By Alexandra Sandacz
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
BRUSSELS, Belgium – This year, an 82-foot abstract tree of lights was installed in Brussels to replace the traditional Christmas pine tree that is normally displayed on the Grand Place. Consequentially, the new structure sparked controversy and protest demanding respect for “values and traditions.”
Critics accuse officials of parting from traditional ways because of fear of offending non-Christians, especially Muslims.
Despite the criticism, the municipality defended the structure and said it wanted to “blend the modern and the traditional to show off the city’s annual winter fair.”
President of Brussels Tourism, Philippe Close, said, “Let’s be clear, there’ll be a Christmas tree and a nativity scene. Christmas traditions will be respected. The theme this year is “winter pleasures” at the huge Christmas market that has a worldwide reputation. We wanted to emphasize culture and modernity, so asked artists to reinvent the Christmas tree, which is actually a pagan symbol.”
However, Bianca Debaets, a city councilor from the Christian Democrat and Flemish party sparked the controversy when she claimed “the Socialist-run municipality was pandering to the sensitivities of non-Christians by scrapping the traditional tree. “What next? Will Easter eggs be banned from the city because they make us think of Easter,” she asked.
Erik Maxwell, a Brussels citizen, offered his opinion, “We think the tree has been put up for cultural reasons. A tree is for Christmas and Christians but now there are a lot of Muslims here in Brussels. So to avoid discussions they have just replaced a tree with a couple of cubes! I am more traditional, I prefer the usual tree. That’s better for the Belgian people.”
In response to Bianca Debaets comments, Semsettin Ugurlu, chairman of the Belgian Muslim Executive, maintained that his organization did not harbor any issues with any kind of Christmas tree. He stated, “We know we are living in a country with a Christian culture, we take no offense over a traditional Christmas tree.”
The online protest has acquired over 11,000 signatures, and also triggered a Facebook page attacking the new feature.
For further information, please see:
EuroNews – Many are not fans of Brussels’ modern art Christmas tree – 11 December 2012
The Christian Post – Belgian Christians Protest Muslim-Friendly Tree of Lights – 10 December 2012
The New York Times – Christmas Tree Controversy Fires Multicultural Belgium – 1 December 2012
BBC News – Abstract Christmas tree sparks protests in Brussels – 30 November 2012