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Racism in Flanders (Belgium)

by Elco B Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 03:47:48 AM EST

(comment promoted by DoDo)

   
Sat. 20 may 2006  Bomako (Mali) : funeral of Oulematou Niangadou (24) attended by more than 1000 people inclusive premier Ousmane Issoufi Maïga.Wen.17 may Antwerp (Belgium) : Funeral of 2 year old Luna attended by more than 1000 people: politicians were asked by the parents to stay away.

The facts which led to these funerals:

  1. On 11 May, a young man (18) enters a shop in Antwerp (Belgium). He buys a hunting riffle with 15 shells.
  2. With the riffle, 'holding it like a cowboy' as a witness recalls, he enters one of the center streets of the city.
  3. From 5m he shoots a woman in the back; the woman of Turkish origin was sitting near a park reading Flemish poetry (!) to learn more of the Flemish language.
  4. The young man walks calmly further in the street, from only a few meters away, he shoots a black woman and a white child she had with her, both died immediately.
  5. An alert and courageous policeman goes in direct confrontation with the shooter and can shoot him down with his pistol.

The Turkish woman, severly wounded, survives.
The shooter also survives.


The day after it becomes clear the young man was still at school, but sent away this day because of smoking.

He is raised in a family with close ties to the 'Vlaams Belang' (Flemish Interest) party: a ultra-right-wing political party: French Le Pen is a close friend and was, only weeks ago, invited on one of their party reunions.

These murders are now called 'racist murders' all over the Flemish press -- this is the first time we see this so clearly mentioned: racist murders!

A first interrogation of the shooter confirmed this: he was out to shoot people 'not belonging' in Flanders.

The shock and abomination was enormous and still is today as more details emerge of the involved people. In a national TV debate, even the mayor of Antwerp (900.000 inhabitants) couldn't hold back his tears.

Of course the fact that the 2 year old Luna was a white Flemish girl made it all worse but also the story of the 'au pair' Oulematou Niangadou was heart-breaking.

She intended to work in Belgium for another year to support her family in Mali. She was pregnant and wanted to go back to Mali after she had her baby born. Everything was arranged for by the Flemish family she worked for. She already had a child staying with her family in Mali.


There are a lot more details to tell about all those involved people but something else happened in Flanders: kind of an awakening, people taking openly a stand. Even all papers this weekend, 10 days after the murders, have several pages related to racism, integration, xenophobia, political responsibility, education, even society in general.

Belgium is a kind of federal structured monarchy. The big lines:
Belgium is a federal state consisting of three regions: Flanders in the north where the official language is Flamish (= Dutch); Wallonia in the south where French is the official language and Brussels, the capital, where French and Dutch share official language status. There is also a small German-speaking minority of some 70,000 in Wallonia.

The regions enjoy a wide degree of autonomy, particularly in the educational and cultural spheres. This was extended under the 1993 constitution.

The political situation in Flanders differs drastically from that in Wallonia.

The 'Vlaams Belang' party had its first big success in the local elections 24 November 1991. That day is still called 'The First Black Sunday' by democrats.

Since then, this Flemish-nationalist party grew with every election, local and regional. Their most well-known slogan is "OWN PEOPLE FIRST!" (EIGEN VOLK EERST!).

Side note:This slogan is forbidden in the Netherlands since it is considered racist and thus unlawful.

Other parties got scared: they were losing seats in the local councils, regional and national parliaments every election. So some thought they could regain electional success by 'adopting' the points of view of the 'Vlaams Belang'. But, of course, as we see elsewere, people mostly go for the original.

For instance in Antwerp, the largest city of Flanders, the 'Vlaams Belang' grew to 33% of the votes, wich made them the biggest political formation. Normally this allows a party to delegate the city mayor and the most important council posts, but in Flanders, we have a exceptional political agreement among all other parties: it is called 'Cordon Sanitaire'.

