Belgium: Bomspotting. 2,000 protest against nuclear weapons

1,117 arrested, including dozens of CWI members

Saturday, October 5, saw over 2,000 people take part in a protest action in Kleine Brogel (Belgium) against the presence of US nuclear weapons on the military base in that village in Limburg, eastern Belgium. Around half of the protesters were arrested. This was the fourth "Bomspotting" protest, an action of civil disobedience where demonstrators enter the military base to "spot" any nuclear weapons on the base. Last year 1,500 protested and over 800 were arrested.

The authorities this year had a strong campaign against Bomspotting. One month before the action they announced that the base of Kleine Brogel might be a target for the al-Qaeda who might even use the Bomspotting action to be able to enter the base. The mayor of Peer (the city of which Kleine Brogel is a part) announced he would ban all demonstrations in Kleine Brogel. People walking in a group of more than 4 could get a fine of 250 euro. The police announced it would ’mobilise’ strongly: 400 policemen and 2,000 military! This probably had some impact on the number of demonstrators who were afraid or young people whose parents stopped them taking part in the action.

This however could not stop Bomspotting being a success. There were more coaches than last year. From both Gent and Antwerp 5 full coaches came, plus there were also coaches from almost every major town in the Flanders area. On some of the coaches (like those from Gent, Aalst and Mechelen) the organisers anounced that they would drop the demonstrators in groups of 4 around the military base instead of going to the central meeting point in the village. The LSP/MAS (the CWI’s Belgian affiliate) opposed this strategy as splitting up would weaken the movement, but as it became clear that a demonstration was absolutely not possible, we decided that LSP/MAS members would be with the first ones entering the base to make sure that there was political material amongst the first people to be arrested.

Entering the military base was not easy as the military had prepared themselves for the action. The whole base was surrounded. Anyone entering was immediately arrested. In total 1,117 were arrested, including dozens of LSP/MAS members and supporters. Because of the fact that not all the coaches came to the central meeting point, and as there was no demo, it is difficult to say with certainty how many exactly were present.

To our surprise some of the ruling coalition parties who earlier agreed on a trade deal to sell weapons to the Nepali government, now suddenly found themselves to be against nuclear weapons. The Flemish Greens (Agalev), Flemish Social-Democrats (SP-A) and even an MP from the rightwing Flemish liberal party (VLD) were all present and joined up with Flemish nationalist opposition parties. It was clear that those people only came because of the huge presence of the press. In government they are the ones responsible for agreeing that the US can have nuclear weapons in Belgium and in parliament they shut up on this issue.

Mass action necessary

In our leaflet we made clear we can only trust ourselves, by mobilising thousands we can stop the presence of nuclear weapons. We oppose the idea of having trust in the traditional politicians and also disagreed with the proposal of the organisers to turn the ’Bomspotting’ actions into ’Bomstopping’ actions, by which they mean actions by small groups, for example trying to sabotage military planes. We defend the idea that mass action was necessary. We also called on everyone present to start anti-war committees in every school, factory and university in order to prepare a strong anti-war movement against Bush’s imperialist plans to attack Iraq.

Our leaflet and our other material received positive reactions with over 100 papers sold, including several papers which were sold by people who were arrested. The police and military arrested everyone entering the military base but then also started to arrest everyone on the streets around the base. The people who got arrested were put in two central places on the fields. They were kept in open air despite the cold and constant rain. The two groups of each around 550 arrested people had to wait untill around 8 pm before they were released. By 10 pm everyone was free.

The LSP/MAS had a strong presence at the Bomspotting action with groups of members and supporters coming from at least 12 different cities. As well as having our papers, we produced leaflets and a new sticker with the slogan "No war for oil". A lot of people were interested to help in building anti-war committees. We think this Bomspotting action was a good start to build a mighty movement against war and oppression.

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October 2002