Thomas Decreus: ‘We are heading for disaster.’

Thomas Decreus (1984), Belgian journalist and philosopher

He effortlessly switches between journalism, science and activism. Thomas Decreus (1984) was one of the organisers of the SHAME demonstration in Brussels in 2011, in which tens of thousands of people participated. During this protest, the then political impasse in Belgium was criticised. Decreus was also involved in the Occupy movement. He wrote the book ‘Dit is morgen’ (This is tomorrow), in which he argues that real change is possible. Decreus, glasses, a serious look and small beard: “Today, revolution is no longer about a utopia or dream. It is necessary to survive.”

What does 1968 mean in this day and age?
“1968 has determined the political paradigm of today: all politics is a reaction to what was then under discussion – although this is not made explicit. You see it both on the right and on the left. The right operates from a kind of backlash: they try to undermine the cultural achievements of ’68. The story is more complex on the left: ‘68 was, in a sense, an uprising of the left against the left. Young people, intellectuals, as well as workers, distanced themselves from the institutions, including the labour unions where communist and social parties were in charge. ’68 caused clashes between different social movements. The left is still struggling with this legacy.

How would you describe the current mindset?
“I don’t think we are pessimistic enough. We don’t realise the seriousness of what is coming at us. We are heading for disaster. Not the kind of disaster, like in action films that will suddenly come upon us and will be spectacular. Rather, it will be a disaster that is slowly taking place but gradually completely disrupts society. How exactly? We are facing enormous socio-ecological challenges. A while ago, I interviewed a climate scientist. He told me: ‘When I speak to the media, I deliberately paint a picture that is not too bleak. Otherwise, they don’t see me as credible.’ When I speak to people my own age, I quickly notice that everyone is rather pessimistic. In 1968, a dream was chased, but now we are dealing with a fundamentally different society.”

“We need the spirit of ’68. Now more than ever.”

How do you want to initiate that change?
“We need the spirit of ’68. Now more than ever. There are a lot of protests these days as well. It’s just much more heterogeneous and fragmented than it was then. As a journalist, I have seen that protests sometimes lasted for weeks; then nothing happened, and the relevant law was pushed through anyway. It is difficult to really go for changes in a fully globalised world. There lies the challenge.”

We might go down. How should we go on?
“It seems we have forgotten the tradition a bit: the tradition to ask questions, the tradition of anti-authoritarianism. We need to honour that tradition and expand upon it. Take Greece: many refugees there have been given a place to stay in squatted buildings. Care and education opportunities are provided. These are interesting approaches that work better, at the moment, than state-run shelter.”
“1968 has changed a lot for many groups. In Belgium, women could not even access their own bank account before that time. That’s quite something. But if you are not careful, your achievements will be lost again.”