Belgium’s state prosecutor is investigating the country’s cartoon hero Tintin for racism after a complaint from Congolese student.
Mbutu Mondondo Bienvenu, a political science student at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, has taken legal action claiming Hergé’s controversial Tintin In The Congo “constitutes an insult for all the Congolese”.
“This book should be banned. Belgian school children should not be exposed to this kind of racist commentary,” he said. “It is propaganda for colonialism.”
Tintin: a document of the time
Mr Mondondo Bienvenu is demanding the book be withdrawn from the market and has launched a civil action pressing for symbolic damages of one euro from Tintin’s Belgian publishers Moulinsart.
The Brussels office of the state prosecutor has confirmed that the case is being taken seriously. “It is now necessary to determine if the complaint is admissible, said spokesman Jos Colpin.
The Belgian legal action follows British controversy when British race watchdogs pulled the book from children’s shelves and attacked the Tintin cartoons for making black Africans “look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles”.
Allegations of racism surrounding the Tintin book are deeply sensitive in Belgium, a divided country where the cartoon reporter and his dog Snowy are a rare national symbol and for a nation whose post-colonial guilt over Belgian’s record in the Congo is acute.
The Congo remained a Belgian colony until 1960 and between 1885 and 1908 the country was brutally run as the personal fiefdom of Belgium’s King Leopold II. Between eight to 10 million Congolese are thought to have died in this period.
Moulinsart, Tintin’s publisher, argues that the book “must be seen as a document of the time”. “In his portrayal of the Belgian Congo, the young Hergé reflects the colonial attitudes of the time. He depicted the African people according to the bourgeois, paternalistic stereotypes of the period,” said a statement.
Georges Remi, the Tintin cartoonist who worked under the Hergé pen-name reworked the book in 1946 to remove references to Congo as Belgian colony. Mr Mondondo Bienvenu believes that was the moment he should have “removed all the racist comments”.
Hergé, who died in 1983, later regretted his first two Tintin works, a 1930 work of anti-communist Catholic propaganda and the 1931 Congo book.
“It’s true that Soviets and Congo were youthful sins. I’m not rejecting them. However, if I were to do it again, they would be different,” he said in an interview just before his death.
“Belgian school children should not be exposed to this kind of racist commentary.”