Tens of thousands of people have come out to protest this Sunday in Brussels against measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. In the crosshairs of the attendees, some 50,000, according to police figures, the covid passport to enter public buildings and restaurants, the fear of compulsory vaccination or the rejection of this measure in children. Other usual targets of this type of calls have also been cast, the tycoon George Soros or Bill Gates, among others. And, how could it be otherwise, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, who after declaring that he wanted to “emmerder” (fuck) the unvaccinated has had his leading role in the posters of the attendees, just like the Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo. The protest began at 11 in the morning and, in principle, was to end in the gardens of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Belgian capital, near the heart of the neighborhood that houses the European institutions. But before the scheduled completion time, protesters have begun rioting with the police.
It is not the first manifestation of this type. The protest against the measures to stop the pandemic is almost a classic of Brussels Sundays. But this Sunday the call had a European look. The organization summoned Europeans United for freedom, under the motto For freedom, democracy and human rights, we stand united. The international dimension of the call was noted in the number of flags from other countries that the attendees carried (European, France, Germany, Holland, Romania, Poland or the French region of Alsace), which on this occasion eclipsed the traditional yellow of the region of Flanders that usually dominates these manifestations.
The difference with other occasions has been in the large number of attendees. The river of people that passed incessantly in front of the European Parliament and in the turbulent interior of its waters seemed to meet all the tribes: there were people who looked like they had gone out for a daily walk on Sunday and enormous types of military court; air people rather hippy, with colored ponchos and scarves, and others, with leather jackets and biker paint; these here went with a hint of rastafari, those from beyond exhibited tattoos on their faces. At noon, the protest, for the moment, was joyful and festive. There were disguised protesters – there was a very original one, clad in PPE with his head riddled with syringes – and also a huge inflatable unicorn passing from hand to hand over the mass. But there was such a volume of people that an unfriendly ending was already intuited. Especially when the classic groups dressed in dark passed by, wiry young men with hoods up and a scarf covering their faces, advancing along the side in search of the head of the demonstration. A helicopter flew over the scene and from time to time a firecracker exploded that echoed between the buildings of the European institutions leaving the smell of gunpowder and people wrapped in smoke, a prelude to what was to come.
The gardens at the height of the European Parliament have almost become public toilets, and some stopped to take a break. “People are starting to get angry,” argued Chris, 52, and Edwin, 49, two Belgians who came from Antwerp, one of the economic centers of the country, in the Flemish West. “We’ve all been good guys up until now and it hasn’t solved anything.” They have come “to end the Corona Pass”, they justified. They do not like being required to have a QR code to enter premises or events. “It doesn’t prove anything, because you can still be sick or spread the disease.” They also want the government to “stop lying”, now that the disease seems to have become a simple “flu”. They cite that a friend got sick after the vaccine and has been in a coma for weeks. One of the two has been vaccinated, the other has not.
The riots soon spread from the park to some of the European institutions – some violent people have destroyed the entrance of the European External Action Service (EEAS), as can be seen in videos broadcast on Twitter by various accounts, including that of the journalist freelance Clement Lanot – and also to the nearest metro stations, where they have had clashes with the police. Precisely, a few hours after the acts of vandalism in the EEAS, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, has approached the facilities to check the damage caused. “It is an unjustifiable act of vandalism”, he declared to EL PAÍS, “they have destroyed our entire window [de la entrada]. In Europe, the right to protest is recognized, but not the right to destroy public property”.