Cordon Sanitaire:
In Flanders an agreement was made after the first "Black Sunday" in 1991 between ALL other parties NOT to cooperate, nor form coalitions with 'Vlaams Belang', since the major part of their program is considered contrary to the European declaration of human rights.

This agreement still holds today, even at local level.

So we have a situation in Flanders were a ultra-nationalist-racist party is isolated from any executive power and pushed back in the opposition banks. But their agenda was putting a tremendous pressure on the other parties, supported by their electoral success. The racist ideas became more or less a 'common good' and only a few politicians had the guts to counter this directly.

But now with this new fact the discussion is heating way up and finally, at last, more politicians have less fear to speak out clearly, going in direct confrontation with the 'Vlaams Belang' and their racist agenda.

In October, there will be local elections in Belgium. and especially in Antwerp, every democrat is anxious for what the results will be.

The murders of 11 May were not the only such acts. Only in the last month, there were 4 'racist inspired' incidents that made the national press. One of them: a Flemish boy was going home after a party with his French (black) friend. They were attacked by a group of right-wing men. The French boy is still in hospital.

There is hope finally:

LUNA: the murdered girl. This picture is known now everywhere in Flanders.
Poster of the 'Vlaams Belang' party -- reads: Safe-Flemish-Livable. This poster was published a day after the murders.

Hours after the publication of the poster, Luna's parents made a first public declaration: they hold the political party 'Vlaams Belang' and their ideology responsible for what happened and demanded the withdrawal of this poster. In the following hours several politicians also made statements about how disgusting they found this poster and not acceptable at all.

The poster vanished, and the party is now avoiding every press contact as much they can.

The national Minister of foreign affairs, De Gucht, made a very strong statement, on several occasions for press, radio and TV:

The voters for the 'Vlaams Belang' party are also responsible for the climate for the murders in Antwerp. If you vote for that party you are also responsible for what that party provokes in society.

Woman in the street to a reporter:

People now say a 'goodday' again in the street, like we suddenly understood we need each other, that it is no good to retreat in your own, small world.

Former Mayor of Antwerp, Leona Detiège:

What gives me hope is that more people who do not agree with the ideology of the 'Vlaams Belang' now dare to say so.

The grandma of Luna during the funeral:

There is an ideology wich made this cruelty possible......love is needed, and a whole lot of it to restore the balance...

A man on the funeral of Oulematou Niangadou in Mali to a Flemish reporter:

What kind of country do you live in??? Here in Mali we don't shoot at whites!

A Flemish lawyer:

The richer we get, the more anxious we get. Exploiting this fear politically is ethically irresponsible.

In the weekend edition of one of the major papers there is a full page statement, signed by hundreds of university, media and cultural organisations. Title:

Racism is a collective responsibility.

Display:
Great write-up on an outrageous event - I was expecting to see a diary by you on this.

I took the liberty of some format and English edits. Shall promote it tomorrow.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun May 21st, 2006 at 03:03:02 PM EST
Frontpage, indeed.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sun May 21st, 2006 at 03:10:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the editing DoDo, my English is still not good enough to express my sadness, anger and frustration of what happened. I had to go to work this morning from 6am till  noon and I was very tired when I wrote this story...so my concentration was not optimal. I started reading all my documentation when I came home, while eating in front of the computer.  There were compelling story's around this case, so much to tell, so much sadness and anger.
Yesterday , my son told me I'll become granddad in a couple of months, in what kind of world that child will arrive in? We have to do something...

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Sun May 21st, 2006 at 03:37:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And thanks..and thanks...and thanks.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sun May 21st, 2006 at 03:45:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No need for any excuses! EuroTrib is for Europeans, so we shall welcome non-native-English speakers by default whatever and what amount of mistakes they make in English. I just did the re-editing with an eye for the frontpage (e.g. did some changes on the top part, then just continued across the rest in the same go), not because it is necessary for understanding. I am sorry for not communicating this properly (it's not the first time...)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun May 21st, 2006 at 03:49:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, one your and Agnes's minor systematic 'errors' taught me something my French teacher didn't told me: that in written French, there is empty space before punctuation/exclamation marks!  So it's two-way.  (BTW, one minor format rule in English I usually can't get myself to adopt is the double space before the first letter of a sentence.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun May 21st, 2006 at 03:53:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's only for typewritten text. With modern computer typefaces, single spacing is not only recommended, it's mandatory for files that are going to be submitted for publication. The first thing I do when I copy-edit another writer's text is to do a search-and-replace for double spaces.

