Vooruit leader ordered to attend therapy sessions after racist remarks

The public prosecutor's office of East Flanders has opened a mediation procedure over alleged racist remarks made by Conner Rousseau, the leader of the Flemish socialist party Vooruit. 

The incident took place at the beginning of September in a bar in Sint-Niklaas, where Rousseau allegedly urged police officers to use their truncheons against people from the Roma community.

Rousseau apologised for his remarks at a press conference in early October, saying he could not recall the exact conversation and describing his statements as "the ramblings of a drunk person". "I expressed the frustration of many people in the neighbourhood in the wrong way," he said.

Mediation, therapy and museum visit

Following an investigation into the incident, the public prosecutor's office of East Flanders announced on Wednesday that it would start a mediation and measures procedure, or an attempt to resolve the matter out of court.

Rousseau outlined what the procedure would entail. "I will continue the mediation with the Roma community that I have already started," he said. "I will also have to visit the Kazerne Dossin and attend sessions with a therapist on the impact of words and language use." 

The Kazerne Dossin Memorial is a Holocaust and human rights museum housed in a former detention and deportation camp in Mechelen. A judicial assistant will check that Rousseau complies with the measures. If he does, he will not be prosecuted. 

Leaked quotes

Shortly after the prosecutor's announcement, Het Nieuwsblad published what it said were the verbatim remarks that prompted the investigation, sparking a new wave of outrage.

"Let's be honest: it's always these brown men," Rousseau told police officers, according to the paper. "As far as I'm concerned, you should be much harder on them. You should use your truncheon a lot more. I can't kick out all the brown scum," Het Nieuwsblad reports him as having said. "Really, these Roma, just hit them. You can't do fucking shit with those guys."

"I am shocked again because it is even worse than I thought," said Sammy Mahdi, leader of the Flemish Christian democratic party CD&V. Nadia Naji, leader of the Flemish green party Groen, said she regretted "losing an ally in the fight against racism". 

"The statements seem to be even worse than what we heard before and that is appalling," Ahmed Laaouej, the parliamentary group leader of the French-speaking socialist party PS, told De Tijd. "This is unworthy of someone who claims to be progressive. Such explicit racism is miles away from socialism. The fact that Rousseau was allegedly drunk does not change this."


#FlandersNewsService | Vooruit leader Conner Rousseau during a press conference about his comments in October 2023 © BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK

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