Esmeralda de Belgique

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"Nonviolent civil disobedience has proven its strength"

In an exclusive interview for Sunday, Princess Esméralda of Belgium, daughter of King Leopold III and Princess Lilian, tells us about her fight for a fairer, greener, more social society respectful of women's rights.
Esmeralda deserves more than ever the qualifier "rebel princess" since her arrest in London - she was released after a few hours - while participating in a peaceful demonstration of civil disobedience with the Extinction Rebellion movement. 
Her commitment and outspokenness earned her a particularly positive international reputation.

How do you experience containment in London when Britain is the country in Europe most affected by Covid-19?
I have been confined to London since March 13 with my family. And I feel very privileged: I am surrounded by my loved ones and I am fortunate to have a house with a garden. 
I have no reason to complain when many are forced to live together in a very small space with all the risks of domestic violence or others completely alone with serious consequences for their mental well-being.
Besides of course the health disaster that this pandemic is causing, is it not the alarm signal of a dying world caused by a globalization that has become uncontrollable?
This pandemic forces us to reflect on the state of our society, on our values. Someone aptly said, "We are probably in the same storm, but certainly not in the same boat. 
The poorest and most vulnerable are the most affected. Containment is a luxury in developing countries where the majority of people have to choose between the risk of being infected or starving!
And in our countries, when it is announced that those who cannot work from their home must return to work, it is again a social division.

Isn't this crisis the perfect opportunity to integrate local values ​​and their correlate, solidarity, definitively into our societies?
Of course. We have witnessed so many generous gestures and solidarity. It’s beautiful and we can only hope that it will continue after Covid-19 and that “business as usual” will not take over. 
Throughout history, the aftermath of crises whether after conflicts, economic depressions or pandemics, have brought either austerity, withdrawal, nationalism, or social progress and beneficial changes for all.
Today, the risk is the same: we can go one way or the other. It is really important to mobilize now to build a more equitable society, healthier for people and for the planet.
The drastic drop in industrial production and travel has reduced pollution levels in some highly productive regions. 
Are there lessons to be learned for the future?
The level of air pollution causes around nine million premature deaths each year worldwide, including 500,000 in our European cities. Scientists also believe that there is a link between air pollution and the risk of contracting the coronavirus. 
It seems obvious to me that we have to transform our transportation system. Many cities are currently opening up more space for pedestrians and cyclists, but there is also a need to electrify buses and, as in Luxembourg, make many public transport free.
How to reconcile human activity and respect for the environment? 
Are we not swimming in full utopia before the devastating power of certain groups often more powerful than the states that host their activities?
The lobbies of the fossil extraction industries are indeed very powerful, but the hope now lies in the fact that the cost of renewable energies has dropped so much; 
and especially that many economists believe that the revival of the economy that offers the most benefits is that which invests in green energy and agriculture, clean transport and eco-responsible construction.
The world press reported on your arrest in London last year while participating in a demonstration of the Extinction Rebellion.
What is the meaning of the fight you are waging alongside this movement considered to be radical? Are you in favor of civil disobedience.
I firmly believe in the value of engaging citizens to put pressure on governments. Nonviolent civil disobedience has proven its strength, whether with Gandhi in India, in South Africa during Apartheid 
or even in the United States with the civil rights movement. There comes a time when petitions and protests on the streets must be accompanied by stronger actions with citizens who accept the risk of going to jail for their message to be heard.
But it is essential that this struggle remains non-violent.
The protests of all these young people who, like Greta Thunberg, are calling for a greener planet while fighting global warming have won your support. 
What do they need to become a real pressure group?

The climate change schoolchildren movement initiated by Greta Thunberg managed to put the climate crisis in the headlines.
The determination and courage of all these young people in the world is extraordinary! Really hat! Let us be the wonderful Anuna and Adelaide, and so many others in the world.
In Africa, in Latin America, in Asia and in countries where it is difficult or dangerous to demonstrate like Russia, Iran, Turkey, these young people teach us a real lesson because they listen to scientists
and they ask us with force to change before it's too late. Their contribution is essential because the future belongs to them. We must gather around them a coalition of NGOs, progressive forces and citizens.

One of your other battles is that of defending minorities who are also victims of the appetite of certain lobbies supported by the government in power.
I am thinking here in particular of the Amazon tribes?

I have been supporting indigenous communities in the Amazon for years. They are the best guardians of the world's biodiversity who have lived in harmony with nature for centuries.
In North and South America, they suffered a genocide during the conquests and the survivors never ceased to be threatened because their lands conceal so much wealth in their basements.
We must also link the past to the present and recognize what colonialism has caused iniquity, racism and environmental destruction.

Today, the situation is tragic in all the countries of the Amazon basin and particularly in Brazil. The cases of Covid-19 among the indigenous populations are increasing at the same time as the incursions of illegal loggers
and miners who risk spreading the virus and which caused an increase in deforestation by 65% ​​last April!

We must show solidarity and put pressure on the Brazilian government which encourages the opening up of indigenous lands to economic activities and oil exploration,
a real disaster for so many communities which depend on nature for their survival and for the planet. as a whole because of the role of the Amazon rainforest as a climate regulator.

You have long been interested in the plight of women and the discrimination they face around the world, to varying degrees.
What is the greatest injustice of which they are the victims and where are the solutions?

Progress has been made to reduce discrimination against women around the world, for example by reducing early marriage or genital mutilation, or quotas to increase political participation.
But we are still very far from equality. Whether in terms of wages, access to certain professions, property titles in many emerging countries, autonomy in matters of procreation, etc.
In addition, violence against women is increasing. Particularly in this quarantine period worldwide.

To this end, what could be the role of religions which are not all an example of equality between men and women?

It must be admitted that all religions have developed on a very patriarchal model and that stereotypes die hard. But we see more and more women within different religions making their voices heard.
And Pope Francis said that we should see a greater female presence during theological commissions. Hopefully things will change.

You have met remarkable women, whether they are Nobel Peace Prize winners or involved in societal engagement. 
They will be the subject of your next book. Which one has impressed you the most?

I have met exceptional women, both in the defense of the environment and in human rights. Courageous women who often work in very difficult circumstances.
Particularly in Africa or Latin America where patriarchy is still very anchored in society. Like Neema Namadamu who campaigns for the emancipation and education of girls in the DRC.
It is for its action, supported by Care Belgium, that I climbed Kilimanjaro last year. I am also thinking of Runa Khan, another exceptional woman, who created an NGO in Bangladesh
so that the most vulnerable populations have access to health and education and can adapt to the devastating effects of the climate crisis.
His Friendship association, of which I chair the Belgian branch, is currently on all fronts with the Covid-19 crisis, notably within the Rohingya refugee camp.

To conclude, what is the thinking behind your current activities?

Right now, like everyone else, I am continuing the actions via technologies that allow us to organize webinars and meetings.
I write and reflect with many others on how to contribute to a better society.