The Brussels Times
M A G A Z I N E No 40 September / October 2020
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In an interview this summer with The Brussels Times, Belgium’s Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès expressed cautious satisfaction with Belgium’s response to the pandemic, though she was also careful not to draw any final conclusions yet. The acting Prime Minister felt that the government had done the best it could based on the information available at the time, adding that the fragmentation of power within the country did not make things easier. This affected in particular the protection of the care homes across the country, which were hardest hit and suffered a high excess mortality during the early weeks of the crisis. “Our role, as politicians, is to make the decisions and find the right balance between all considerations. Health was, and remains, our prime concern. But we could not turn a blind eye indefinitely to our social life or our economy,” she emphasised. With the arrival of autumn and a gloomy winter ahead, how should the authorities continue their response, given the uncertainty of the duration of the pandemic? And for how long can governments continue to provide financial support to employees, self-employed and businesses to weather the economic crisis? As the world scrambles to come up with a safe and effective vaccine, we may have to accept that we find ourselves in a tricky scenario. One which is neither a short-term temporary crisis, nor a permanent crisis, but rather a situation somewhere in the middle, in which the pandemic continues and where hopes of a vaccine and a return to “normality” are forever just around the corner. Whoever continues to navigate Belgium through the pandemic, will have to make difficult choices. In this issue, philosopher Alicia Gescinska explores the state of Belgian politics, as the country, more than a year after elections, has yet to form a federal government. Economist Philippe Legrain explores the economic impact of the pandemic, and the options and scenarios countries will face in the coming months. Food critic Hughes Belin assesses the state of Belgium’s restaurant sector amidst the crisis, and its implications for the future of Belgium’s gastronomy culture. And we interview Belgian photographer Colin Delfosse about his work in Congo within the context of the country’s 60th anniversary of independence from Belgian rule. We hope you will enjoy these and the many other stories in this issue. The Editorial Team The Brussels Times Magazine
On the Cover Illustration by Lectrr Publisher The Brussels Times Avenue Louise 54 1050 Brussels
How Europe could take the lead in the ‘money of the future’
In the wake of the pandemic, a social crisis brews in Brussels
Five questions to philosopher Philippe Van Parijs on unconditional basic income and the pandemic
POLIAESTHETICA Reviews: Art shows in Brussels and beyond
Mobutu’s legacy and Kinshasa’s voodoo wrestlers: Interview with Belgian photographer Colin Delfoss
PHILOSOPHY, CULTURE AND HISTORY The drama of Belgian politics: Too many principles, too little responsibility The greatest Belgian of all time: How a Belgian missionary in Hawaii became a national hero and saint
‘I’m not my body’: A story about euthanasia
How Covid changed Brussels
No man’s land: Belgium’s Red Light Districts
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Contributing Editors Mose Apelblat, Hughes Belin, Derek Blyth, Maïthé Chini, Gabriela Galindo, Alicja Gescinska, Gareth Harding, Marianna Hunt, Boré Kedober, Philippe Legrain, Liz Newmark, Philippe Van Parijs, Michel Petillo, and Jorge Valero. Advertising Please contact us on email@example.com or +32 (0)2 893 00 67 for information about advertising opportunities.
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Rediscovering the forgotten and unknown Belgium
A sector in turmoil: The future of Belgian gastronomy post-Covid
Brussels’ architecture history: The highs and the lows
Derek Blyth’s Hidden Secrets of Brussels
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Following the â‚Ź750 billion recovery package to help European economies deal with the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis, the EU has already begun implementing its vaccine strategy by investing in a diversified portfolio of promising potential vaccines. On behalf of all member states, it has so far secured orders on a mass scale from a number of pharmaceutical companies, in case any of the vaccines make it to the market, and have financed part of the upfront costs. While Covid-19 has overshadowed most of the political agenda, the next EU summits will also focus on the adoption of an ambitious climate law and course of action on Brexit in order to avoid a no-deal outcome.
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Philippe Legrain is a political economist and writer. From 2011 to 2014, he was the economic adviser to European Commission President JosĂŠ Manuel Barroso.
ADAPTING TO NEW REALITIES HOW GOVERNMENTS BEST CAN HANDLE THE ECONOMIC DISRUPTION OF THE PANDEMIC
t has been a miserable year so far. Not only has the coronavirus killed hundreds of thousands Europeans, it has also confined the rest of us to our homes and ravaged the economy. And as autumn days get colder and shorter and Covid-19 cases surge, a dismal winter looms. When will this nightmare ever end?
