Manif, I gather, is current spoken French for demonstration — if that’s the right word in English. I was in Brussels for my theology course (note to self: finish that summary of Schmemann’s discourse on Liturgy and another summary of Bobrinskoy on the Trinity real soon now), and when I walked back to the South Station from the Rue Joseph Claes I was surprised by two long rows of armoured police vehicles parked in a derelict building lot.
In the station, I was greeted by more police carrying guns and sticks and two easily separable groups for demonstrators: one group was dressed in red, the other in green. I guess that they were colour coded to represent, from left to right, Socialists and Christian-Democrats, and that suspicion was borne out later, when I could make out the legends on their jackets. (Manoel Couder mailed me with a small correction: both colours are Left, Right would have been blue and these are unions, not parties.)
When I was lookin rather incredulously at the somewhat festive gathering, a young French-speaking woman told me it was about the “manif”, teaching me a new word. A day well spent, therefore. As demonstrations go, this one looked pretty impressive with group after group of people marching past the place where I drank a glass of beer.
I keep having this nagging feeling, though, that a demonstration isn’t really about something if the demonstrators are all well-fed, jolly mums, dads, grannies and gramps — bring the kiddies, no problem — instead of a gaunt, desperate mob prepared to fight for liberty, freedom from persecution and a solid meal every day.
Additionally, I had this strange instinct about it being not done to bring your kids to a demonstration. Of course, I’ve had people tell me I’m a child molester for bringing my kids into church every Saturday and Sunday, poisoning their little innocent minds and rendering them forever
incapable of independent thought, and it’s probably the same thing. But you don’t get large mobs of policemen sweeping the aisle of the church (or, at least, if that were to happen, I guess it would be time for a real “manif”
But when I was waiting on the platform for my train to Roosendaal, I saw a policeman detach himself from his group and help a young woman carry her child in a buggy down the escalators and another firmly planting a little green hat on the kid’s hair, and everything looked friendly enough.
And I gleaned from the various shirts, caps and placards that this “manif” was:
- For a social Europe — check, me too
- Against the proposed European constitution — check, I’m for having a European Constitution, but the current one is a monstrosity and a fatter text almost than the Dutch Penal Code
- Against Euro-commissioner Bolkestein — that placard alone almost had me join in the fray
And then I saw something happen that was really reprehensible. A young, well-dressed woman with a child in tow was begging at the tables of the cafe. No doubt driven from necessity, and having just heard a lesson that was almost a homily by Father Dominique, I was ready with my little contribution, but, well, compared to taking your kids to Church or to a “manif”, taking your kid to help you begging is much worse. Poor kid — and poor woman, too. All the more reason for a “Europe social”.