-16
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
19 May 2017

In a home dedicated to the Catholic church community, Stanislas Koyi - a 23 year old Congolese expat - leads a youth group prayer. In this mixed group, which features Congolese as well as white Belgians, they often talk about the colonial legacy. “I never want to split the Belgians’ opinion,” - said Stanislas, “to not make them choose between the Belgians or the Congolese.” Vanessa Monzibila, seen on the left, is Congolese herself. “Our parents still have this fear about Belgium, but we - the young ones - see ourselves like them, we see ourselves as Belgians” she said - “But the Belgians don’t necessarily see us as part of them.”

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Belgium and Congo-17
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
19 May 2017

Maryjo Kazadi, a second generation Congolese, attends the group prayer with Stanislas and Vanessa. “I feel Belgian, I was born here,” she said. However, feeling the optimism shared by many other young, second or third generation Congolese in Belgium, she is keen to go back to her roots, bringing with her knowledge from Belgium - “There is just so much to do there,” she added.

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Belgium and Congo-15
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
18 May 2017

Bram Borloo - a tour guide, activist and a painter - leads a group of Flemish woman on a Matonge tour. “In Belgium, children in primary school learn that Leopold II was the ‘King Constructor’” he said, “which continues to construct this false image.” The tour starts among the towering spoils of the colonial era in the Royal Quarter, finishing in central Matonge. “There is no hard link with what we see here, and the [negative] colonial past,” he added, “the past is still traumatic.”

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Belgium and Congo-1
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
11 May 2017

The statue of King Leopold II overshadows a walking tour, organised for adult and teenage audiences seeking to learn about the Congolese past, and learn more about the diaspora in the country. “There was an exhibition at the Africa Museum 5-6 years ago, and it was basically just apologetic about Belgium in Congo,” said Annekien Van Vaerenbergh, a guide working with Vizit for more than two decades.

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Belgium and Congo-13
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
11 May 2017

School tour in Matonge visits one of the shops, which by now are mostly run by Asian immigrants - replacing the traditionally African owners. “Every teacher realises very well what we did there in Congo,” said Annemiet Geldof who teaches religion in a school in Willebroek. Yet, she is aware how little of that history is thought in class.

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Belgium and Congo-14
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
22 Apr 2017

Street market in Matonge had low turnout few months in a row, according to the locals. Jeroen Marckelbach, coordinator of Kuumba, said it was due to increasing running costs inflicted by the local government of Ixelles. “They’re trying to push out the Congolese community, as the mayor of Ixelles said recently - ‘I will clean up Matonge,’” explained Jeroen.

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Belgium and Congo-7
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
21 Apr 2017

Womba Konga, known by his artist name Pitcho, organised the festival Congolisation in Brussels to raise awareness for African artists, and also, reconcile the Congolese diaspora’s search for identity. “In Belgium, no one saw black people,” he said - “We can leave Leopold avenues, but can’t have a Lumumba place,” he said, “who was killed by the Belgians.”

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Belgium and Congo-2
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Apr 2017

Relics from colonial era are still everywhere, including the monumental Justice Palace. However, little is done to acknowledge the atrocities committed in Congo, which overshadowed the colonial wealth brought back to the country.

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Belgium and Congo-3
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Apr 2017

Matonge, the Congolese neighbourhood in Brussels, has a lively African market, which allegedly draws African visitors from all over central Europe. The clagger of hairdressing saloons, beating music and unique smells fill the air in daytime.

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Belgium and Congo-4
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Apr 2017

Nightime in the market, however, attracts a different smell of drug dealing altogether. This is one of the reasons the community is under pressure from Ixelles governors, who want to link the European Quarter with the up-scale Avenue Louise, by untangling the community in Matonge.

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Belgium and Congo-8
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Apr 2017

Inside Kuumba, the Flemish-African cultural center in Matonge, traditional dances, music and languages are thought to African and European audiences. In this particular dance class, a mixed variety of students indulged in rhythmic moves and uplifting atmosphere, drawing cheers from the observing posse of Congolese men and women.

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Belgium and Congo-9
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
20 Apr 2017

The unofficial Lumumba library at the heart of Matonge is run by a charismatic and passionate activist, Philip Buyck. Together with other campaigners and the Congolese diaspora, he continues in the push towards having an official Place Lumumba recognised a few blocks away.

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Belgium and Congo-5
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
17 Apr 2017

Ylhan Delvaux sits inside his old family home, which is now subdivided and rented out; he still lives on the top floor. “The smell is the same as it was in my childhood, I always feel like my mother is looking at me.” Ylhan’s Congolese-Belgian mother, burned herself in Luxenbourg in a violent protest against racism.

