Belgium’s media and political class have called for change after two high-profile cases of racism rocked the country, raising troubling questions about white attitudes a few weeks before local elections.
The incidents involve Cecile Djunga, a weather presenter with state broadcaster RTBF, who published a video online this week after more than a year of racist abuse; and a report by VRT television about a Flemish far-right group whose leader has warned members to “be ready for combat”.
Both made headline news across online media and in the national press on Friday.
Great danger lies ahead and it's urgent to respondLe Soir
The daily Le Soir’s front page was black, with white text denouncing white attitudes to people of different ethnic backgrounds and foreigners.
Its chief editorialist wrote: “We can’t kick this into the long grass any more. Cecile Djunga’s cry for help and the VRT report make it clear: great danger lies ahead and it’s urgent to respond.”
Ms Djunga, who is also a comedian, said she decided to go public after a woman called her at work to tell her she does not look good on television because she is “too black”.
Her employers say they are taking a stand against racism.
VRT’s report focused on Flemish nationalist group Schild en Vrienden, or Shield and Friends in English.
Photos of leader Dries Van Langenhove holding an automatic weapon have appeared on social media. Mr Van Langenhove, who has made references to a “war of races”, has also appeared in pictures online alongside Belgium’s hardline migration minister Theo Francken.
Mr Francken told RTBF he was shocked by the report. He said he knew of the group, “but I didn’t know that there were such extreme elements in this organisation”.
Asked whether his migration policies contribute to such attitudes, he said: “Racism is for idiots and all those people who think I’m a hero and who do these kinds of things, write these kinds of things, are idiots.”
Prime minister Charles Michel said he condemns “all forms of racism and extremism. There’s no place in our society for this kind of attitude”.