Relentless campaign sponsored by university Rector to ban ALS
Active Left Students (ALS) is the most successful student organisation in Belgium. In four out of six universities it is the biggest, politically active group. This academic year alone, ALS has organised an anti-fascist march in Ghent with 1500 students, participated in protests against the visit of the American president Bush to Belgium and supported the national campaign for a youth march against unemployment and racism.
ALS has also campaigned relentlessly against the neo-liberal agenda of commercialisation and privatisation at the universities. It was involved in joint action with the trade unions at the French-speaking university in Brussels to protest against the appalling work conditions of temporary, mostly technical, staff. Our most successful meetings have attracted 120 students in Ghent, 350 in Antwerp and 250 in Leuven.
In Ghent, at a recent meeting of the ‘Social Council’ – an advisory body to the University’s Board of Directors – a motion was voted through that recommended excluding ALS from the university. This would mean that ALS loses its official recognition as a student society, and therefore also the right to use the facilities of the university. This motion will now be presented to the Board of Directors which will take a decision on the 12 May.
Banned for reinforcing the ban?
This threatened exclusion is the result of a campaign waged for almost two years by the official student administrator, in collusion with the university authorities, against ALS. The judicial argument against ALS is that it is in breach of the university’s code of conduct (and of the universal declaration of human rights!) because it has physically prevented meetings of other student organisations.
The accusation relates to an action on the 16 November last year when the KVHV, a Flemish nationalist student organisation, organised a debate with Frank Van Hecke, president of the Vlaams Blok. But although ALS campaigned against this meeting and announced a protest against the Vlaams Blok, we did not threaten to disrupt their activity. The debate could not take place because of a ban by the university authorities who claimed that they could not guarantee the security. ALS anyway organised a protest against the debate to oppose the promotion of racist and fascist ideas at the university.
Even the judicial argument does not make sense. Preventing meetings of other student organisations is against the code of conduct of the university, which ALS is not guilty of. But so is promoting racist and fascist ideas which the Vlaams Blok and its representatives are clearly guilty of. Several of the organisations connected to the Vlaams Blok have recently been convicted of racism by the Belgian courts. As a result, the Vlaams Blok decided to change its name to Vlaams Belang and also adopt new structures and a new programme.
The essence of the matter is that this campaign against ALS is an attempt by the university authorities to get rid of what they see as potential "trouble makers" before they kick the programme of privatisations and cuts into a higher gear. Belgian universities are starting to put the EU ‘Bologna Agreement’ for higher education into practice.
The structure of the degrees has been changed to the US standard of Bachelors and Masters and soon it will be time to implement the financial implications of this. Last month’s decision by the University of Leuven to drastically raise the tuition fees for foreign students is not a coincidence. Foreign students will have to pay 5,000 euros or 10 times more than the year before, to enter Leuven University in line with the new guidelines.
Active Left Students have been extremely successful in fighting racist and fascist ideas at the university in Ghent. Although the universities are legally obliged to have representatives of all the political parties on its bodies, the Vlaams Blok has not taken up its seat in Ghent. This is the result of the magnificent campaign lead by ALS in 2001. Ghent University is one of the only universities where students have been able to stop the fascist youth organisations from organising officially. Now it seems that the university authorities want to get rid of the main opposition first before welcoming the Vlaams Belang and implementing further privatisations and cuts.
Send protest letters to the Rector and Vice-Rector of Ghent University:
Andreas De Leenheer
Tel: ++32 9 264 30 01
Marc De Clercq
Tel: ++32 9 264 30 14
Fax: ++32 9 264 79 98
Copies to ALS at:
Tel ++32 9 232 13 94