Belgium: How the far-right was able to disturb the vigil for the victims

Action by far-right led hooligans last Sunday in Brussels

What a disgrace. That was the dominant feeling in Belgium and worldwide when confronted with the images of action by the far-right-led hooligans last Sunday in Brussels. A quiet and dignified vigil, with family members of victims of the March 22 terrorist attacks present, was disrupted by a group of extreme right-wing troublemakers that were escorted by police to the vigil.

Mourners hold PSL/LSP posters at vigil

At the vigil, they were greeted with boos and a lot of disbelief. How could the police escort a group of close to 500 hooligans to the vigil? They had gathered in the morning in Vilvoorde, 20 kilometers away from Brussels, and both the local and police were aware of their plans in advance. When they arrived in Brussels they immediately attacked a night shop and gave fascist salutes according to a police spokesperson. Still, the police decided to let them go to the peaceful vigil. Once again the police tops’ blunder and excel the political leaders in denied responsibility.

On Saturday a call was made by the national government to Belgians not participate in the planned gathering that would have drown probably thousands and thousands to the centre of Brussels. Unfortunately the organizers responded by cancelling the event. This meant that only several hundred people were present in the Place de la Bourse when the far right led march arrived, roughly the same number who have been there at any one time during the last few days. People were singing, there was silence, talking and sometimes applause. The people present were representative of the international and multicultural character of the city. All possible origins and backgrounds were represented. Immigrant kids were sharing homemade biscuits. Everything was peaceful.

But this was until a group of hooligans arrived under police escort. Those present were bewildered and reacted by chanting anti-fascist slogans. A young woman began to hyperventilate and had to be transported away by ambulance. Mothers with children tried to flee as quickly as possible. Relatives of the victims were hit despite being there to grieve the dead and injured in the terror attack.

The hooligans were clearly organized by the far right, we saw a member of the Vlaams Belang’s local leadership in Ghent among the hooligans. They chanted racist slogans, immigrants were told to leave. Some hooligans ran over the flowers and candles of the vigil in order to take over the steps outside the Stock Exchange and chase away the mourners present. Only then did the police start to act.

The call by the government not to hold the originally planned march was itself remarkable. Last year, while the terrorist threat was at level 4, permission was given at the end of November for the Christmas market to go ahead. But now a march of collective grief and outrage after the Brussels terrorist attacks was declared not possible, even though the threat level has been lowered from 4 to 3.

What happened Sunday was a disgrace and a warning at the same time. Members of LSP/PSL and other left activists were present at the vigil, discussing and distributing a message of solidarity, against terror and hate. That was the slogan on our posters that were widely taken by the people present to express their feelings.

But the labour movement also needs to respond. We cannot leave it to the established politicians and their media to express the anger and outrage as a result of the terrorist attacks, they have no real answers. If the labour movement does not respond, the far right will. We need to organize an active response from the workplace to the rest of society. We need to address the concerns about questions of security by discussions in the workplaces but also need to act in the streets. We cannot allow the far-right hooligans to gain confidence. They will use racism and islamophobia to first divide and afterwards attack the working class. They will inject hatred in society at a moment that we need the maximum amount of unity against terrorism, hate and oppression and a movement that argues for a socialist alternative to this capitalist system that creates the conditions that help breed these evils.

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March 2016