The anti-discrimination agency Unia received 740 complaints of hate messages in the first six months of this year, double the 369 received in the first half of last year. The organisation attributes the increase to the approach and aftermath of the federal, regional and European elections in May.
“We systematically note an increase in reports in an electoral period,” said co-director Patrick Charlier (photo), interviewed by Le Soir. “Reports of remarks made by candidates, for example, as well as comments from members of the public.”
Unia has determined in the past that contrary to popular belief, those who post hate messages online are not anonymous “hiding behind their computers” but people who post openly and identifiably.
What has happened in the aftermath of May’s elections, however, is that those found posting hate messages are more likely to justify their actions by the electoral success on Vlaams Belang, the most extreme of all the parties standing.
“What has been surprising is that people who show hateful, racist behaviour call on the score obtained by Vlaams Belang to justify their behaviour,” Charlier said. “We cannot say we have handled more cases of hate crimes, but it’s the discourse that accompanies such hate crimes that is new.”
“We noticed a similar sort of slippage after the terrorist attacks [of March 2016]: people who had previously been attacked as North Africans or Muslims were then described as terrorists. The ways of expressing intolerance have taken new forms. And more importantly, then and since, the intolerance became normal. People don’t try to hide it any more,” he said. On the plus side, victims are also less likely to cover up attacks on them, and more likely to come forward to make an official complaint.