The hope is that a vaccine will be forthcoming soon. Scientists around the globe are racing to develop one. Regulators are fast-tracking approval processes. While it is not yet clear whether any particular vaccine will prove to be safe and effective, pharmaceutical companies are preparing to crank up production of many
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Many European governments’ temporary support measures to workers and businesses affected by the pandemic are being extended. Credit: Jules Johnston
“The uncertainty about whether a vaccine is likely to be developed sooner or later (or, indeed, never) impinges on government strategy and what the appropriate response to Covid-19 ought to be. A relatively brief disruption demands different government interventions than a prolonged pandemic, let alone a permanent one.” 8 | THE BRUSSELS TIMES MAGAZINE
promising candidates. Governments are creating a market for them by placing big orders in advance. If at least one of these bets pays off soon, 2021 will be a much happier year. We will finally be free to hug elderly relatives, socialise with both friends and strangers, move around as we please, and get back to work more or less normally. But what if none pay off? The uncertainty about whether a vaccine is likely to be developed sooner or later (or, indeed, never) is not just a matter of timing – of how long we may need to put up with economic, social and medical disruption. It also impinges on government strategy: of what
“If we were cursed with the coronavirus for the foreseeable future, we would need instead to adjust to our new circumstances. Among many other things, instead of supporting workers in their current jobs and propping up existing businesses in their current lines of work, governments would need to encourage and help both workers and businesses to adapt.”
offering ample funding to existing businesses to help tide them over tough times. Looking forward, European governments are planning large public investment programmes, primarily at a national level but also at EU level through the new €750 billion recovery and resilience fund. And they are borrowing freely to pay for it all. In effect, governments are seeking to insure society as a whole against the huge but hopefully temporary costs of the pandemic, and then to set the economy on a more sustainable future course.
the appropriate response to Covid-19 ought to be. A relatively brief disruption demands different government interventions than a prolonged pandemic, let alone a permanent one. The right response to a short, sharp shock, such as the three-month lockdowns most of Europe experienced last spring, is to put the economy on temporary life support while controlling the disease, then to apply massive stimulus to jolt activity back to life once the sickness abates. That is more or less the strategy that most European governments are following. They are providing generous grants to support workers’ incomes in their current jobs, whether they are working reduced hours or none. And they are
For now, governments have plenty of leeway to continue supporting corona-stricken economies. Eurozone fiscal rules have been suspended this year and are likely to remain so next year too. And even though governments are borrowing at levels unprecedented in peacetime, they can issue debt extremely cheaply. The interest rate on ten-year German and French government bonds is negative, while even Italy can borrow for ten years at only 1%. Allowing for inflation, the real interest rate that governments are paying is even lower. With borrowing costs remain so low, they can comfortably sustain much higher debts than before. Moreover, the era of cheap debt looks set to last for a while. With economies depressed and inflation subdued, government bonds remain a relatively attractive investment for those seeking a safe haven for their cash. The European Central Bank (ECB) is also aggressively buying government bonds, quelling any incipient fears
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While governments can temporarily support workers and businesses, they cannot do so indefinitely before too much public debt is amassed and inflation kicks in.
“Consider a future where online shopping increasingly replaces physical stores. It would then make little sense for governments to provide, or guarantee, ever larger loans to dying businesses that will never be able to repay them.”
about excessive borrowing and holding interest rates down. More broadly, interest rates have been on a declining trend for nearly four decades for a variety of reasons, from population ageing to wealth inequality, that seem set to endure for now.
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With us forever? Provided a coronavirus vaccine is found soon, European governments’ current strategy is both desirable and feasible. But imagine a much gloomier scenario in which the coronavirus
“The trickiest scenario – which is perhaps likelier than many people think – is an intermediate one in which the pandemic is prolonged, and with it the depression, but where hopes of a vaccine and a return to “normality” are forever just around the corner.” governments would need to encourage and help both workers and businesses to adapt. Consider a future where online shopping increasingly replaces physical stores. It would then make little sense for governments to provide, or guarantee, ever larger loans to dying businesses that will never be able to repay them. Those that were no longer viable would need to close. Retail employees would need help retraining and finding new jobs, with generous unemployment benefits in the interim. Societies would adapt too, of course. While the old and sick would require additional protection, younger, healthier people would doubtless learn to live with a higher risk of coronavirus infection. Just as societies do not grind to a halt during winters in which influenza deaths spike, many people would get on with life much as before – though wearing face masks could become the norm, as it has been in Asian cities since the SARS epidemic in 2002–4.
Prolonged but not permanent pandemic becomes a permanent feature of our lives for the foreseeable future. While governments, working in lockstep with central banks that can create currency at the click of a mouse, have impressive powers, they do not have infinite ones. They can’t insure everyone against a permanent loss of income – and if they try to do so, inflation will eventually result. If we were cursed with the coronavirus for the foreseeable future, we would need instead to adjust to our new circumstances. Among many other things, instead of supporting workers in their current jobs and propping up existing businesses in their current lines of work,
The trickiest scenario – which is perhaps likelier than many people think – is an intermediate one in which the pandemic is prolonged, and with it the depression, but where hopes of a vaccine and a return to “normality” are forever just around the corner. In such circumstances, should governments continue to subsidise existing jobs and existing businesses at increasing cost, or should they encourage the economy and society to adjust? When does seeking to freeze the economy in its pre-coronavirus state stop being desirable? When might it no longer be feasible? Many European countries’ temporary support
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“More broadly, at some point the ability or willingness of governments to borrow, of central banks to create money and of investors to amass ever more government debt will abate. This might happen sooner in a country such as Italy with very high public debt.” measures are already becoming extended ones. Both the German and the French governments are pledging to continue supporting people in their existing jobs for at least two years. Germany is extending forbearance against insolvency for companies with excessive debts until the end of 2021. But for how long is such support really wise? If the coronavirus is still with us after two years, should governments extend such schemes even further?
