Thursday, September 07, 2006

Microsoft Supporting Concerts against Flemish Interest Party

On 1 October, a week before the local elections in Belgium, an organization called 0110 will organize concerts in Antwerp, Brussels, Charleroi and Ghent. Officially the concerts are pro-tolerance, but there's no doubt about it that in reality, they are directed against the right wing Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang) party.

About a year ago, Tom Barman, lead singer of the Belgian group dEUS, told in an interview with the Flemish weekly Knack more than a year ago that he wanted to organize something against the Flemish Interest party before the local elections of 8 October this year. This resulted in an initiative called 0110, which plans to hold concerts in Antwerp, Brussels, Charleroi and Ghent. Tom Barman managed to enroll quite a few main stream artists for these concerts, and even got the attention of the Belgian National Lottery, that wanted to sponsor him. The Flemish Interest party caused a row over the participation of the artists, pointing out that since they represent about a quarter of the electorate, the artists would loose some of their fans, and it even threatened to boycott them. for a while it actually turned quite ugly since some of the artists were attacked rather personally. In the end, however, artists are private persons too, and if they want to make a political statement on a stage, they should be allowed to do so in a free country.

For an organization like the National Lottery, that's completely different of course. Since it owns the state monopoly on gambling in Belgium and is managed by the Belgian government, it should abstain from involving itself in political concerts like these. They're using the pretext that the concerts are a cultural event, though that's obviously not the main goal of 0110 as expressed by the organizer Tom Barman. The social-democrat State Secretary Bruno Tuybens (sp.a), responsible for the National Lottery, was quoted saying it was «a positive thing that the National Lottery supported an initiative like 0110 that's pro-tolerance and anti-racist, even if the concerts are only one week before the elections». In other countries, election observers from the OSCE would certainly make some comments about this type of practices in their report.

But it gets even worse. In the weeks before the concerts, and the elections of course, a publicity spot will be shown on almost all national and regional television channels, including Eén (One) and Canvas, for free of course. Again, commercial television channels do whatever they want, but Eén and Canvas are part of Flemish public television VRT, and that makes things different: they're using the tax-payer's money to let an organization agitate against a political party representing about a quarter of the population. Where one can argue that if you don't agree with the National Lottery's policy, you can simply choose not to gamble anymore (which is a good idea anyway), you can't choose not to pay taxes that would go to the VRT. Anyway, I don't think this would look good in a OSCE report either.

Finally, there are also some private companies supporting 0110. One of them is the Belgian branch of the bookstore Fnac, another one the ethical insurance company P&V, the third one the ethical mobile virtual network operator Ello Mobile. So far only usual suspects: Being a customer of them doesn't really fit with voting for the Flemish Interest party. I'm not sure whether the same could be said about MSN(Microsoft Network). Apparently Microsoft Belgium thinks it is a good idea to sponsor an organization that is opposing against about a quarter of its customers. Maybe they think voters of the Flemish Interest party don't use computers, or they use Linux anyway. In that case, maybe the Flemish Interest party should get better in touch with its voters and start to advocate open source software.