HomeNewsEuropeFact-check: 80,000 people did not protest Belgian support for Ukraine

Fact-check: 80,000 people did not protest Belgian support for Ukraine

Russian state media has falsely stated that thousands of Belgian citizens protested against their country’s support for Ukraine.

The misleading claim was broadcast on the Russia-1 television channel and referred to trade union demonstrations in Brussels.

Organisers say 80,000 people took part in a day of action in the Belgian capital on 20 June to rally against wage restraints.

But Russia-1 has alleged that the protesters instead mobilised to oppose their government’s stance on the war in Ukraine.

Euronews has fact-checked these claims and found that the majority of demands from protestors and unions made no mention of the war and Belgium’s aid to Kyiv.

The Russia-1 television presenter claimed that protesters wanted Belgium to “stop spending millions of euros on Ukraine”.

“While hotheads compete in militaristic rhetoric, ordinary Europeans are wondering how to save their own budget,” she read.

“80,000 people went to a rally in Brussels demanding that they stop spending tens of millions of euros on Ukraine and use this money to index wages.”

The claims were later shared in a number of pro-Kremlin social media groups and channels.

A small number of placards and banners on the day of action did criticise Belgium for enforcing EU sanctions against Russia.

But there is no evidence that these protests were spurred by anger against the government’s stance on Ukraine.

‘Wages must increase’

Most protesters in Brussels on 20 June carried flags and banners reading “More respect, higher wages” and “End excise duty”.

According to a press release from the protest organisers, the main reason for the demonstration was to demand a reform of the law on wages.

Union workers want to scrap legislation that prevents workers’ wages from increasing beyond a certain percentage each year. In 2021-2022, wages in all Belgian sectors could not increase by more than 0.4%.

The 1996 law aims to reduce the impact on the profitability of Belgian companies, but worker unions say the bill is unfair due to the rising cost of living.

According to the Reuters news agency, Belgian inflation hit 9% in June, mirroring sharp rises elsewhere in Europe.

In the press release, workers say that companies are taking advantage of wages amid the war in Ukraine, but they make no reference to Belgium’s spending on Ukraine aid.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in April that the EU member state has so far spent €76.9 million on aid to the Ukrainian army, alongside weapons.

The country has also allocated €13m to humanitarian programmes in Ukraine and €2.1m to support neighbouring nations that have accepted refugees. The country pledged to spend a total of €800m on Ukraine.

But De Croo has also said that Belgian workers were better protected than in most other EU countries because wages were indexed to inflation.

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