Black History Month in Luxembourg
by Hannah Sroka, MUDEC student
Luxembourg does not have its own recognized Black History Month, but it is still important to understand the country’s history of race and race relations. During the 19th and 20th centuries, Luxembourg did not form any of its own colonies. In fact, while nations like Britain, France, Spain, and Belgium were colonizing Africa and Asia, Luxembourg was focused on securing its own independence. This does not mean, however, that Luxembourg did not participate in the colonization process.
During the late 1800s, Belgium had colonized the Congo. In 1885, the territory became known as the Congo Free State and was under Belgian King Leopold II’s complete control. Leopold brutalized the Congolese people, driven by the belief that forced labor was necessary to maximize profit. One of the Congo’s most abundant resources was rubber, and if the Congolese failed to meet the almost impossibly high collection quota, they were killed or mutilated. The severing of hands and feet was common, and an estimated five to ten million Congolese perished.
Several Luxembourgish explorers, including Nicolas Grang, accompanied the Belgians into the Congo. Many of them oversaw the construction of the first railway in the Congo; about 2,000 workers died in the process. The Luxembourgish government supported the colonial expidites of its citizens, which makes it complicit in the brutalization of the Congolese people.
Despite being a very multilingual, multinational, multicultural country, modern-day Luxembourg faces many issues regarding race relations. In a 2018 report titled “Being Black in the EU”, 50% of Luxembourgish respondents said they felt discriminated against in the past 12 months. 20% of these respondents said that the most recent instance of race-based harassment took place at work or school. Many migrants have also struggled with integration, and they do not have a lot of representation in the government.
However, there is a way for things to get better. Prominent Black Luxembourgers, for instance, could be recognized more. Jacques Leur, a prominent politician who supported trade unions and Africa, has been called “the first Black Luxembourger”. Leur could have been the first Black legislator had he not died of complications from diabetes two months before the elections. There is nothing that publicly honors him; should that change, more people could be aware of how he changed the country.
Natalie Silva, the mayor of Larochette, has said that while she has faced discrimination and racism, she believes that holding people accountable for their words and actions will help. If people work to change their perceptions of others, significant change may happen, both socially and politically.
While Luxembourg’s history with race and race relations has not always been the best, and while there seems to be a long way to go, there is a path to success that involves embracing diversity and multiculturalism.