Photo: Bart Debie speaking to an Antwerp constituent, June 2008.
“Funny enough, one does get used to the news.”
That’s what Bart Debie told me on confirming that, yes, he has been ordered to report to a Belgian prison on Wednesday—tomorrow--to begin serving a one-year term for “racism.”
Let me explain the ghastly surrealism of this sentence as meted out to this former police officer and former Antwerp City Council Member by the Belgian state: Debie neither made the racist remarks at issue, nor was he even present during the incident. This only adds horrific dashes of Kafka and Koestler to a politically correct prosecution of a member of the political opposition by what may be best described as fascistic little Belgium. Of course, expressing incredulity over Debie's utter innocence of "racism" is not to admit to the legitimacy of such "racism" prosecutions. Any such prosecutorial curb on speech is a gross violation of freedom of speech; but there is a doubly unjust and even absurd aspect to this case given Debie's non-involvement. Hence the Kafka- and Koestler-esque touches.
But there’s also a touch of Dumas to the story. This struck me when I first listened to Debie tell his tale last summer during a visit to Antwerp, a city of about 500,000 people including some 40,000 illegal aliens mainly from Turkey and Morocco.
Once upon a time, Debie, a clean-cut and athletic-looking man of 34, was a senior police officer. When I met him, he was on the city council, but at age 25, he was the youngest police superintendent in the country who would later be nationally celebrated for leading successful police campaigns against mafia-run prostitution, human trafficking and illegal drugs organizations in Antwerp. Then came a night in 2003, after which things get both complicated and nightmarish.
I am still trying to master the facts of this five-year-plus case, but here’s how I understand the salient points: While responding to complaints about a pair of drunks, Debie and his policemen were attacked by five Turkish men wielding a baseball bat and a knife. Two witnesses testified to this attack in court. After helping to subdue and arrest the attackers, Debie was called away to supervise a SWAT team elsewhere in Antwerp, and his men returned to the station with the Turkish prisoners, who later claimed they had been beaten and subjected to racism while at the station. Debie believes the beating did indeed occur in his absence, although his ultimate conviction was for creating, as he explains it, "an atmosphere which led other people to say such things" as--get this--“Now we have five lambs here and we can slaughter them.”
Initially, Debie was given a suspended sentence in what turned out to be the first of two trials. “I was very happy with the first sentence,” Debie recalled. The policeman who admitted to making the “racist” comments went unpunished and now serves, Debie told me, on a “team for managing diversity in Antwerp.” Meanwhile, the Turks were never charged for their assault on police.
Having left police work, Debie decided to run for a seat on the Antwerp city council and, as he put it, “make Antwerp safe that way.” He ran as a member of Vlaams Belang, the Establishment-reviled conservative political party that (1) seeks Flemish independence from Belgium, and (2) opposes the Islamization of European culture which Left-wing elites in both Belgium and elsewhere in Europe actually encourage in part to help increase their own constituencies. And Debie won.
It so happens that after Debie was elected, prosecutors appealed his verdict.
Hmmm. I wonder why? Could it be part of the Belgian government’s ongoing campaign against Vlaams Belang, which, as the largest political party in Belgium, presents an continual threat of secession to Belgium (home, after all to “united Europe”) and opposition to Islamization? Even now, two of the leading members of the party, Filip Dewinter and Frank Vanhecke, are facing legal battles of their own to retain their political rights and viability against other completely bogus charges of “racism”—the favored bludgeon of PC Belgians desparate to retain centralized power.
In Debie’s case, this second time around in court, prosecutors got the racism conviction they sought—again, for remarks Debie didn’t make during the station incident Debie wasn’t present for.
And what does a convicted “racist” in Belgium do to make pay his debt to society? So far, Debie has paid fines of E30,000. He long ago lost his police career, and after this recent conviction, the government of Belgium actually stripped him of his political and civil rights for 12 years locally and five years nationally. All of which sounds, frankly, more Old Soviet than Old Europe.
Naturally, as a man without rights, Debie had to resign from the city council, which is where I came in last summer. In fact, I videotaped him standing next to his city council seat for what he expected would be the last time. He is now prohibited from running for elective office, from voting, and from working in the civil service. When we spoke, he told me he was planning to get married in 2009 and was looking into whether, without civil rights, he would even be allowed to.
But that is in the future. Tomorrow, barring unforeseen intervention, he reports to overcrowded and violent Vorst prison outside Brussels where he will be serving alongside some of Belgium’s worst criminals, a not inconsequential number of whom are what Debie wryly characterizes as his “former clients.”
This surely puts Debie’s very life at risk, a fact he has urgently pressed onto Belgian authorities, who have so far failed even to acknowledge his safety concerns.
“When I got the news [to report to the prison], I rang to the prison director,” Debie told me. “They knew exactly who I was and they told me, We are very sorry but this is the worst place you could get” assigned to. Debie has a final plea in to the Belgian Justice Minister, Jo Vandeurzen. “I’m not going to argue my sentence; I’ve accepted that,” he explained. Given the acute risks to his physical safety, however, Debie has asked Vandeurzen to allow him to serve an alternate sentence, something like street cleaning or zoo cleaning, which he says is not uncommon in Belgium.
So far, of course, he has heard nothing.
Why do I say “of course”? Unless this posting can really rattle the truffle tray in the Belgian palace, it’s hard to imagine humanitarian concerns succeeding where logic and evidence have long failed. But we can hope. (And we can call.)
Meanwhile, Debie is trying to look ahead. “Funny enough,” he said, “there is something in that after this they can’t do anything else to me. I’ll be free.”
Sooner, let’s hope, rather than later.