PS DoDo, maybe now is a good time to tell you what a fan of your writing and editing I am. You are always a pleasure to read.

by Matt in NYC on Sun May 21st, 2006 at 08:32:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The best diaries, indeed best works, are often written in compassion and with strong feelings - and they both run deep throughout your diary. I don't think I could've written it, even if I would've lived in Belgium.
by Nomad on Sun May 21st, 2006 at 09:23:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Strong diary very well presented! Thanks Elco.
by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Sun May 21st, 2006 at 10:10:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
El pais has today a special report on the issue of racism in Belgium

Ultra-right adavances with no end in sight in Belgium

The main question of the report is what to do with the party. Allow it to share government duties so that its support diminshes strongly (according to the theory that all racist parties reduce support after being in government..as in Austria) or they should keep them outside government, to avoid the situation in Danemark where racism is on the rise strongly after the ultra right-wing got to power.

A good description of the situation...for an spanish reader.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sun May 21st, 2006 at 03:15:34 PM EST
I could read about 60% of that article (my active knowledge of Spanish is nihil, but I can read French and I studied Latin euh...very long time ago).
Yes , the description of the situation is very accurate as far one can do that in one article.
There is additional news now in Belgium : some cultural organizations, backed by some national MP's have introduced a procedure to halt all financing of 'Vlaams Belang' party (because of the racist ideology) . In Belgium all political party's recieve a donation from the government relative to the number of votes in the latest elections.
If that move has succes the 'Vlaams Belang' would lose his major financing and thus their propaganda machine would be crippeld.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Sun May 21st, 2006 at 03:59:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But now with this new fact the discussion is heating way up and finally, at last, more politicians have less fear to speak out clearly, going in direct confrontation with the 'Vlaams Belang' and their racist agenda.

This reminds me a bit of the situation in Germany in 1993, when the house of a Turkish family was burnt down by local boys in a small town, killing five family members. (This was actually the worst in a series of racist crimes from 1991.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun May 21st, 2006 at 04:01:06 PM EST
The difference being that the arson attack in Germany was committed by drunken skinheads in the dark of night in a socialdemocratic city. The Antwerps shooting was done in bright sun light under the eyes of bewildered bystanders in a town that voted 35% of  racists to represent them.

The Flemish suffer from the premordial sin of their language group's collective national identity, which was founded on the grounds of willfull ethnic auto segregation from the French speaking community in Belgium.

The progessive parties historically promoted the forging of the Flemish peoples identity based on language and cultural and regional etnicity, the French community's progressive parties were universalists and promoted class struggle and socialism to foster a political and social identity.

The progressive French community parties lost because their popular organized labour base has dwindled with the economic crises of the 'sun down' coal and steel industries since the 1960s.

Flanders otoh flourished with the new 'sun up' industries.

The dilemma is that the modern and prosperous Flanders is full of etnically aware assholes who often vote for neo-fascists, whereas the old and downtrodden Wallonie is full of disgruntled ex-socialists who don't know how to address their region's economic problems.

And Brussels, the capital of Flanders, is due to its special status even more complicated...

Israel, Palestine and Jeruzalem is nothing compared to it.

"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819

by Ritter on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 06:41:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
.....Israel, Palestine and Jeruzalem is nothing compared to it.

Yes, except there are no bombs, rockets, checkpoints, suicide-attacks, militia's....
But yes, the occupation of Brussels by a "what the hell all those people are doing" European Bureaucracy raises lots of questions. But Belgians are pragmatic : our catering services florish, and 'Belgian Café' is now a worldwide known concept.

