Paul Belien, Brussels Journal, June 26, 2006
The Belgian state is no longer able to guarantee the security of its citizens. On Saturday afternoon Guido Demoor, a 54-year old Flemish train conductor on his way to work, was kicked to death by six “youths” on a crowded bus near Antwerp’s Central Station. The incident recalls the rush-hour murder ten weeks ago of Joe Van Holsbeeck, 17 years of age, in a crowded Brussels Central Station on 12 April.
Guido Demoor, a father of two, intervened when six “youths” got on bus 23 in Antwerp and began to intimidate passengers. There were some forty people on the bus. Demoor asked the “youths” to calm down, whereupon they turned on him, savagely beating and kicking the man. At the next stop thirty passengers fled the bus. The thugs kept beating Demoor. They then pulled the emergency brake and jumped from the bus leaving their victim to die.
Three Moroccans, two of whom are minors, were arrested today. The website of the Dutch paper De Stentor reports tonight that a fourth suspect, believed to be the ringleader, fled into a shop as the police were poised to arrest him. He managed to escape from the shop when dozens of “youths” came to his rescue. Witnesses had described the culprits as immigrant youths of between 18 and 21 years of age. During the weekend the police had called for witnesses as only four people had come forward. The police offered the witnesses absolute confidentiality and promised not to reveal their identities. “Obviously people fear reprisals,” Gazet van Antwerpen wrote today.
Belgians do not have a constitutional or legal right to bear arms, not even purely defensive arms such as peppersprays. With the police and the government failing to protect law-abiding citizens the latter are, however, totally unprotected. Saturday’s murder has shocked bus drivers and train conductors, but they stress that they are not in the least surprised. Violence on public transport has become a fact of life.
“You see what happens if you intervene,” one of Guido Demoor’s colleagues at Belgian Rail is quoted in the newspaper De Morgen today. “If Guido had not opened his mouth he would still be alive. […] He was a good man. I would not have dared to do what Guido did. I was beaten up once and since then I have become very careful.”
Another colleague told the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad: “After the Van Holsbeeck murder some whined that no-one had intervened. Guido did intervene and paid with his life.” After the assassination of Joe Van Holsbeeck Belgium’s Cardinal Danneels had said that Joe was a victim of “the indifference in Belgian society” because no-one had come to his rescue when two youths stabbed him to death for not handing over his MP3 player.
Today the Cardinal issued a statement saying: “Guido Demoor acted very bravely. The fact that he paid with his life does not mean that he acted wrongly.” In contemporary Belgium it is heroic for an unarmed adult to tell immigrant youths to calm down.
An Antwerp bus driver told De Morgen: “These youths can be very aggressive. If you say one wrong word they throw themselves on you. I do not dare to say anything. I keep my mouth shut.” Public transport passengers declared: “They call you names in a language you do not understand, shouting and abusing you. What can you do? Who can you call for help? I do not know.”
A train conductor told Het Nieuwsblad: “This incident happened on a bus, but it could also have happened on a train. To be honest, I have been working in Brussels’ Midi Station [where the international trains from Paris and London arrive] for 27 years and I am happy to be still alive. I have been eye to eye with aggressive pickpockets on many occasions. These men have no qualms about hurting people. I am not sure that I would intervene if I witness an incident. I do not want to risk my life.”
The unrest among railroad employees after the Demoor murder is huge. Some want to go on strike to pressure the government to give them protection. The Independent Union of Train Personnel (OVS), however, has asked its members not to strike. “Laying down our work would only harm the passengers and make them the victims of incidents for which they are not to blame,” OVS spokesman Hugo De Rycke said. He stressed, however, that the authorities have to do something. De Rycke explained that bus 23 on which Demoor was murdered is known to be dangerous. “Because [bus 23] is so dangerous Belgian Rail at one point provided taxis to take employees to work [in Antwerp’s Central Station]. However, the taxi service was abolished because it proved too expensive,” he said.
Problems occur not only in major Belgian cities, such as Antwerp and Brussels, but also in provincial towns, such as Sint-Niklaas. Last week bus drivers in Sint-Niklaas refused to drive out in protest against the aggressive behaviour of immigrant youths on the buses. In today’s De Morgen drivers, who have all asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, relate experiences of “buses being demolished while en route” and of “youths harassing girls, who beg the driver to protect them.” One of the drivers said: “If they refuse to buy a ticket I leave it. I do not want to be beaten up for one and a half euros.”
Another driver said: “Last week an old man was beaten up on my bus. The youths were angry because he did not put away his luggage fast enough. They hit him on the eye and threw the luggage on his lap. […] A bus drive lasts forty minutes. Sometimes they pester and provoke you for a full forty minutes. I remain calm, but some of my colleagues are not able to do so and get into trouble. If I ever get into trouble, I will do as one colleague did recently. He left his vehicle at the bus station and got off, never to return to this job.” Guido Demoor never even got off the bus.