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Belgium in Brief: The End Of Zwarte Piet?

Credit: Belga

Calls to abolish the tradition of ‘Zwarte Piet’ in Belgium and the Netherlands are rising again, as racism and colonialism have become the focus of the Black Lives Matter movements across the world.

The Netherlands and Belgium have a long-standing tradition of celebrating the winter holiday story of Sinterklaas, who is said to visit children’s homes to bring presents and treats on the evening of 5 (Netherlands) or 6 (Belgium) December.

As the story goes, Sinterklaas has a helper – Zwarte Piet. Adults and children dress up as him, donning blackface and black curly wigs, painting large red lips, and often large golden earrings. The character, however, has not been without criticism.

In the latest development, Dutch rapper Akwasi vowed to “kick Zwarte Piet in the face” if he ever encountered one, while taking part in a Black Lives Matter demonstration in The Netherlands, which garnered him a lot of attention (both positive and negative) on Twitter.

While Brussels dropped its plans to erect a statue to Patrice Lumumba, the first leader of the independent Democratic Republic of Congo, and Belgium still has not decided what should happen with all the Leopold II statues, the tradition of Zwarte Piet will be added to the topics to be discussed.

With so much information, and so little time to catch up before it potentially changes again, here are some of the top stories from around the country to get you up to speed.

Belgium in Brief is a free daily roundup of the top stories to get you through your lunch break conversations. To receive it straight to your inbox every day, sign up below:

1. Free rail passes: how will they work?

Now that the free rail pass to revive tourism within Belgium is definitely coming, here’s what you need to know to get yours.

On 6 June, a series of measures were announced by the Superkern – consisting of the government and the ten parties supporting the temporary government’s special powers- including a free ten-trip pass to every citizen in Belgium.

The national railway company (SNCB) had not been consulted in this decision, but they reached an agreement with the government last week for not 10 but 12 free journeys.

The 12 free journeys “will take the form of a pass by name and on request,” according to the SNCB, and will be available “to any resident of this country older than 12 years of age who makes the request.” Children younger than 12 already ride for free on Belgian trains.  Read More.

2. Coronavirus tests to travel abroad will not be reimbursed

Tests that have to detect the presence of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) will not be reimbursed by health insurance when they are necessary for travelling abroad.

As of 15 June, most countries within the European Union reopened their borders to people travelling from Belgium. However, conditions may still be imposed on the arrival of Belgians on foreign territories, such as a mandatory quarantine period, or a negative test to show that the traveller was not infected at the time of departure. Read more.

3. Brussels drops plans for statue of Congo’s murdered prime minister

Plans to erect a statue to Patrice Lumumba, the first leader of the independent Democratic Republic of Congo, have been dropped by the City of Brussels.

In 2018, Brussels Mayor Philippe Close agreed to increasing calls from Congolese activists and named a small square by Porte de Namur after Lumumba.

A small memorial plaque was also installed and Close reportedly promised that a statue of the Congolese independence leader would be erected in Brussels, an initiative for which some €10,000 were unblocked, Bruzz reports. Read more.

4. ‘Trumpian’: Manipulated video of mayor rocks Ghent political scene

Ghent Mayor Mathias De Clercq has accused PVDA (the Workers’ Party) of manipulation after the party edited official images of the city council in a Facebook video.

The video, posted on De Meester’s Facebook timeline, makes it seem like De Clercq does not care about Ghent’s low-emission zone. The mayor denies that he was not interested. “It’s clear where you get the inspiration,” he said, describing the editing as ‘Trumpian’. “This is demagoguery of the lowest kind.” Read More.

5. Coronavirus: Belgium averages 89 new infections, 5 deaths per day

Over the past seven days, an average of 89 people per day tested positive for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in Belgium, according to figures by the Federal Public Health Service on Monday.

The total number of confirmed cases in Belgium, since the beginning of the pandemic, is 60,810. The total reflects all people in Belgium who have been infected, and includes confirmed active cases as well as patients who have since recovered, or died from the consequences of the virus.

Due to the decrease in the spread of the virus over the last few weeks, Sciensano’s reports have changed. From now on, the national health institute will focus on the evolution of the trends, and no longer on the daily figures, as was the case until now.  Read more.

6. Proposal to allow artists to legally graffiti Leopold II statue

Different artists should be able to create a new anti-colonial statement on the equestrian statue of Leopold II on the Place du Trône in Brussels every six months, according to city councillor Bruno De Lille.

By “setting artists loose” on the statue pending a definitive decision on what to do with it, the debate will be kept alive, but “the justified anger can be channelled in a constructive way,” De Lille told Bruzz.

The equestrian statue, in particular, has been defaced several times, as a lot of voices are in favour of removing it. However, as long as there is no clarity, De Lille wants it to be available to artists. Read more.

7. Brussels to reimburse shops looted after BLM protest

The more than a dozen shops that were looted and trashed after a massive Black Lives Matter protests in Brussels will receive financial support from the City of Brussels.

The city council on Monday unanimously agreed to foot all insurance-related expenses of 16 businesses who were damaged in the aftermath of the protest on 7 June. Read More.

Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times

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