Massive civil disobedience action against TotalEnergies; protests against mobility plan
After two years of the pandemic, the Belgian government is facing a new crisis caused by soaring energy prices and the consequent high inflation rates. Similarly to other European countries, gas and energy prices increased significantly in Belgium following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The federal government is trying to tackle the issue by introducing new measures to support the population. However, it appears to be struggling with implementation: the payment of the energy cheque (“chèque énergie”) to support the payment of energy bills was delayed by one month, from November to December 2022. The support amount will be doubled for the first month to compensate for the delay.
In July 2022, Sarah Schlitz, the Secretary of State for Gender Equality, Equal Opportunities and Diversity, launched a call for projects on LGBTQI+ issues for a total amount of €450,000. Schlitz said:
“Despite our particularly progressive legislative arsenal on these issues, which I am still striving to improve, LGBTQIA+ people still face many specific discriminations and difficulties. Since the beginning of my mandate I have supported the exceptional work of associations fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights. In Belgium, we are fortunate to have a very dynamic network of associations to which we owe a lot in terms of advancing rights, social justice and citizen empowerment. This work is finally being recognised at the federal level.”
Back in March 2022, the Federal Government adopted the Federal Action Plan 2021-2024 “For an LGBTQIA+ Friendly Belgium”. Belgium currently ranks third on ILGA-Europe's Rainbow Index.
Demonstration against the Iranian regime
On 1st October 2022, about 2,000 people gathered in the streets of Brussels to protest against the Iranian regime following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died after being arrested by the religious morality police for wearing her headscarf inappropriately, and in solidarity with the mass demonstrations that have been taking place in Iran since her death on 16th September 2022. The demonstration in Brussels went on without incident.
“I am here in solidarity with the women in Iran. I live here in Belgium and this is the only thing I can do to support them,” said a participant in the demonstration.
A few weeks later, about 900 people gathered in front of the city hall of Ghent under the slogan "Women, Life, Freedom". Following these demonstrations, the municipality of Etterbeek decided to temporarily rename the esplanade in front of the new town hall, Place Mahsa Amini, in tribute to her.
Residents of Brussels protest over the “Good Move” mobility plan
On 24th October 2022, a demonstration took place to denounce the new Good Move facilities installed in Schaerbeek, a municipality in Brussels. “Good Move” is the Regional Mobility Plan for the Brussels-Capital Region, approved in 2020 by the government of Brussels. Since its approval, the plan has faced a lot of criticism, including the lack of genuine consultation and the lack of public transport alternatives proposed as compensation for the numerous bans on vehicle traffic.
During this demonstration, acts of civil disobedience were directed at the new signaling infrastructure of the Good Move plan. Two police officers and a firefighter were injured and several people were also arrested during the clashes. After the protest, the municipal college of Schaerbeek decided that the Good Move plan would be temporarily "frozen" until March 2023 while public consultations are conducted.
Protest against violence towards transgender and intersex people
On 30th October 2022, a protest against violence towards transgender and intersex people was organised and launched by the collective “Eclat collectif”. The collective created an event on Facebook to denounce impunity for perpetrators of transphobic speech and draw attention to the current precarious living conditions of transgender and intersex people.
As a result of this call to gather, about 300 people demonstrated in Brussels to demand more respect for transgender and intersex people. Even though Belgium introduced a plethora of laws protecting transgender and intersex people, according to the collective these are not effective. Transphobia and verbal and physical violence is on the rise and public employees are often not aware of how to treat transgender and intersex people in a non-stigmatising manner. The majority of the protesters asked the journalists not to photograph them for fear of reprisals. The march took place without incident.
Blockades against TotalEnergies at several sites
On 8th and 9th October 2022, about one thousand members of the “Code Rouge” coalition, made up of citizens, organisations and action groups, tried to block two TotalEnergies depots in Belgium to demand an end to fossil fuels. This action blocked two facilities of TotalEnergies: the site of Feluy and the depot of Wandre. The citizens placed themselves strategically in a roundabout to block access to roads, thus preventing the trucks from reaching the site. Another group of citizens chained themselves to the entrance and exit gates to block the depot. The objective of the operation was to point to the responsibility of the fossil fuel industry in the climate and social crisis.
Legal observers from the International Federation for Human Rights, Amnesty International and the Human Rights League, as well as parliamentarians from different legislative assemblies, were also present to ensure that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly was respected and protected. The police supervised the gathering, without incident.
"It is an incredible signal to see a thousand people committed this weekend to demand the end of the fossil era and to build together a sustainable and socially fair future. We are at a crossroads. Facing the social and climate crisis, we must urgently move away from fossil fuels. Lives depend on it. Multinationals like TotalEnergies are not part of the solution, quite the contrary. This first large-scale action of disobedience is a cry of alert to our political leaders, who must act for the climate and against precariousness. We hope that the voices of all these citizens will be heard,” said Carine Thibaut, the spokesperson for Greenpeace Belgium.
General strike across Belgium
On 9th November 2022, a general nationwide strike took place in Belgium. Facing the rise in energy costs, socialist and Christian trade unions called for a general strike to request an increase in purchasing power to compensate for the effects of inflation and the rise in energy costs. Indeed, the inflation rate (12,27%) has reached its highest level since 1975. Numerous peaceful disruptions took place throughout the country and several sectors of activity were affected: transport, schools, shops, hospitals and police.