To a referendum… and beyond !

Namur and its parc Léopold, Brussels and its Dockx/Neo, La Louviere and its Strada, and now Louvain-la-Neuve and its growing Esplanade. New malls seem unstoppable. So far, nor global warming, nor the exponential consumption of our natural resources, nor the growing social inequalities, nor even simply our saturated markets have been able to block their construction. So, as for the citizens’ voice, it would not stand a chance… Would it ?

Photo taken by the citizens platform, during their « porteurs de parole ».

This Friday January 13th, 2017, some inhabitants of Ottignies-Louvain-La-Neuve started a crazy race for signatures. Target : get the support from 4000 inhabitants of the city beyond 16 to demand the City to organise a non-binding referendum. The trophy: the organisation of that referendum by the City authorities in June 2017, asking the following question to their fellow citizens:

As an inhabitant or residing student in Ottignies-Louvain-La-Neuve, do you wish an extension of the Esplanade mall?

4000 signatures in 60 days correspond to those of more than one inhabitant out of ten, 67 signatures per day, 40 cm of piled pages, uncountable hours facing the icy weather and hurrying faces. Quite a challenge, isn’t it? Are all these pages worth the time and effort? Because a non-binding referendum is only… a non-binding referendum. That is, the Government asks the People its opinion.. and then leaves (see page 55 in the official information booklet of the Walloon Region on participative democracy).

According to that procedure, the decision does not belong to the people, but to the authorities. The City? Not even. In this case, the construction permit will be in the hands of a civil servant of the Region. And he/she will most probably reply that he/she is bound by a EU Directive that prevents him from refusing the request of building a mall based on political arguments. Although building a new mall had never been such a political act. And it is all the more political in Louvain-la-Neuve, where space has become very scarce, and where in the present project proposal of Klépierre, the arches of the University Hall would disappear behind the new mall facade… Welcome to the Commercial University of Louvain!

It has now been fully demonstrated that decisional power in our “democracies” does not lie in the hands of the people, but in those of big corporations. To demand a referendum, to express oneself on the evolution of our living environment, and thus making ones opinion on a system that has reduced us to the role of consumers, means putting in our hands the tools to start resisting, to raise – democratically – one’s voice against that of shareholders. It is just and only a voice, but it is fundamental. It means deciding ourselves the question to be asked. It means giving all inhabitants the possibility of giving their opinion and to act politically beyond the usual act of voting. It means highlighting the illegitimate power that is now concentrated in the hands of money. And most of all, it means taking the opportunity of speaking about democracy.

To get or not to get that mall extension, to be too or not too late to demand that referendum, is not the question. The question is who wants to decide about the evolution of our society. For the people of OLLN that are at least 16 years old, it starts with a signature on the official form. For all the others, and afterwards, it is all about waking ourselves up to what is happening around and to empower each other, amongst others with the present tools for participative democracy… and by creating new ones, more radical ones, that turn back to the roots of democracy, that is to, as Cornélius Castoriadis reminded us, «what seems good to the council and the people».

Pirates of the BW Crew.

Website of the citizen’s platform for a referendum in OLLN:

(*) But you may read about it for instance in : Les Usurpateurs, Susan George, Seuil (

(**) or that the City decides by itself to organise the referendum or not. At this very moment when we are publishing this post, the City Council is going to make a decision.

(***) Have a look at the information booklet of the Walloon region or let yourself be inspired by this article in La Libre Belgique.

This post is a translation from the FR post.