Belgian HospitalityPosted: October 5, 2011
Waregem, October 5
Day 72 of the March on Brussels. From Kortrijk, 17 km.
When we showed up on the central square of Kortrijk yesterday, the authorities were completely taken by surprise. After a while a police car came up, a big friendly looking officer stepped out, he walked up to us and started to ask, in his best French, who we were, where we came from, what we were doing here etc. He was visibly relieved when I responded to him in Dutch.
For lack of a good equivalent word I told him we are “les indignés”.
“How do you spell that?”
I spelled it out, without forgetting the accent. He had never even heard of us. So I gave him a very short history of the movement and I told him we planned to camp and to speak to people about local problems and the problems of society. “Tomorrow we leave. We will go to Brussels.”
He scratched himself under his cap and said: “Sure, I can appreciate that, but all the same it’s not possible to camp here. I will have to contact the municipality to find a solution for you.”
“Very well, but I can’t guarantee that we will accept it. We are a horizontal movement, and we will decide in assembly what to do.”
Minutes later the mayor showed up in person. When he heard our discourse about participative democracy he went into ‘campaigning mode’, and he affirmed that his administration was very active in inviting people from the neighbourhoods to participate in politics. I don’t think he really understood that our concept of participation is slightly different from his own.
Still, in no time we were offered a space, with showers and coverage in case of rain, outside of the center. Camping on the square remained strictly forbidden. We would risk jail time.
Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for the assembly to reach a decision. People didn’t want to risk. They accepted. So off we went. Our first night in Belgium. We didn’t even hold a Popular Assembly, also because at night fall the streets were deserted.
This morning, many people stayed around to work or to do some propaganda in the square. This is a very rich part of Belgium, but as I heard, people seemed to be interested and open minded. Unfortunately, we hadn’t prepared any flyers in Dutch. This is my fault, I admit it. We only had flyers in French. When they were handed out, people lost interest on the spot. Welcome to Flanders.
Unlike many others I walked early, together with comrade Infiltrado. He is not really an informant, but he got the fame to be one, and it stuck. The walk was short, only a couple of hours under the wide grey skies of the North, partly along a river. I’ve never been here before, but it feels like I lived here all my life.
In the small town of Waregem the news about the arrival of our march had already reached the authorities. I must say I was flabbergasted, almost embarassed. In general the people of the hot southern and eastern countries have the reputation of being very hospitable to strangers, as opposed to the countries of the North. This doesn’t go for Waregem. The town council offered us a space in the center, next to the football stadium, with all possible facilities, they invited us to hold an assembly or a concert or whatever in any square of our choice. They sent the police to our camp, not in riot gear, not to threaten us or to evict us or to gas us, no, they sent them to bring us food. A present from the town of Waregem.
It didn’t really matter at that point that our assembly in the empty central square was visited by very few locals. One, to be exact. But it was typical that that one person, an ex-construction worker who was rebuilding a former conference room, offered anybody who suffers the cold to camp indoor. “I have enough space for the entire group. All of you are invited.”