The rights and freedoms in Belgium’s democracy are there for everyone and must be defended “at all costs,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in his New Year’s speech on the last day of January.
Like last year, the speeches by De Croo and King Philippe were largely digital, even though some 40 pupils from the last year of secondary school were allowed to attend the speeches in the Throne Room.
“We cannot allow our society to be hijacked by those who shout the loudest, intimidate others in the street or online, or who beat them up,” said De Croo, as he insisted on safeguarding a number of fundamental rights and freedoms, which are also enshrined in the Constitution.
“Rights and freedoms are for everyone. For every citizen – including those who are the most vulnerable and whose voices are not as loud, and certainly for those who have to change their own name, Bouba Kalala, to Yanni Vandenbroeck in order to be able to rent a flat,” he said.
De Croo referred to a recent incident involving Bouba Kalala, a communications assistant for the leader of the Flemish socialist Vooruit party Conner Rousseau, who was only invited to view an apartment when he applied under a Western-sounding name.
For De Croo, Belgium stands for “multi-voicedness” and for “respect and equality,” and he concluded that “this is also the message to all those who from outside want to undermine our Western values and our democracy: we are stronger.”
King Philippe, for his part, not only looked back on the handling of the health crisis and the flood disaster in Wallonia last summer, but also called attention to the challenges of the “medium and long term.”
Discrimination, racism and violence
Alongside the coronavirus crisis, there are plenty of other “crucial themes” on the table such as employment, climate, energy, innovation, the ageing population and “strengthening social cohesion by tackling poverty and inequality,” he said.
Another major challenge is tackling discrimination, racism and violence. “We are shocked by crimes, misdeeds, acts of violence, especially against women and children,” King Philippe said.
“We cannot accept these. Nor can we accept the insults and mockery we hear in our stadiums and other public places,” he said. “Because they destroy those who are the victims of them from within. They lose all self-esteem, their self-reliance. This is not worthy of the society that we want to build together.”
The full speeches (in Dutch and French) can be viewed here:
— Belgian Royal Palace (@MonarchieBe) January 31, 2022