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Belgium and Congo-10
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
14 Apr 2017

Bozar in Brussels has an office dedicated to African art, called the ‘Africa Desk’. From here, numerous initiatives have been organised to promote and raise awareness for African and, as Tony Van der Eecken called it - Afropean - artists. ”There's frustration among the Congolese that they’re not accepted or seen as part of anything here. Using Bozar to honour Congolese artists is symbolic because it’s a place for recognition - it's near to the royal palace, cultural center of the king, it has a value in the mind of the people,” said Tony.

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Belgium and Congo-11
Brussels
By Benas Gerdziunas
14 Apr 2017

Tony Van der Eecken is heavily involved in promoting African artists, as well as bringing to the Congolese history to the forefront. Tony remembers when there was the first exhibition on Congo, by Congolese artists: “It was confronting, showing colonial times through Congolese eyes - and it was not that positive about the Belgians. It was a shock exhibition, it was good,” he said.

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Greece Debt Crisis Affects Ordinary P...
Athens, Greece
By Achilleas Zavallis
30 Jun 2015

As the Greek debt crisis continues to take the headlines in Europe and beyond, the country’s population fears that capital controls would be imposed by the government. On the streets, Greeks show mixed signs about the Eurozone. As the country’s economy is in recession, many in Greece are now favoring an exit from the Eurozone, with some others still supporting the single currency.

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Greece Debt Crisis 09
Athens, Greece
By Achilleas Zavallis
30 Jun 2015

People queue outside the National Bank of Greece on June 30, 2015 to withdraw money after the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum for July 5 to decide whether to accept or not the latest proposed deal by the country's creditors.

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Greece Debt Crisis 03
Athens, Greece
By Achilleas Zavallis
27 Jun 2015

People queue outside Piraeus Bank on June 27, 2015 to withdraw money after the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum for July 5 to decide whether to accept or not the latest proposed deal by the country's creditors.

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Greece Debt Crisis 04
Athens, Greece
By Achilleas Zavallis
27 Jun 2015

Street scene in Athens after the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum for July 5 to decide whether to accept or not the latest proposed deal by the country's creditors.

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Greece Debt Crisis 05
Athens, Greece
By Achilleas Zavallis
27 Jun 2015

A security guard stands in front of a Piraeus Bank ATM on June 27, 2015 after the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum for July 5 to decide whether to accept or not the latest proposed deal by the country's creditors.

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Greece Debt Crisis 06
Athens, Greece
By Achilleas Zavallis
27 Jun 2015

A man reading the newspaper headlines in the center of Athens on June 27, 2015 after the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum for July 5 to decide whether to accept or not the latest proposed deal by the country's creditors.

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Greece Debt Crisis 07
Athens, Greece
By Achilleas Zavallis
27 Jun 2015

Street scene in Athens on June 27, 2015 after the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum for July 5 to decide whether to accept or not the latest proposed deal by the country's creditors.

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Greece Debt Crisis 08
Athens, Greece
By Achilleas Zavallis
27 Jun 2015

Street scene in Athens on June 27, 2015 after the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum for July 5 to decide whether to accept or not the latest proposed deal by the country's creditors.

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Greece Debt Crisis 02
Athens, Greece
By Achilleas Zavallis
22 Jun 2015

Pro-Euro and EU demonstration at Syntagma, in Athens, on June 22, 2015.

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Greece Debt Crisis 01
Athens, Greece
By Achilleas Zavallis
18 Jun 2015

Greek soldiers at a pro-Eurozone and Euro currency demonstration on June 18, 2015 in Athens.

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European Parliament 13
By Kristof Vadino
11 Jul 2013

A shirtless man walking in the street near the European Parliament.

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European Parliament 02
By Kristof Vadino
09 Jul 2013

European Parliament, Brussels: main hall.

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European Parliament 03
By Kristof Vadino
09 Jul 2013

A journalist standing in from of the camera, in the main hall of the European Parliament.

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European Parliament 01
By Kristof Vadino
27 May 2013

European Parliament, Brussels: main hall.

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In the corridors of the European Parl...
Brussels, Belgium
By Kristof Vadino
11 May 2013

The European Parliament in Brussels is a place of power, seduction, idealism and complexity. It houses a colorful collection of people: politicians of course, but also, barmen, security guards, interns, cleaning ladies, office workers and so on. The enormity of the building, called Leopoldsgebouw, its many stairs rooms, reunion rooms, glass windows enforce the theatrical feeling.

Photographer Kristof Vadino's goal with this project was to document the daily life in the European Parliament from an anthropological point of view.