In light of the International Day against Racism and Discrimination on Monday, around 1,000 people marched through the centre of Brussels to say no to racism in all its forms on Sunday afternoon.
The following Monday, the Secretary for Equal Opportunities, Gender and Diversity allocated half a million euros to anti-racist projects, Belga News Agency reports.
Many associations, collectives, citizen movements and political parties gathered at 15:00 near the Gare du Nord, marching up to Boulevard Pacheco towards Mont des Arts, the endpoint of the march.
Platform 21/03 organised annual marches across Belgium
The national action was organised by Platform 21/03, a Belgian collective of 30 anti-racism organisations, and included 15 cities across the country: “We were united throughout Belgium,” said Serge Kabiligi of Platform 21/03.
The platform has organised the national demonstration in Brussels on 21 March every year since 2018, endorsing demands ranging from ending discrimination in education to zero tolerance for police violence.
The collective stands up against racism as “countless testimonials, figures and studies show that too many employers, real estate agencies and government agencies still treat people unequally.”
Platform 21/03 said that equal rights are still not a reality, neither on paper nor in practice, for everyone who contributes to our society every day. “People of other nationalities and people without legal residence documents still do not enjoy the same basic rights or protection by our government.”
“But even those who have lived and worked here for generations are still too often regarded as second-class citizens. Because of skin colour, origin or religion, they are denied their right to quality work, education or housing, people are targeted by discriminatory police checks.”
“Discrimination makes people vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation and violence. It sets citizens against each other,” the organisation said. “And that makes us all worse.”
Participating organisations included MRAX, the Movement against Racism, Antisemitism and Xenophobia; citizens’ platform Belrefugees, which fights for the rights of refugees; and environmental NGO Greenpeace, which states that there is “no climate justice without racial justice”.
As anti-racist marches took place in 15 towns across Belgium, hundreds of activists gathered in Liège on Sunday eve. Speakers from civil society, trade unions and youth representatives took the floor to denounce racism, discrimination and differences in treatment.
“We wanted to remind you that the fight against racism must be done on a daily basis and this day was a new opportunity to shake people’s conscience,” a spokesperson said. “We see this with solidarity towards Ukrainian refugees; it is necessary to point out the importance of sticking together.”
A day of commemoration
21 March commemorates that day in 1960, when police opened fire and killed 69 peaceful demonstrators in Sharpeville, South Africa, who were rallying against the apartheid “pass laws”.
The day was declared as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by the UN in 1966, signifying the struggle to end the apartheid policy in South Africa.
Unity over division
A woman attending the march in Antwerp was asked if she really thinks marching against racism will make a change. "Absolutely!" she answered, saying it shows that people won't accept racism and are willing to actively stand up against it. "It also shows that people from all ethnicities and cultures can come together and live in peace and solidarity. That's how society should be."
"Racism tries to divide us. Today we showed all corners of the country that we will not be divided by hate. It gives hope for the future. And we need hope!"
On Monday 21 March, Secretary for Equal Opportunities, Gender and Diversity Sarah Schlitz, launched the "Act Against Racism" initiative, a call for projects against racism.
The fund has allocated €500,000 to support anti-racist initiatives across seven themes, ranging from deconstructing racist prejudice and improving the diversity in representation of the Belgian society to the deconstruction of colonial patterns and specific forms of racism such as anti-Semitism, islamophobia and anti-migrant racism.
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"Racism remains deeply rooted in our society," Schlitz said. "Some of our fellow citizens are victims of violence or discrimination and have no access to the opportunities to which they are entitled, whether it is to find a job, housing, the school environment, sports or public space."
"With this call for projects, I want to give a strong impetus to the fight against racism by supporting the work of associations that take action every day come," she said.
"In Belgium we are fortunate to have a real breeding ground of associations from the north to the south of the country, to which we owe a lot have in the field of promoting rights, social justice and the emancipation of citizens. This work is finally being recognized at the federal level."