Belgium is a consolidated democracy that scores 96 out of 100 according to the freedom house index (2019) and it is the first state that used proportional representation. Moreover, the country often has been matched with the notion of democracy, since it hosts headquarters of some international organization, that promote democracy or uses it as a precondition to membership such as NATO and EU commission. However, is Belgium really an example of an advanced democracy?
Well, it depends on your understanding of what is democracy and who is it for?
If it is a nationalized democracy probably it can still be an example of a consolidated democracy; however if it is a more universalized understanding that allows more equal opportunities and less discriminating environment with no violence or no abasement to immigrants and minorities then it can be argued that Belgium lost its status as an exemplary state of consolidated democracies.
Nationalism and the rise of the far-right parties is not a brand-new subject either for Belgium or for Europe. The far-right party Vlaams Bloc had increased its influence starting from 1991 in Belgium but then party was closed in 2004 due to the racist propaganda. However, closing one party is not enough to change the course of racist tendencies. Even though there could be multiple triggers of racism; discrimination and abuse often related with socioeconomic inequalities and a sense of unfairness. Specially after 2008 economic crisis Europe was hit hard and took long time to recover which led wider income gaps and socioeconomic inequalities. Crisis and increased immigration led states to embrace more protectionist nationalistic policies, mounting discrimination and allowing far-right parties to increase their influence even more.
While extremist parties and racist tendencies are on the rise there has been some resistance to this democratic erosion. In November, there had been a meeting in Brussels to create an action plan to fight with discrimination and violence through enhancing reporting system and establishing a more aversive system against hate crimes. Moreover, with the increase in immigration due to the war in Syria, xenophobia became so clear to see that Prime minister of Belgium had to make a speech in January to highlight that that free speech and hate speeches are different things and racism is not acceptable. Prime minister continued her speech via introducing a new agenda to fight violence against minorities and immigrants which involves establishment of an inter-federal committee. Beside state-wide actions European Union also made a statement and published a report in February due to the increase in violent incidents and racism in Europe, highlighting the growing tension towards minorities and xenophobia to warn governments and make them to take an action.
However, is it enough to say that racism will be get under control?
Well considering current assembly of the chamber, these seems not enough.
While nationalistic perspective started to increase its influence in Belgium politics once more, it has been recorded that minorities and immigrants are having hard time to find better jobs and housing conditions. Moreover, violence and hate against them became too visible that showed its effect on a parliamentary session.
Discrimination of immigrant and minorities made Belgium lost a point in Freedom House index of 2019 and with the increased influence of Vlaams Belang, a far-right party originated from the dissolved party of Vlaams Bloc, presented the severity of the rise of nationalism and the hostility. In December after the shooting of a socialist chairman Ahmed Laauej in the Chamber, a member of the Vlaams Belang made a racist argument and said that it was “inherent to that kind”. Even though later some members of the Vlaams Belang Party suggested that they did not hear such a comment and the shooting should be because of the deputy’s political background not ethnicity, the phrase showed the hatred within the chamber. Moreover, considering the elections are relatively new, conducted in 2019, this incident in the chamber do not just represent the hostility in the chamber but also in the public considering that the party increased its seats from three to fifteen in 2019 elections with the mounted support of the people.
Even though, there are attempts from the top to reduce and eliminate violent against discrimination this event involving the chamber of deputies questioned the sustainability of the policies since a deputy used the term “that kind” and showed their sense of “otherness” demonstrating a clear example of the hate within the community. Even though prime minister of Belgium showed her attitude against xenophobia suggesting that freedom of speech does not coincides with hate speeches, having it in the parliament one month ago form this statement suggested that there is a huge gap between the politicians in understanding of politics and freedom of speech.
Moreover, it brings this question to mind; do people of Belgium really want to fight against racism and embrace their society as a whole or is it just a doomed battle that some humane elites try to wage?
Belgium. (n.d.). Retrieved April 6, 2020, from https://freedomhouse.org/country/belgium/freedom-world/2019
Brussels city moves unanimously to act against racism. (2019, November 21). Retrieved from https://www.brusselstimes.com/all-news/belgium-all-news/79281/brussels-city-moves-unanimously-to-act-against-racism/
Castanheira, M., Rihoux, B., & Bandelow, N. C. (Coordinator. (2019). Be l g i u m R e p o r t.
Chini, M. (2019, December 17). Vlaams Belang member accused of racism after shouting incident in Chamber. Retrieved from https://www.brusselstimes.com/all-news/belgium-all-news/84325/socialist-chairman-laaouej-shouted-in-chamber-vlaams-belang-mp-caught-saying-it-is-inherent-to-that-kind/
European Commission alarmed by growing racism in Europe. (2020, February 29). Retrieved from https://www.brusselstimes.com/all-news/belgium-all-news/97587/european-commission-alarmed-by-growing-racism-in-europe/
Galindo, G. (2020, January 24). ‘Racism is a crime’: Belgian PM announces action plan to fight online hate speech. Retrieved from https://www.brusselstimes.com/belgium/91442/racism-is-a-crime-belgian-pm-announces-action-plan-to-fight-online-hate-speech-sophie-wilmes-free-spech-online-comments-inciting-hate-xenophobia-racism-laws/