Monday, December 19, 2011
Report: Congolese Diaspora Waves the Flemish Flag in Protest
Congolese Diaspora, in protest against president Kabila and the Belgian political establishment, brandishes Flemish nationalist symbols.
President Kabila was officially re-elected as president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Carter Center reported that the presidential elections lack credibility but the ‘international community’ keeps silent.
With war raging for nearly 15 years through the interior of Congo and with a corrupt elite at its head, many Congolese emigrated. They are now everywhere but Belgium, the former colonizer, hosts since a long time a large community.
While protests have been violent in Congo and many people were killed, there is very little information about what’s going on in Congo. The Congolese diaspora is also protesting. There have been protests in Brussels, London, Paris and elsewhere.
The Congolese Belgians protested last Friday in the streets of Brussels. At least they want the Belgian government to give a sign: to condemn the electoral forgery and to reject the election’s results. The Belgian government has long been Congo’s best ally and as economical and political interest have to be protected the Belgian political elite tends to be very mild towards Congolese leaders. Certainly since China started to be an economical competitor in the region, Belgium not only stopped to be critical towards the government, it supports Kabila.
The Congo politics in Belgium have traditionally been dominated by the French-speaking political elite. They were friends with Mobutu and now court Kabila. Only one Belgian foreign minister, Karel De Gucht, officially condemned the corrupt Kabila regime. He was a Flemish minister, known to be outspoken. A few years ago in a bar in Kinshasa there was a picture of him on the wall with below a sign stating ‘Here speaks the truth’. In 2007 Congolese Belgians already expressed their sympathy for the Flemish honest political style in contrast to the French-speaking smoothness (perceived as treacherous).
One year and half ago the N-VA won the parliamentary elections, they came out to be the largest party. The N-VA is a new right wing Flemish nationalist party, compared to the US they are more like Republicans than Democrats (they want less government). In the democratic system in Belgium the winning parties always have to make a coalition government representing the parliamentary majority (it is not the winner takes it all principal as in the US or France). In the past Christian-Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals formed different governments in different configuration and coalitions having one of the 3 political families always in opposition while the other two are governing (for each political family there are 2 parties, one supporting Flemish interests, the other French-speaking interests).
This time though the biggest party was the new N-VA, for which there is no French speaking equivalent. But after more than a year of negotiating, N-VA couldn’t find the needed political allies to form a majority. So eventually the loosing parties, i.e. Christian-Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals formed a government together leaving the winning party in opposition together with the far right and green parties.
The leader of N-VA, Bart De Wever is known to be outspoken, clear, honest, intelligent, hard working and undiplomatic. The N-VA represents the hard working no-nonsense Flemish stereotype. But its stubborn position for more Flemish control and power annoys the French-speaking minority in Belgium (who have proportionally more say on the Belgian political scene).
The French-speaking media in Belgium like to portray Bart De Wever as an arrogant far right politician, but he clearly states he’s not. He just wants Flanders to be more under control of its own destiny and he wants French speaking Belgians who settle in Flanders to learn and speak the Dutch language. He therefore is a natural enemy of the French-speaking political elite, who are traditionally friends with the Congolese political elite. Besides many people believe he wants to abolish the Belgian state and aspires for an independent Flemish republic. But just as many people think that this is propaganda to bring N-VA in discredit.
As a result the Congolese protester chose the Flemish flag and the person of Bart De Wever as key symbols in their protest against the Belgian political establishment.
There are three reasons why the Congolese community found solidarity with the Flemish cause. While N-VA won the elections, the political leaders in Belgium stayed more or less the same. N-VA stayed on the side without direct power (For some it is N-VA’s fault, as they didn’t want to make any compromise). Second the Flemish politicians, and certainly N-VA, are known to be outspoken and Flemish politicians often were critical towards the Belgian Congo-policy. N-VA is therefore their ally against Kabila. Third is the following principal: ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. We could hear Friday Congolese Belgians screaming that next time they will vote for N-VA. This shocks many French-speaking people, but also many Flemish people who see in N-VA a threat for Belgian unity and in the Flemish nationalistic signs a reflection of racism and fascism.
Journalists and politicians in Belgium are completely confused about this spontaneous reaction from the Congolese community.
Most protests in Brussels resulted into rioting. Why is that? While there were young thugs who mixed into the protest, I think that the police force has a very different reaction confronted with crowds of screaming Africans than with white people. Additionally Congolese are rather ‘loud’ and you may think they have a fight while they are just having a friendly conversation. I believe that this intercultural misunderstanding has quickened the chance for clashes.
Furthermore I know the police reacts totally out of proportion. One anecdote about someone I know may be illustrative. He is from Angolan descent and had nothing to do with the protest. He just works at a theater in the neighborhood where the protesters passed. Because he heard some noise in the streets he took a look at the door (as so many people did). But he is black and immediately the police took him out of the theater’s door gate, dragged him in the street, kicked him and handcuffed him. His (white) colleagues, seeing what went on, ran after him and explained to the police officers that he is an employee of the theater, that he is of Angolan origin, that he has nothing to do with the protest. The police men didn’t listen, asked them to mind their own business and just ignored the colleagues. Once they had him under control and that he didn’t move anymore they let their dogs loose to attack and bite him while he was handcuffed on the floor. Eventually they took him away. He spend 12 hours in jail, bleeding and sour all over his body, they finally released him so that he could be hospitalized. His colleagues were under shock, the theater filed a complaint against the police force.