Never Apologize?

In general, political apologies are worse than useless. The Left can never be appeased, and an apology just leads to more demands, often of a financial nature. But the case of Belgium tests that principle: Why Belgium Won’t Apologize For Its Savagery In Congo:

Belgium’s king has vetoed an apology for his country’s savage colonial past in central Africa, raising the ghost of his ancestor Leopold II whose reign of terror in the Belgian Congo claimed millions of lives.

Leopold, the great, great-uncle of the present king, Philippe, ran the “Congo Free State” as his personal fiefdom between 1885 and 1908, during which at least ten million Congolese people, more than half the population, either died or were killed.

In my opinion, European colonialism was, on balance, a good thing for humanity. It advanced the cause of civilization around the globe. British colonialism, while imperfect, represented the best of the phenomenon. Belgian colonialism, on the other hand, was the worst. Nevertheless, an apology is not in the offing:

After two years of national soul-searching and a special parliamentary committee set up to examine how the country can find reconciliation with former colonies in the territories of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda Belgium has hit an impasse.

Talks broke down this week after Wouter De Vriendt, the chairman of the committee, broke his silence to complain that an apology was a “red line” for the country’s monarchy, which still plays a significant constitutional role.

Why not apologize? One might think that there is much for which Belgium should be sorry, even though Congolese self-rule has arguably proved to be no better, or worse. The answer is simple: an apology, of no value in itself, is demanded as a step toward inevitable reparations:

De Standaard newspaper reported that the king had “discreetly” told Alexander De Croo, the prime minister, last month that apologies and, above all, reparations, were out of the question.

The king’s concern is not misplaced:

On the other side of the argument, Socialist and Green French-speaking parties, the Walloons, demanded a full apology and the payment of reparations to compensate Congo, Burundi and Rwanda.
On the other side of the family, Princess Marie-Esméralda, the king’s half-aunt, supports an apology and argues “our final task will be to talk about reparations”.

Neither the Belgian government nor its royal family has been shy about expressing regret for the excesses of Belgian colonialism under King Leopold:

King Philippe used his first visit to Congo in June to offer his “profoundest regrets” for the brutality of colonial rule but carefully held back from expressing formal apology in a country where anger remains over atrocities that began with his ancestor Leopold.

He expressed “my deepest regret for those wounds of the past” and acknowledged “unjustifiable” actions and “wrongdoing and humiliation” but refused to go further.

After pressure from the palace, liberal and conservative MPs would not go beyond his expression of “deepest regret”, citing fears of legal consequences and the need to “keep the door closed” to reparations.

So in the end, as so often in human affairs, the issue is mostly about money. For what it is worth, I see no reason for Belgium to write checks to the rulers of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda. Those countries face enormous problems, none of which are the fault of Belgium. The idea that cash payments to their governments would make those countries better places is fanciful. So, while Belgian colonialism perhaps represents the acid test, the principle that one should never apologize to leftists remains a sound one.

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