Gert Jochems - Photographer documentary, portraits, commercial

Vive la Wallonie

Stubborn Red


There is something special about the border between France and Belgium. To start with, it splits an old mining region in two, between, say, Lens and Valenciennes in France and the Borinage and Charleroi in Belgium. Socio-economically, both areas are very similar: both have been hit hard by globalization. There are new growth poles here and there, but the past of the old closed or withdrawn industries still weighs heavily here. Unemployment rates are high, many people are poorly housed and live on social assistance or find poorly paid jobs. 

But in the voting booth, the Northern French react completely differently to their living situation than their Walloon neighbors. While Marine Le Pen obtained 60% almost everywhere in the European elections in the bassin minier last Sunday, the majority in the Hainaut mining area still chooses the left. Even now, while political proportions in the rest of Wallonia have been shaken up. Also in the mining area, the Parti Socialiste (PS) lost 10 percent or more of its votes on Sunday and the right-wing liberal MR won about the same amount. But if you add the PS votes to those of the communist PTB, you still get around 50 percent. On the election map, the region, together with Liège, is now the only red spot in Wallonia.

On top of slag heap no. 205 in Rouvroy you can see the town of Henin Beaumont. Although Marine Le Pen has lived near Paris all her life, it was in Henin-Beaumont that she was elected for the first time in 2006. At the European elections the day before yesterday, 60% in this town voted for Marine Le Pen's party.

Chez Nous is the Walloon counterpart of Vlaams Belang. Salvatore Nicotra, party leader in Hainaut for this party, only campaign act that day was to stick some posters of him on top of posters of other parties at the cultural center of Fleurus. When he is confronted about this by the staff, an argument ensues. Between the swear words, Salvatore is reminded that he himself is of Italian origin. Chez Nous achieved about 3% everywhere in the mining region. That's not much, but in 2019 it was still 0%.

The entire French mining basin has been recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site since 2012. The largest artificial ski slope in Europe has been created at slag heap no. 3 in Noeux-Les-Mines. Marine Le Pen won here last Sunday with 57.5% of the votes.

A bus stop at the Cora shopping center. 150 meters further is the municipal border with Quaregnon, where in 1894 the Quaregnon Charter has been drawn up: all essential program points of socialism on one sheet of paper. Last Sunday the PS lost 11% here, but together with the PTB they still retained 57% of the votes.

A lady, after the May 1st parade in Fourmies with her protest sign explaining why capitalism is a pernicious system. Fourmies has always been a red bastion, meanwhile the Rassemblement National has 60%.

Blast furnace 4 is one of the last relics that refer to the steel industry in Wallonia. The Walloon Region offered millions of euros to upgrade this site, but the city of Charleroi did not accept it because it would not have enough financial resources to maintain this heritage. (Black and white picture some 10 or 15 years ago.)