The White March in Belgium (October 1996): A Spectacular but Ephemeral Mass Movement

By Marc Hooghe, Gita Deneckere

This paper presents an analysis of the origins and determinants of the spectacular mobilization in the summer of 1996, together with a provisory balance of the effects of the White March on the functioning of the Belgian political system. The White March was exceptional and unique. This position was due not only to its origins—the Dutroux affair, situated essentially beyond politics—but also to certain specific characteristics of Belgian political culture. As a result of mediatization, the Dutroux affair led to a wave of protest never experienced before. The energy of revolt was channeled into a dignified White March with a pronounced political significance, although the organization emanated from a bunch of recently created local committees and was set up in 13 days. The march didn't fail to impress the political elite. The paper shows how the readiness of government to make political concessions was closely related to the perception that public order was being threatened. Nevertheless, barely a year after its “birth,” the political role of the “white movement” was over. The political significance of the White March was thus very limited to its time. Although the prerevolutionary atmosphere the White Movement momentarily succeeded to create did assure an undeniable political impact, the movement didn't lead to durable organizations, new sociabilities, or new identities.


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