Belgium rocked by high-profile cases of racism

Belgium rocked by high-profile cases of racism

Cecile Djunga, the weather presenter at state broadcaster RTBF.

Belgium's media and political class on Friday called for change after two high-profile cases of racism rocked the kingdom, 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. 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 anymore. Cecile Djunga's cry for help and the VRT report make it clear: great danger lies ahead and it's urgent to respond."

Djunga, who is also a comedian, explained that she decided to go public after a woman called her at work to tell her that she does not look good on television, that she's "too black." Her employers say they are taking a stand against racism, too.

VRT's report focused on the Flemish nationalist "Schild en Vrienden," or Shield and Friends in English.

Photos of leader Dries Van Langenhove holding an automatic weapon have appeared on social media. Van Langenhove, who has made references to a "war of races," has also appeared in pictures online alongside Belgium's hard-line migration minister, Theo Francken.

Francken told RTBF Friday that 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 organization."

Asked whether his migration policies contribute to such attitudes, Francken 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." 

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox