Forest Fires: The Story of a Brussels Uprising


Using the epistolary form, Joachim Ben Yakoub and Baobab van de Teranga write to us from the perspective of the Brussels racialized youth that revolted on May 10-12, 1991, in Forest. This uprising remains a fundamental event in the struggle against structural racism and police violence in Belgium and, as such, can influence analog ongoing fights in Europe and elsewhere.

Krasnyi Funambulist 1
“Never Forget.” Drawing reconstitution of the Forest revolts in Brussels on May 10-12, 1991. / Drawing by Krasnyi Collective.

Dear Funambulists,  

We are writing to you, in the hope this letter finds you well. We are risking a leap in time, shooting our words thirty years into the future. We do this to briefly overcome a spark of our daily humiliation, to mark our frontlines, and our solidarity over time. It allows our dignity to recover, bit by bit, word by word, letter after letter, day after day.  

From 1991 until the day you read this letter, the hogra we have to endure is likely to have become more pronounced and also more predictable, always following the same strategies and similar patterns. Contempt is the connecting thread, for our bodies, our places, our ways of being, our time and presence in this world. It makes it impossible at times to breathe; so we move, and we revolt. We have to. There is, of course, contempt for our struggles too, as well as contempt for our version of the events that follow.

We write to weave yet another thread from Brussels to Tangier, from Palestine to L.A., from Benghazi to Baghdad—from yesterday to tomorrow. We write to you, as our revolts hopefully echo, not only in space, but in time too.  

The verses of the story we want to share with you are not unique. Their rhymes—their regrettable rhymes—echo over the manifold lines that separate us. We must hold our balance, and hold each other close in our reverberations. The abyss is deep.

Our story begins on a Friday night in May, in Forest, one of the disregarded and damned municipalities of Brussels. It is a story of revolt, where our suffocated post-colonial bodies are united for an ephemeral moment in our refusal of state violence, embodied by its armed wing—the police.