Tag Archives: Brussels

Le plat pays mais pas le mien

Standard

It is easy to be nostalgic – to think back of earlier times when “everything was better”. But somehow I can’t help but think things wére better before. At least, before, Belgian politicians were capable of forming a government. Of making compromises.

Tomorrow, hopefully, 10,000s of people will flood Brussels to ask for… well… something. A government. An agreement. Progress. Light at the end of the tunnel. Almost 23,000 people have RSVPd “yes” on the Facebook page of the event (another 25,000 voted “maybe”) – for an improvised demonstration organized by students in the middle of an exam period this is, to Belgian standards, quite impressive. Whether this will actually change something, is an open question, though judging on the past 223 days I’m guessing: not much.

Because it has been 223 days. 223 days ago, we had federal elections. 223 days ago, the north and the south of the country each chose their winner. Unfortunately, their colors couldn’t have been more opposite: left in the south, right in the north. To make things easier, this government will need to reform part of the constitution and thus needs a 2/3 majority, resulting in no less than 7 parties involved in negotiations. We are quick to judge the US and its 2-party system, but having 14+ parties (only counting the ones that get a voice in tv debates) isn’t exactly the solution either.

So what is going on?

Do you really want to know?

I suggest you take a course – because I sure as hell don’t have a clue.

Belgian catfight.

The north wants more responsibilities for the regional governments. The south wants things to stay the way they are.
The south wants more money for Brussels. The north thinks Brussels should generate its own income.
The north wants to tackle some unconstitutional election issues. The south wants to go along if there are compensations (since this will likely result in less votes for southern parties).
The south wants more rights for French-speaking people who live in the Dutch-speaking north (get their administration letters in French etc). The north feels they should just adapt and learn Dutch. Somehow, everything is brought down to the difference in language.

And (a small, very small) part of the north is sick of the south and wants to solve it all through independency. Unfortunately, it is their party that (for other reasons) won the elections. In other words: any compromise that all parties agree on will be necessarily a defeat for this party because it is not independency.

What I find most amazing is that when polls are held to measure current voting behavior (once in a while the option of new elections is mentioned), the same parties win. Worse: they increase their influence. Because people appreciate that, for once, the politicians try to keep their full electoral promise instead of compromising – an art Belgian politicians have perfected in the past. That meanwhile unemployment is rising, an increasing amount of people end up in debt, our social security system creaks under the rising cost of medical expenses for the elderly, environmental issues aren’t dealt with, speculation on the future of Belgium causes interest rates to skyrocket, … is rather unimportant. Politicians are standing their grounds. And nobody moves.

But now, finally, after 223 days, after breaking the European record government formation (207 days, sometime in the 70s, the Netherlands) and well on our way to break the world record (249 days, last year, … Iraq (!)), the lethargic Belgians have woken up from their sleep and decided to stand up. Call out for movement. For action. I hope tomorrow’s demonstration will bring many people to our capital. I hope it will be peaceful, and serene. And by all means – I hope it will help.

Christmas Eve the scientist way

Standard

I spent Christmas Eve at the lab. How geeky can you get?

:D

No, seriously, I did spend Christmas Eve in the lab, but it wasn’t (really) by choice. As has been the case since last Friday, my internet connection at home is still broken, and thus the lab is the only place to connect to the world. I could’ve of course stayed home and watched a movie or so, but we decided to make full use of modern-day technology and I ended up spending Christmas Eve at Ts place. Via Skype.

Webcams on on both sides, they actually put the computer at the dinner table so I could join in the conversation, and later dragged ‘me’ along to the salon for the gift exchange ritual. We always (well… the tradition started last year…) do a Secret Santa thing with the whole family (2 parents, 5 kids and 3 gf/bf make it a big enough group to make it fun). The catch is you’re not allowed to buy a present, you have to make it. Since all of them attended hippie school they are pretty good with crafts and the like (they can sing and each play 15 instruments or sth), so I always feel a bit daunted when I see their presents. Last year for example, I knitted a hat for SE – which I was very proud of, since I had never knitted 4 needles before. This year, NE made a tea hat for her sister, including holes for the pout and the handle, with wool she had made herself. Like in, take what comes from the sheep, clean it, turn it into threads, then knit.

This year, my target was YE, the boyfriend of Ts middle sister. He works at customs in the harbor of Antwerp. And he likes to cycle. That’s about all I know about him. Oh, and he doesn’t like sweets, so baking cookies (always the easy way out ;) ) was out of the question. Finally, I came up with this:

I bought the cheapest water bottle I could find and painted it. Maybe not the most masculine gift ever, but I was pretty pleased with the way it came out, especially when he said that he never drinks enough when he goes cycling – so it will be actually useful. Of course, it’s not a candle shaped like St. Francis or a wooden candle holder, or a mosaic mirror. But I tried :).

And then, as the evening drew to a close, I was silly enough to check the Brussels Airlines site to see if there was any news about my flight tomorrow morning. There was :

This is nót what you want to see on Christmas Eve. I completely freaked out and Ts dad almost jumped in the car to come and get me (which, under good weather conditions, would probably take at least 10 hours. however, there is a reason many flights are delayed: the weather sucks). A refresh of the page 5 minutes later showed the “on schedule” icon, but I’m still pretty shaky. The flight is at 11:40 am, and the train to the airport takes half an hour, so normally I would leave around 10 am, but since a colleague of mine had a train delay of 2 hours, I will be getting up at seven to be on the safe side. T will also be getting up since I can’t check tomorrow morning whether my flight is still leaving (how did people live before the internet??) and if it is even worth it going to the airport at all. Meanwhile, we have decided I will be leaving my christmas presents here and travel with hand luggage only, because there are huge delays in Brussels in the luggage delivery and if there is trouble, I will be more mobile with just a backpack.

This does have the advantage I won’t have to pack too much :D.

Fingers crossed!