But jokes aside : Flemish people had to fight for their cultural idendity. It is a long and complex history here i give just one point:
* First struggle started in the trenches on the Western Front of WWI (Ypres...)Most Belgian soldiers were Flemish 'farmer-boys' , could'nt understand nor speak French. Belgian officers were 99% French-speaking Walloons or Flemish bourgeoisie, they didn't understand   Flemish. Lots of soldiers died, (blown up, bombarded to pieces, or just lost in no-mansland) because the orders were misunderstood, signs unreadable....
Till today it is a daily used expression(now as a joke when somebody says he doesn't understand you) here in Flanders :"et pour les Flamands: la meme chose! " I can speak a whole day long about story's of that period, I had them first hand from the generation of my grandparents , they fought that war and started the struggle  for the recognition of Flemish language and idendity.


The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)

by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 11:50:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A diary about your grand parents' recollections would be great!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 01:02:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I know Jerome. In the above comment I mention one point while I had 10 in mind. I abrubtly halted realising that 5000 words would hardly be enough.
That trench struggle for instance was also a peace-movement; this is the opposite way of racist...here I go again.....
Actually, I'm working on a DR-Congo story, very Belgian related but now also a major European 'adventure'. Who knows that at least 180 people were killed yesterday alone in the violence there? I keep the 'memoires' for a bit later.
And now I gonna read Barbara's gossip, I'm jealous about the meeting in Paris which I couldn't join because of work.....

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 01:43:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was alluding to the fact that Brussels, which is largely francophone, is the capital of neerlandophone Flanders, trilingual Belgium and the principal seat of the multilingual European institutions as well as the trans Atlantic Defence Treaty and the capital city of the future United Europe.

Jeruzalem is also claimed by more than one people, by the Jews and Arabs; and is also the spiritual capital of dozens and dozens of internationally operating  religious institutions.

Jeruzalem is not only divided as a city, no, even the Christian churches are accurately divided - where in a chapel the Catholics are allowed to control the crypt, the Kopts to supervise the space 10 sq meters left of the altar, the Orthodox church can claim the steps which lead to the entrance, the Lutherans jealously guard the baptismal font, and the re-born Christian US whackos are graciously allowed to pick up the litter between the chapel's benches.

These territorial privileges were all conquered through bloody fights or heaps of money, bribery, and political blackmail and are now pietrified ("On this stone I will build my church." Jesus to Pietr(o).) in a perfect system of open mutual distrustfulness.

Freddy Thielemans, the mayor of Brussels, told me once at a meeting with our party branch that he would like to share his city's experiences and the political, democratic formula they invented to make it work with the representatives of the Jewish and Palestinian communities and the religious leaders in Jeruzalem.

Freddy Thielemans



"The USA appears destined by fate to plague America with misery in the name of liberty." Simon Bolivar, Caracas, 1819

by Ritter on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 05:10:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's just so sad. Somehow in Britain we never quite manage to understand our collective guilt in similar incidents.

It's a sign of hope that this is happening in Belgium, here we just ignore it.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 08:28:43 AM EST
sorry, the sign of hope is the realisation of collective guilt.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 08:29:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When the body of the murdered Oulematou Niangadou arrived in Bomako by plane, another plane had just left.
That was a plane of the French government, passenger: Minister Sarkozy. Then man was in Mali to launch a campaign to tell the people there, not to come to Europe. In clear words: we do not want African immigrants anymore.
A returning murdered Oulematou was like a sinister proof.

The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)
by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 11:38:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Did that visit by Sarkozy get a lot of play in the French press?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon May 22nd, 2006 at 05:31:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There was an excellent article by the BBC :



The struggle of man against tyranny is the struggle of memory against forgetting.(Kundera)

by Elco B (elcob at scarlet dot be) on Tue May 23rd, 2006 at 12:03:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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