Due to the post-war devastation, such exhibitions did not take place for a long time, so each country tried to present itself from the best side. We presented a model of the nuclear icebreaker “Lenin”, showed “Volga”, “Chaika”, ZIL-111, “Moskvichi”, the world’s first hydrofoil “Rocket”.
The Americans brought a computer and a color television studio to Brussels.
The Belgians themselves, as owners, tried to outdo everyone. And they, one might say, succeeded, because the most memorable achievement was … a human zoo.
Come see me
The Belgian Ministry for the Colonies has created a “Congolese village”. Why were 700 inhabitants of the Congo brought to Europe, disguised as savages. They were guarded by armed security guards, not allowing them to leave the zoo village. But the height of cynicism was the bust of King Leopold II in front of the entrance. After all, he was the one who established the regime in the Congo, which today would be called genocide.
And it started with a seemingly harmless expedition to Africa, where the Belgians managed to negotiate with local leaders. For a piece of cloth a month, they casually transferred all rights of sovereignty and control over their lands. After that, the Congo Free State was proclaimed, with Leopold II as sovereign. Interestingly, the king acted as a private person, i.e. it was not even a colony of Belgium (it would later become a colony), but a “private state”. Where the chaos began. The whole population is thrown into the extraction of rubber: hard work in the rubber plantations. Those who did not meet the standard were whipped and thrown in jail.
The soldiers were ordered to signal for each cartridge: fired – bring the dead man’s hand. They soon realized that it was possible to present a basket of severed hands and thus account for the ammunition load. A penny cartridge was worth far more than an African’s life.
Belgian girls play with a baby snowball bought by their parents at the human zoo. Photo: Social networks
The basket of hands is not a metaphor. In the Congo, the hands of adults and children have been cut off. Has the village not reached the rubber collection quota? To punish! And for the report – two baskets of hands. And what is surprising: no one hid the fanaticism. On the contrary, the crippled were photographed, reports were published about them in the newspapers. As an edification: if you pick up a little rubber, we will mutilate. A harrowing photo has survived: the father sits on a wooden platform, in front of him are the severed hands of his child. Malfunctioned.
Often entire villages – “debtors” were burned down, and their population was exterminated. During the 40 years of Belgian rule, the population of the Congo grew from 11.5 to 10 million inhabitants. However, many researchers consider these figures to be grossly underestimated. Others call it: from 3 to 15 million… Do you understand now what a slap in the face it was for the Congo in 1958? In central Europe, people were erected into half-animals under the bust of the bloody king, on whose conscience millions were killed and maimed.
In the middle of Expo-58, the Congolese were indignant and demanded that the people of the “human zoo” be sent home.
almost like people
European opinion is divided. It is generally accepted that the progressive public sided with the people at the zoo. The audience may have stood up, but the forms of mercy were different. Here is another telling photo: kind visitors through the fence spoil the children with bananas which are kept as exhibits at the Hunan Zoo.
Master of the Congo Leopold II. Responsible for the death of 3 to 15 million people. Photo: Getty Images
However, for the Europeans of the 1950s, there was nothing abnormal in the “human zoo”. Since the end of the 19th century, such shows have been part of daily life in Antwerp, London, Barcelona, Milan, Hamburg and New York. Exhibiting, of course, not just Africans. In Germany, they loved to contemplate the Lapps. In New York, the star of the local menagerie was a pygmy from the Congo (yes, still from the Congo!) Ota Banga. He is from the Mbuti tribe, 23 years old, wife, two children. Somehow he went hunting, and when he returned it turned out that his family, like the whole tribe, had been killed by soldiers. Bang was chained and taken to a cage in American St. Louis. At the exhibition, where he became part of the anthropological exhibition. As “the transitional evolutionary form closest to man”. Then they were transported to New York, where they were kept among the monkeys. And with a subtext: as a defamation against Darwinism.
Eventually, the pastor of the church for blacks managed to prove that Banga is a man. He was released from the zoo, but in the wild the guy had a nervous breakdown. And he committed suicide.
Only for whites
You can, of course, say: yes, when was that! Not so long ago. As journalist Dmitry Kiselev aptly noted: “If I was Belgian, then at the age of four my parents could take me to a human zoo in Belgium.
But at that time, Europe was not the only one to distinguish itself. A year before Expo-58, the United States used the military. At first glance, nothing special, after the Second World War, America started wars 200 times in 150 regions of the planet. But that was a special case.
Usually Americans don’t fight on their own soil. But in the mid-1950s, the unthinkable happened. An African American tried to win the right to send his child to a white school in court. Her 8-year-old daughter went to a black school across town, even though the school was nearby. But the school was for whites only. He lost the court, but similar lawsuits rained down in every state. It came to the Supreme Court, which in 1954 decided to abolish racial division in schools. But it turns out that winning the case and sending the kids to school are not the same thing. In the town of Little Rock, black students were not allowed to go to school not only by racist parents, but also by the troops. It’s no joke: the state governor ordered National Guard units to guard the school so that black people wouldn’t enter. In response, President Eisenhower brought federal troops to the city: the 101st Airborne Division “Screaming Eagles”.
p class=””>A miracle saved the national guard from combat with the paratroopers: the governor was forced to withdraw his troops through the courtyard. Nevertheless, in the fall of 1957, 1,200 paratroopers escorted black children to school for two months and kept them in the hallways.
I wonder if something similar can be imagined in the USSR? Representatives of small nations exhibited in zoos in the center of big cities? Special forces giving way to a teenager of one nationality, who is not admitted to school by representatives of other nations?
Do not remember yourself – ask your parents, grandparents. There will be laughter.
… Today, “Screaming Eagles” are stationed on the border with Ukraine – in Romania they are called to be “the first line of defense in the event of a collision with Russia.”
In Brussels, only the Atomium sculpture is reminiscent of Expo-58: a giant model of an iron crystal. It attracts millions of tourists. Human zoos seem to be out there. But the memory of them remained, and with it the question: do these people definitely have the moral right to teach us (and the whole world) morality and set the standards for civilization?
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