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Ixelles and Uccle call to rename street honouring controversial historical figure

15:23 04/05/2024

In the continuing aim to question the past, and the reputation of once honoured figures in Belgium, notably for their role in the Congo, the communes of Uccle and Ixelles have joined forces to request that Rue Edmond Picard - which straddles both municipalities - should be renamed Rue Andrée Geulen.

Not all residents agree however, drawing up a petition protesting the proposal first debated in June 2022 by the communes’ mayors and aldermen. A decision will be made after the 13 October municipal elections.

Picard - who was born in 1836 in Brussels and died in 1924 in Dave, near Namur - was a lawyer, renowned jurist, writer, teacher and art critic, Uccle director general Christian Van Der Hasselt said.

But Picard was also known for his racist and anti-Semitic remarks, Van Der Hasselt added. He notably compared the Congolese people to monkeys and condemned Jews as pests and parasites. He even questioned that Jesus Christ was a Jew.

This prompted the communes’ desire for a new name for the quiet residential street containing some beautiful houses and a few villas, mainly from the late 19th century.

Their choice is for Andrée Geulen (1921-2022), a former teacher at Woluwe-Saint-Pierre’s Athénée Royal Gatti de Gamond.

Also a writer, she was the moral opposite of Picard. A member of the Resistance in the second world war, in the early 1940s, seeing the threat to her Jewish pupils, she managed to save about 300 boys and girls from death at the hands of the Nazis.

Later in life, married to Jewish concentration camp survivor Charles Herscovici and with two children, she continued to fight for humanitarian, anti-racist and pacifist causes.

The communes will notify about 50 public and private bodies of the proposed name change, Van Der Hasselt added.

If it is confirmed, owners will not have to change their property deeds. In addition, if their flat or house is sold, the papers will be adapted free of charge. There will also be no fee for the necessary change to the chip and registration of the identity card.

There have been many positive reactions to the initiative. “When I found out that Picard was anti-Semitic, this bothered me a lot, and now this name will be replaced by one of a courageous woman,” one resident told RTBF.

But other locals fear there will be endless red tape attached to a potential name change. Their petition had already garnered more than 100 signatures.

They note that everything registered at the original address, from identity to loyalty cards, banks to schools, will need notifying of the new name, as well as their friends and family.

In addition, one local contesting the move said Andrée Geulen merited more than a short street: “I think it’s great to name a woman who did great things during the war to save people, but doesn’t she deserve more than 800 metres of street? A square in her name? A statue?”

Geulen, who was born in Schaerbeek and died in Ixelles in May 2022, reached 100 years old in September 2021, a birthday widely reported in the Belgian press. The same year, a creche was renamed in her honour.

Written by Liz Newmark