Belgium: 1500 at anti-fascist demo in Ghent.

LSP/MAS organises biggest anti-fascist demonstration since the beginning of ’90.

1.500 students and young people marched through the streets of Gent last night to counter the demonstration organised by NSV, the fascist student wing of Vlaams Belang, the renamed Vlaams Blok. The campaigning and mobilisation for this anti-fascist demonstration fell, as has been the case since ’95, almost exclusively on the shoulders off Blokbuster and Active Left Students, respectively the anti-fascist campaign and student organisation of LSP/MAS, the Belgian section of the CWI. The NSV mobilised only 150.

The NSV demonstration is a yearly recuring event taking place in one of the main Flemish university cities. They use these events to try and force their way into political life at the colleges and universities and make themselves acceptable.

Blokbuster and Active Left Students have been at the forefront of succesfully countering the NSV-mobilisations since 1995. The Vlaams Blok despite its electoral successes has been repeatedly defeated on the streets and its student organisation is still banned from the University in Gent.

The official theme of this years’ NSV demonstration was opposition to the entry of Turkey into the EU. In the leaflets the NSV produced to mobilise they claimed that "Turkish mobs have been a historical threat to Western Europe". The argument against Turkey joining the European Union was the basic racist argument that Turkey is populated by Turkish people.

Building support in the working class areas

In our campaign for the counter demonstration we opposed this racist bigotry and explained that we are against the EU because of its neo-liberal policies and thus would not support Turkish membership of the EU because of what the consequences of these neo-liberal policies would be for the Turkish people. We pointed to our record of real opposition against the EU. It was International Resistance – the anti-capitalist campaign initiated by the CWI – that organised the student and school student strikes as a protest against the EU summit in Gent in October 2001.

The anti-fascist demonstration was peaceful and received a very friendly reception in the working class neighboorhoods it went through, in which a large section of the population is Turkish. In the build up to the demonstration a team of our activists campaigned in these neighbourhoods explaining why we were organising this demonstration and why we had chosen that particular route. Last Monday a team of comrades organised a door-to-door paper sale and sold many copies of ‘Socialistisch Links’, our party paper. On the night of the demonstration some local residents had put up our posters and waved the students on as they passed by. Some residents even came out to offer drinks and refreshments to the students.

Orchestrated fascist attack.

At the end of our demonstration most people returned to the student area to protect it from fascist provocation and intimidation. By that time the official part of the NSV demonstration had ended and the police had given the thugs free reign in the centre of the student neighbourhood. Everybody who was recognisable as an immigrant, an anti-fascist, a member of LSP/MAS or from the French part of the country was targetted for a beating. The members of Blokbuster, Active Left Students and LSP/MAS intervened and started organising the defence of the street against the fascists. The paramilitary wing of Vlaams Belang, led by some former leaders of the now illegal VMO (Flamish Militant Order) and by the leader of the official stewards of Vlaams Belang, must have understood this. A commando of about 20 well trained fascists, with about a hundred behind them ready to intervene, attacked the anti-fascists with military discipline in order to split us up. The commando was led by the national chairperson of the Vlaams Belang youth, Hans Verreyt. The police intervened but only to use the water cannon against the anti-racist demonstrators and to protect the NSV members when they got isolated and surrounded by our people.

A group of fascists was seemingly isolated and was followed by a group of about 30 anti-fascists. This however turned out to be a trap as the fascists were regrouping when the 30 anti-fascists were far enough from other people. They were attacked by 50 skinheads who inflicted some physical damage on a number of anti-fascists, including comrades of the CWI.

The anti-fascists used the main weapon they had – the strength of numbers and drove these thugs back into one street closing it off with demonstrators from both sides. This pressure made it necessary for the police to intervene to put a group of fascists on their bus back to Antwerp.

At the end of the evening a number of CWI comrades where arrested by the police. The latter recognised the pivotal role these comrades had played in organising the protest and protecting the students against the fascist attacks. One young lad was dragged away by plain clothes policemen in an unmarked car. After receiving a terrible beating by the police they kept him in for hours of interrogation and intimidation. Threats like, "You will never find a job again", "We will make you pay for this demonstration" or "You will personally pay for the damage to our car" where repeated for hours. At one point another officer dropped his mobile phone and claimed that the comrade would also have to pay for a new mobile phone. The Ghent police had clearly underestimated the strength and determination of the young anti-fascists and the lead given by the Belgian CWI. They took revenge on whichever member of the CWI they could get their hands on.

The Belgian CWI provided the leadership and the organisation for the anti-fascist actions. We made it clear we offer an alternative to broader layers by building an active opposition. That is important in order to be able to fight the populist methods of the Vlaams Belang that has lead to their electoral growth. At the same time we prevented the student area of the city being dominated by violent fascists who are at the core of the Vlaams Belang.

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December 2004