What next for Brussels

first_img Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram Days after the terrorist attacks that shook Brussels, the European Union capital remains in a state of heightened alert, fearful of what the days after will mean for Europe and the western world in general. The city is under siege, with a thousand soldiers patrolling the streets, helicopters flying above, ambulances standing by, but after the initial shock, people have kept their calm and panic has not spread.This is only one of the achievements of a city that is, by default, one of the most multicultural ones in Europe, given that all the major European institutions are based there (and that it has, historically, been home to large Muslim populations coming from Africa and the Middle East). Naturally, there is a large Greek community there, mostly working for the EU services. As it happens, one of the two attacks took place at Maalbeek metro station, close to the Permanent Greek delegation to the European Commission. Neos Kosmos managed to get in touch with a few of the Greeks in Brussels, who shared their experience of the stressful days and their thoughts about the aftermath. Making it easy for extremists“The train station attack was the most shocking,” says Elena Kindyni, who works at the European Union. “There were wounded people scattered on the sidewalk, outside our office, as if we were in Lebanon,” she says, describing the scene, moving on to the estimate that the Belgian authorities will be under a lot of pressure to become more effective in the pursuit of the perpetrators. “They did have much time to prepare after the attack in Paris, but different branches of the government don’t seem to have a viable plan to work together: the airport is in Flemish grounds, each sector of the city falls under a different jurisdiction, the metro line coming through all of them. When there are three different authorities for one area, nobody takes responsibility,” she says, not hiding her worry that another attack might take place “when security measures relax”, even at the EU official buildings. “It is not hard,” she says, but she stresses the need not to “feed the troll” of extremism, by connecting terrorist acts with the current EU crisis. “For us, who live here, this is not connected to the European crisis nor to the refugees,” she says. “This is a very local problem. Its roots are related to the state of Europe at the moment, but the local community makes it easier for extremists to act. Something that would be difficult in any other country is easily achievable here. There is a large Muslim community living in the outskirts, with access to social benefits for life, and on the other hand there is a complete lack of security checks for people entering or leaving the country – even now. They had easy access to a target that means a lot to many people, as is the heart of Europe.” From his point of view, Nicos Legakis, who works in Brussels at the Cyprus Embassy, offers another perspective. “The people in this country have been weary of this particular melancholy of abundance, living in a bubble; after the attacks, first in Paris, now here, they have a real enemy to hate. I was recently reading that the verbal attacks towards Muslims have been soaring since November.” Fear and loathing in BrusselsBelgium and the Muslim world have been strange bedfellows for quite some time. The country has seen its population being changed by migrants coming from Africa and the Middle East, largely as an after effect of the colonial era. But integration of Muslim migrants has been slow; some have been part of the middle class for years, others remain on the fringe of community, becoming easy targets for the inflammatory rhetoric of Islamic State, which has been enhanced by other factors. For instance, the Belgian weapons industry has been a supplier of IS for years now, ever since the organisation emerged as an opposition to Assad’s oppressive regime in Syria, something that has been well-documented by Amnesty International and other independent observers. “One thing is for certain; these attacks sustain and feed hatred,” attests Michael Scaramangas, a parliamentary assistant to the European Left (GUE/NGL) Delegation at the Europarliament, “just as the West’s attacks in Syria, or Israel’s in Palestine, make sure to radicalise the other side. People who would never have thought to entertain the notion of secluding cultures are starting to become suspicious of the coexistence of cultures,” he says, not hiding his concern if this kind of thinking prevails in a country as tolerant as Belgium. “I’m not sure as to how what has happened will be assessed. It is the first time we have seen people die as a result of terrorist actions in Brussels and I believe this will affect civil liberties. “This time around, there is real fear,” he points out. “It is not the fear of ordinary people so much, rather the authorities’ fear, that they have missed something. They want to keep the roads clear, so they will have freedom to move.”This assessment coincides with the – uncorroborated – information circulating many offices in the higher ranks of the EU that there is at least one terrorist cell ready to act immediately. In the first hours after the attacks, police were looking for at least two armed men on a motorcycle, which led to the lockdown of the EU buildings. Islamofascism Vs EurofascismThe greatest fear is about the aftermath of the attacks. Many countries have already been violating the Schengen agreement on border controls and, according to Michael Scaramangas, it is a matter of time for the prevalence of the policy recently introduced to the United Kingdom.“When people lose their jobs, they will immediately lose their residency in the country, despite being European. One reason for this will be to avoid handing out unemployment benefits and social security to non-native people and the other in order to fulfil the neo-conservative prophecy; policing borders, making it harder for people, but not for capital or products, to cross them, and imposing greater control on societies through fear, public debt, social exclusion.” Stelios Chatzikaleas, a musician and graduate student, has reached the same conclusion. “Unfortunately, the only answer to Islamofascism seems to be Eurofascism,” he says. “When the answer is to impose curfew, to shut down theatres, to ban concerts and discourage people from gathering, encouraging them instead to stay locked inside at home, I’m not at all optimistic,” he points out.“What I find especially saddening is that people can’t understand that these bursts of violence that sporadically hit them are a daily routine, a normality for other people. When they vote for governments that are the perpetrators of a continuous massacre taking place in the Middle East, when they fund and arm IS in order to subvert the Assad regime, when they bomb Syria for months, creating a wave of hundreds of thousands of refugees, to whom they refuse entrance to the EU, how can they show empathy for the dead? “It is sickening that taxpayers allow for plutocrat misanthropic politicians to turn their tax money into funding for the armed fascist groups; in the end, the same weapons that the European taxpayers have paid for are turning against them.”last_img

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