Belgium in Brief: Protests sullied by violence

Belgium in Brief: Protests sullied by violence

Yesterday the crowds were again out in force to protest the measures in place to control the coronavirus pandemic. These demonstrations have become a frequent occurrence in Brussels and this was the fifth to descend into violence as some attendees ignored the organisers’ calls for calm, preferring to express their rancour by smashing buildings and targeting police.

The ranks were filled not only by Belgians, but also citizens of neighbouring countries. The official headcount was around 50,000 although as ever, the figure was probably downplayed by authorities. Whatever the case, the clamour of discontent resounded strongly in the city’s European quarter as organisers decried what they call anti-democratic and disproportional Covid measures.

The continent is coming to terms with a more contagious but less potent virus variant but nations seem divided about how to proceed: accept that Omicron cannot be contained and hope that the vaccination programmes will keep healthcare systems from being overwhelmed? Or clamp down with stricter measures and even mandatory vaccinations? Neither option is very appealing, which could explain Belgium’s conservative position to keep things more or less as they are and cross fingers that things will get better soon.

Pandemic fatigue is probably something we are all feeling and, when organised sensibly with a clear message, previous manifestations of public dissatisfaction have successfully brought change. Most recently, this was the case when Belgium reversed the apparently unfair treatment of the culture sector.

But it seems that a minority of anti-establishment fringe groups see the protests as an opportunity to indulge in wanton vandalism and aggression that does nothing to help their cause. As the health situation evolves, so will the strategies to manage it. It may even be that change for the better could come sooner than we think.

Did you see the protests? Let @Orlando_tbt know.

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