Belgium: Hundreds arrested during anti-NATO protest

On Saturday 25 October, 1,000 people protested in Casteau near Mons (in the Walloon area in Belgium) against the NATO military headquarters SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe). The repressive actions of the police led to the arrest of hundreds, including members of Linkse Socialistische Partij / Mouvement pour une Alternative Socialiste (the Belgian CWI affiliate).

The demonstration was organised by ’Bomspotting’, which organised several protests at the Kleine Brogel military base over the past years. Many activists took part in the protest this year, including 100 members and supporters of Linkse Socialistische Partij / Mouvement pour une Alternative Socialiste (LSP/MAS).

On the buses to Mons we were informed that the organisers wanted us to get arrested in small groups while attempting to enter the Shape base. We argued to remain in bigger groups to counter attacks from the police. There was a massive police presence of 1,600. We argued this would make the direct action protest stronger and that this tactic has proven to be effective in the past.

Two years ago, during a Bomspotting protest at Kleine Brogel, which up to that time was the largest action called by that organisation, demonstrators went onto the military base in a large group. This meant the protesters were able to resist police repression and to get further inside the base than on previous protests. Collective demonstrations like this are the strongest form of direct actions. They also point to the support that exists amongst youth and workers instead of being based on how fast protesters can run or how good they are at hiding in bushes.

Last weekend, we were also asked to sign a ’contract’ to demonstrate peacefully. We are not opposed to that, as such, though we don’t need a contract to demonstrate peacefully. Unfortunately four demonstrators on our bus from Antwerp were asked to leave the vehicle because they didn’t sign the contract. They were dropped in the middle of nowhere – 10 kilometeres from Mons! This will hardly increase the involvement of youth in demonstrating or in organising protests.

When we arrived at the Shape complex many demonstrators were dropped in the forest around the base so that they could work in small groups. Some Linkse Socialistische Partij / Mouvement pour une Alternative Socialiste members had to decided to take part in this and they were quickly arrested.

Most Linkse Socialistische Partij / Mouvement pour une Alternative Socialiste members and supporters went to a designated meeting point from where a demo of some 70 people set off. They went to the main entrance to Shape and were arrested. Amongst them were a large group from Mechelen city. On the bus from Mechelen, LSP/MAS members had argued for the need to demonstrate and almost everyone on this bus (about 30 people, mainly members and supporters of International Socialist Resistance – ISR) choose to follow this plan.

Held in tents

Once we were arrested the police put us in tents in a field. We were given sandwiches and something to drink, which marks a step forward compared to last year’s policing in Kleine Brogel. However ’minors’ (people under 18 years old) were put on a bus. They got a brutal reception from the police. Some members of ISR from Beveren and Gent that were amongst the ’minors’ said afterwards that the bus had only about 30 sitting places yet the vehicle was filled up with more arrested protesters. The air-conditioning in the bus was very poor.

The police held me along with other protesters for hours. With a group of comrades from one of the Antwerp buses we were almost immediately arrested when our bus stopped in the forest at 11 30 hrs. We were released after 17 00hrs. During our arrest we shouted slogans and sang workers’ movement songs, such as The Internationale and Bandiera Rossa.

The media mainly concentrated on the presence of only a few politicians from the main parties. Members of parliament, like Van Krunkelsven (a member of the right wing liberal VLD) or from the social democratic alliance, SP.A-Spirit, were only on the protest because they knew they could get media attention. Their main aim is not to protest against nuclear weapons, war and exploitation but to get their minute of fame on television. If the liberals and social democrats are really opposed to the presence of nuclear weapons in Belgium, why don’t they do something about it in government? The liberals and the social democrats are in the ruling administration, but they are silent about these issues. This is pure hypocrisy.

Looking at the people arrested last weekend, it is clear that LSP/MAS and ISR make up an important part of the anti-NATO and anti-nuclear weapons movement. LSP/MAS calls for a full discussion on tactics when planning future protests. We want to strengthen the movement and to discuss how to have effective protests. We need collective organisation and planning and disciplined direct action. Therefore, it will be necessary to mobilise actively amongst school students and students, and to organise youth and workers to prepare for protests. Mobilisation committees need to campaign long enough to allow a much greater involvement people in campaigns.

We also think it is necessary to oppose the politicians from the main pro-capitalist parties. Some of them participated last Saturday, but they do not represent a political alternative for the thousands of workers and youth who oppose war and exploitation. We will need our own political party, which represents working people and youth. Due to the absence of this, the present government has been able to weather the massive anti-war demonstrations, such as on 15 February or on Day X (the day war broke out), while continuing with their anti-working class policies.

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October 2003