We're in this together
Marching against racism and violence, 18,000 people have honoured four Antwerp victims, but what impact will their silent protest have? Aaron Gray-Block reports.
Oulemata Niangadou, 24, Luna Drowart, 2,
Songul Koç, 46 and Mohammed Bouazza, 23.
All four were victims of senseless and/or racist violence…
Malian nanny Oulemata and Flemish toddler Luna were gunned down and killed in Antwerp on 11 May. Turkish woman Songul was also shot in the same attack, and is still recovering in intensive care.
About 18,000 people took part in the march
But Antwerp responded on Friday as 18,000 people took to the streets to honour the victims and reject racism and violence in a silent march.
Though fewer people took part than expected due to the cold and rain, it was still the biggest march in Antwerp's history and the accompanying police operation was the city's largest ever.
The motto for the march was: 'The sadness of A' and 'Stop racism, diversity is reality'.
It comes just a little over a month after 80,000 people marched in the Belgian capital of Brussels after the murder of teenager Joe Van Holsbeeck.
Together, almost 100,000 people have silently shouted the same message: "This must stop."
A new beginning
In Flanders' largest city, the chairman of the Antwerp Consultation Council for Minorities, Georges Kamanayo, said Friday's march "must primarily signify a new start".
"Let us hope that the politicians will now finally be shaken awake and that the relationships between the more than 100 nationalities that live here become better from today," he said.
Refusing to criticise the extreme-right Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), Kamanayo said racism penetrates deep into society.
He stressed further that society must ensure it does not penetrate further, thereby preventing its youth from growing up in such a climate.
Antwerp Mayor Patrick Janssens also hopes the city's march will create a better social atmosphere, but warns it will not instantly transform the city into an example of tolerance.
"There are societal problems. There is racism, there is intolerance. That does not simply go away and we must keep daring to identify the problems. Sticking our head in the sand has no sense," he says.
Antwerp's silent march started shortly before 3pm on Friday and followed the Schelde wharves to the Bolivarplaats in front of the new Antwerp Court.
Family of the victims, dressed in white, led the march, followed by schools and youth organisations.
The route was made car free for the day and participants were urged to travel to the city by public transport.
Antwerp is home to more than 100 nationalities
The Antwerp City Council, most Flemish youth groups, the Muslim community, the Forum of Jewish Communities, the small business association Unizo and unions had each urged the public to join the march.
Despite the rain, many participants had answered the organisers' call to wear a piece of white clothing as a symbol of solidarity and unity.
But in the days leading up to the march, the family had also requested the Vlaams Belang — which has been accused of creating a racist climate that led to the murders — to refrain from becoming involved.
It was a request the party eventually pushed aside — to great controversy — as it urged its members to participate in the march.
Defending the decision, Vlaams Belang leader Filip Dewinter stressed: "We have asked all Antwerp residents to come. Not just our supporters".
The leader of the Arab European League, Dyab Abou Jahjah, initially said the march was hypocritical, but later urged party members to join the protest in a "calm and dignified" manner.
Unity or discord?
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