That Day in March in Brussels
Reflections by YPFP’s Europe Fellow based in Brussels, Belgium
This morning, I walked to my office with a heavy heart. After the horrific events yesterday, today was the day it really hit me: I woke up in a city where more than 30 people lost their lives in cowardly, senseless, and brutal terrorist attacks. While the residents of Brussels somehow anticipated such an event, they nonetheless hoped it would never actually happen.
Tuesday started as a bright and sunny spring day in March. Having slightly overslept, I turned on the radio for the 8 o’clock news bulletin. The first reports had come in of an explosion at Brussels Airport, although nothing had been confirmed at that point. As I left my house in a hurry, I briefly texted my parents and boss that I was alright. I am a very frequent traveler, and while not scheduled on any flight, I knew that my parents – like any parents – would be in distress if they read the news. By that point I had seen the first pictures of the departure hall of Brussels Airport circulating on social media. I could clearly recognize the area, and knew that the blast would have been immense. My dad, already at work, responded: “what is wrong? This is a weird text, are you ill?” The news about the events in Brussels obviously had not reached him yet. I still did not know what lie ahead.
I walked to my office in the city quarter that houses European institutions, a quick 20 minute commute from my house. Upon arrival, I was met by number of distressed colleagues telling me that minutes ago a bomb had gone off at Maalbeek station, only few yards away from our office. These were still unconfirmed reports, but looking at the pictures of smoke seething from the all-too-familiar entrance made me suspect the worst. The day went by in a whirl as I tried to locate friends and colleagues while frantically searching for more information about the situation. I completely any sense of time. Gradually, I found that everyone in my immediate circle was physically safe, an absolute miracle knowing that the majority of my friends work in the European quarter and use that metro line every day.
Today was a day of reflection, a day of mourning and of trying to come to terms with what has happened. My colleagues and I felt the need to buy flowers and to pay our respects at a vigil close to Maalbeek station. There are lots of people on the street, partly because the public transport system is partially down, and maybe some just prefer to walk to work. People are quiet and calm, although traffic is worse than normal.
Am I shocked? Yes. Am I scared? No. Will I feel the need to be extra vigilant on the metro? Certainly for some time to come. But I believe that this feeling will eventually fade. Many of my friends and I have often expressed our discontent with living in this city: the outdated bureaucratic system, dirty streets, chaotic traffic, and foul buses. The charming façade of Brussels does have a less than pretty undercurrent to it. Yet, we are also aware that Brussels is not only the Belgian capital, but also our European capital. Brussels is a symbol, a symbol of our values. Brussels is us. The terrorists that perpetrated this vicious act want us to be scared and to give up on our free way of living.
We are the first generation in Europe growing up in relative prosperity, peace, and stability; truly living the European ideal. We grew up without any concept of national borders, yet today we have to remind ourselves to take our passports when travelling internationally. Let us not close our borders, let us not close our hearts and minds. We grew up with crumbling walls. Let us not build new ones, but continue living what Europe stands for. We grew up in a society that is free and provides us with many opportunities, let us be the best that we can be and help others capitalize on our shared values.
This evening I will think of the victims that lost their lives on that day in March, and of those who are still fighting for their lives in the hospitals of Brussels. But I will also celebrate life and live it fully and eagerly. I see this as a privilege, one that has been snatched away from too many people in the world. Brussels, Istanbul, Paris, London, Madrid, Copenhagen, Ankara, Beirut, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Ivory Coast, Mali, Burkina Faso – sadly the list goes on. When our values are under attack, the answer cannot be to abandon them – the answer is to keep our minds and hearts open, and stand shoulder to shoulder to protect the very core of our society. Brussels did not change that day in March, and neither should we.
Karlijn Jans specializes in defense and German politics. She received an LL.M in European Law from Maastricht University and MA in European Studies from King’s College London. Karlijn is a part-time modular student at the Netherlands Defence Academy and chairs the Netherlands Atlantic Youth Association. She is also a Europe Fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.
Image Credit: Karlijn Jans
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