“The Brussels Diary with Yana Toom”: Protests in US and EU


Big events start out small. In December, a Chinese person ate a bat and a pandemic broke out. George Floyd, who paid for cigarettes using a counterfeit banknote, was arrested by police in Minneapolis on 25 May. Floyd subsequently died due to police violence. Two weeks later protests and riots are rampant in the United States.

And not only in the United States. Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin. Against what? The killing of Floyd was the first domino to fall over, triggering the next. People say that it is a protest against colonialism, which is long gone – and present day white people do not need to apologise to any descendants of slaves. I do not support the theory of collective responsibility either; especially, fault being passed from parents to their children. I believe that anyone who has ever been called a descendant of occupants will understand me in that.

The protests in the US and the EU are not about the past but about the present. It is just that our situation is different. Most people in Estonia are also descendants of serfs but it is not possible to identify descendants of lords by the colour of their skin. In addition, we survived socialism, which, despite all its negative consequences, eliminated lords’ privileges, mixed classes and taught us the idea of equal rights, even if only in theory.

As for the United States, this country, our main ally, loves to point to others’ issues and correct them by invading their territories. Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. I will not retell the history of white racism in the United States, such as slavery, segregation, the Ku Klux Klan, culture wars and others one can read about on the internet. The main point is that racism has not disappeared in the US. On the contrary, racism has bloomed during Trump’s presidency.

It should not happen that police officers killing a man during an arrest is like water off a duck’s back only because the killed person’s skin was not of the right colour. Floyd’s death was the last straw that broke the camel’s back – the patience of many snapped. This would not have happened if racism were not a problem. Once the camel’s back is broken, you receive what you signed up for: mass protests that are never peaceful.

Racism, although not that strongly expressed, also exists in Western Europe. The Prime Minister of Holland as well as the representative of Angela Merkel admit to it. True, Paris declared officially that France is not a racist country and there is no need to compare France with the US; however, the protesters are of another opinion. In Bristol, a British slave trader’s statue was thrown into the harbour. In Belgium, people demand the removal of all statues of Leopold II, who was the Sovereign of the Congo Free State, turned it into a concentration camp and killed half of the population whom he did not consider to be humans. Belgium’s prosperity was paid for with the blood of millions. Of course, this is not the fault of present-day Belgians. Therefore, it is even more understandable that any signs of racism in Belgium and anywhere else should be eradicated.

Even the ever-careful Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs, said that he was shocked by the death of Floyd and called for ‘all countries to respect law and human rights’. There is nothing to be surprised by because everything that is happening is logical. If people are pushed for long enough, their patience will run out. Estonia saw this in April 2007. I hope there will never be a reason for this to happen again.