Eyewitness report from members of Linkse Socialistische Partij/Parti Socialiste de Lutte, the Socialist Party’s sister organisation in Belgium
What a disgrace. That was the dominant feeling in Belgium and worldwide when confronted with the images of far right-led hooligans on Sunday 27 March in Brussels. A quiet and dignified vigil, with family members of victims of the 22 March Isis terrorist attacks present, was disrupted by a group of extreme right-wing troublemakers who were escorted by police to the 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 kilometres away from Brussels, and both the local authority and police were aware of their plans in advance.
When they arrived in Brussels they immediately attacked a night shop and gave fascist salutes. Still, the police decided to let them go to the vigil. Once again the police tops blunder and the political leaders deny responsibility.
On the Saturday a call was made by the national government to Belgians not to participate in the planned gathering that would have brought probably many thousands of people to the centre of Brussels.
Unfortunately the organisers 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.
The people present at the vigil were representative of the international and multicultural character of the city. 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 from the terrorist attack.
The hooligans were clearly organised 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 thugs trampled over 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 original 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 four to three.
What happened on Sunday was a disgrace and also a warning. 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 establishment 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 attempt to fill that political vacuum.
We are pushing to organise an active response from workplaces and the rest of society. The organised labour movement must address the concerns about questions of security by discussions in the workplaces, but also needs 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 then 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.
We need to build a movement that argues for a socialist alternative to this capitalist system that creates the conditions which breeds these evils.