Two demonstrations a day in Brussels

“With an average of two demonstrations a day and a corresponding annual growth rate, Brussels could well be considered the world capital of demonstrations.”

This terse statement was taken from the doctoral thesis presentation of a University of Antwerp (UAntwerpen) researcher, Ruud Wouters. His subject was the treatment of demonstrations by two Flemish television networks, Eén (VRT) and VTM. Ruud Wouters points out that this statement is not his own but comes from his university’s communications service, which itself did not conduct a comparative study of demonstrations on an international level. Regarding the City, he also points out that Brussels is not THE world demonstration capital, but one of the capitals.

 

The researcher based his findings on two simple sources: the Brussels Capital-Ixelles area police census of all demonstration that took place on its territory between 2003 and 2010, and the researcher’s own account of the treatment of the demonstrations by the two networks. The results are that only 11% of these demonstrations are covered by VRT and VTM.

 

The respective mayors of the City of Brussels and Ixelles, Freddy Thielemans (PS) and Willy Decourty (PS), call for an “open” approach to demonstrations. “The right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental right in a democratic society,” they explain.

 

However, the right to demonstrate is still defined by police regulations. A protest demonstration’s organizer must send a written request to the local police that includes a number of elements: the name and address of the organizer, the event’s purpose, the date and time planned for the assembly, the planned route, an estimate of the number of participants and the organizer’s plans for maintaining order.

 

The right to demonstrate is also subject to some restrictions and bans. For example, it is forbidden, without authorization, to cover one’s face in a public area by exaggerated makeup, masks, or any other means. Some places and areas are also subject to restrictions. Those include the UNESCO area around the Grand Place, a set perimeter around the European Parliament and the “neutral zone” that includes Parliament, the Royal Palace and Brussels Park. A demonstration planned for a green space is subject to a request to Brussels-Environment.

 

PIERRE VASSART

FABRICE VOOGT

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