Brussels, 7th May, 2016.
Upon leaving the plane at this small but powerful European capital, I am immediately confronted with solders carrying machine guns. This shocks me, and the solders respond by giving a smile, but the police remain grim-faced, searching peoples’ crevices with their eyes — for our safety, of course.
A walk around Brussels centre early the next day revels a cosmopolitan city almost over its collective grief, hundreds of flowers lying before the Stock Exchange, some no longer so fresh. More armed soldiers discretely hover in the background whilst the city prepares for its Festival of World Cultures as part of the Diversity Project for which visitors are welcomed, food offerings are presented from many countries, and local artists sing together to “share messages of peace, tolerance and coexistence”.
For me, back to boring work. Not a great deal of enthusiasm prevails this weekend, only two people show up. The rest either have important VE day celebrations the next day or are simply enjoying the weather.
Evening closes in and we visit the Food-Trailer festival in the public park. Wonderful atmosphere with all sorts of burgers, falafel, wines, crêpes and other gastric delights.
All too soon it is midnight and the start of a new day. Before the clocks finish striking, security guards and police swoop through the crowds in the public park. People are frightened, nervous and swiftly thin out, half running away. The slower, not so-young ones, like me, drink our last drop, but one minute is too slow for the police. All discussion refused, thrown face down to the dry dirt, clothes ripped, thick plastic cable-ties used as handcuffs, kicked and dragged to another part of town. Passers-by manage to look the other way, despite my screams for help. Thrown to the ground again, cable ties violently cut off drawing blood, abandoned in an unknown place. Covered in dust and sore, slowly adrenalin subsides to pain and awareness of bruises, cuts and wounds, but at least free. Or should I say liberated?
Very odd, really. I’m no hippy, punk or freak, rather a white, somewhat disabled, middle-aged, boringly dressed family man. Is Brussels now too uncivilised for me, despite being host to “our European democratic apparatuses”? Did they need an example to say “Look! We do this to him, so what do you think we will do to you if you do not run away from us or you do not do what we demand?” Maybe the locals knew that, which is why they fled at the sight of the police — for their safety, of course.
8th May, VE or Liberation day. The day the Nazis capitulated to the western Allied forces in Berlin. VE day commemorates the day the Nazi terror was defeated and people in West Europe started saying things like “never again”, and “this is the day we, the people, start winning the peace”. The British and the Soviets were the clear European military victors, but France, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Poland and ‘the rest’ of the liberated countries in Europe have a more complicated conscience when it comes to their national history, to say nothing about the new European economic super-power Germany.
My experience during the IRA bombing and other ‘freedom’ campaigns in England, was, that despite whatever feelings of support for their cause, we Brits do not change our lifestyle as a result of being terrorized, arguing that the terrorists would then have already won. We should keep or drink a stiff one, remain civilised and vote to change things.
In contrast the continentals as Republicans appear to react differently, probably because of what is a relatively normal feeling of alienation from the state and its apparatuses, even though it is their own state, and not owned or ruled by a monarch or foreign power. One example is that of the German “Red Army Faction”, although the rationale often attributed to them can only be considered to be partly effective. It seems correct that terrorist acts cause an overreaction of the state, leading to increased suppression, centralisation of power and control, and the domestic deployment of armies ready to be used against the civilians and so on, as now happens at least in Belgium and France. In Germany the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s CDU, calls for the constitution to be changed because they need the deployment of the army for “public safety”. More generally, the Republics in Europe are increasing the powers of their governments and ministers to allow them to make more direct decisions, thereby removing some of the checks and balances set up to prevent dictatorships and lunatic fringes taking over. The ISIS must get much comfort from this. For a few suicide bombers they not only kill indiscriminately and inconvenience many more, but they get us to give up what we claim to value more than anything: our freedoms.
But that is where the truth of the RAF argument seems to end. Even now there seems little or no provoked reaction, revolt or rebellion from the ‘European’ people who are entrenched in the “Me, Me, Me” culture. And that was supposed to be the justification for terrorism – the people would resist the over reaction of the state(s) to acts of terror and create a more civilised society. Maybe the state needs to be really fascistic and 60 million again sacrificed before liberty, equality and sisterhood / brotherhood become interesting or we become “We, We, We” again. For our safety, of course.