Even in sectors such as restaurants where technological change is minimal and future demand is likely to bounce back – Europeans are almost certain to want to eat out in large numbers at some point in future – open-ended support may be a mistake. If social distancing lasts two years or more and many restaurants are unprofitable in the interim, their staff could be doing something more valuable in the meantime, with the option of returning to the sector when it picks up again.
Even in normal times, economies tend to change a lot in two years, let alone three or four. New digital technologies spread, more climate-friendly alternatives are developed, consumer tastes change and much else. Two years after the launch of Apple’s iPhone in the summer of 2007, Nokia phones were already on the ropes; imagine the futile cost of propping up Nokia workers in their pre-iPhone roles. Two years from now, Germany’s dirty diesel car producers may likewise be fading in the face of hybrid and electric alternatives; should those businesses be subsidised too?
Even in good times, many restaurants open and close each year. And while many (including myself) would be sad to see much-loved restaurants close, new ones can easily open once the pandemic passes. Unless governments extend a blank cheque to all restaurants, even those that might be viable again in future will eventually become insolvent. Should governments prop up zombie companies indefinitely?
“Many politicians will be tempted to duck difficult choices and keep existing support going in the hope that a vaccine eventually turns up.” Moreover, the coronavirus has greatly accelerated the adoption of new technologies, from robots and 3D printing to video-conferencing. If the latter is going to permanently replace much business travel, should governments really be bailing out airlines in their current form – or rather encouraging them to shrink, merge and reorganise their operations, and allowing some to close? Some might argue that governments should protect jobs impacted by coronavirus but not those affected by broader trends, yet how does one readily distinguish between the two?
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More broadly, at some point the ability or willingness of governments to borrow, of central banks to create money and of investors to amass ever more government debt will abate. This might happen sooner in a country such as Italy with very high public debt. But even in Germany – which is rightly borrowing freely to support the economy at the moment – there is a limit. If the coronavirus crisis lasts several years, even Germany will start looking increasingly Italian. Merely raising such thorny issues is controversial. European workers and businesses are not to blame for the coronavirus; why should they suffer through no fault of their own? Many politicians will be tempted to duck difficult choices and keep existing support going in the hope that a vaccine eventually turns up. Let’s hope it does. But if it doesn’t, we ultimately need to accept that the world has changed and adapt to it. The choice, then, would not be between generous open-ended support and heartlessly cutting workers and businesses loose. It would be between seeking to deny the reality of stagnation and insolvency, and trying to make the best of a bad situation by helping workers to find new jobs and businesses to make better use of their capital.
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THE CRYPTOCURRENCY REVOLUTION HOW EUROPE COULD TAKE THE LEAD IN THE ‘MONEY OF THE FUTURE’ By Jorge Valero
By becoming the first region to introduce coordinated regulation over cryptocurrencies, the EU hopes to attract a market worth almost €300 billion spread across over 6,000 digital currencies.
ryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin and Facebook’s digital currency Libra, may herald the future of payment systems, or even how we will exchange value over the Internet in the years to come. But for citizens across the planet and financial supervisors, these digital assets that have flourished over the past decade, are promising technologies but are, at best, difficult to grasp.
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At worst, they have become synonymous with highly volatile assets that could put at risk the financial stability of the planet, and even the monetary sovereignty of nations, like many fear Libra could bring about. The European Commission will unveil its long-awaited proposal on cryptocurrencies this autumn in order to seize the opportunities brought by these tokens powered by networks
of computers: these include lower fees and almost instant transactions. Europe will become the first major jurisdiction to regulate these new means of payment. “I believe that Europe is in a position to lead the way on regulation,” Commission executive vice-president for financial services, Valdis Dombrovskis, said in June. In the EU executive’s thinking, new rules won’t scare developers and investors away, but rather the opposite. The lack of legal certainty is often cited as the main barrier to developing a sound crypto-asset market in the EU, Dombrovskis recalled. By becoming the first region to put its house in order, the EU expects to attract a market worth almost €300 billion spread over more than 6,700 digital currencies. The Commission expects to achieve the holy grail of rule makers: to come up with legislation that will not only protect customers but will also spur innovation by designing a clear framework. But before seeing what rules would be needed to rein in this fast evolving cutting-edge field, we need to take a deep dive into the past.
The ‘Tulipmania’ In February 1637, the Dutch were caught up in ‘tulipmania’. Tulip prices skyrocketed from December 1636 to February 1637, with some of the most prized bulbs seeing a 12-fold price jump. Tulips were not only exotic flowers but a speculative investment, with some wealthy individuals paying for bulbs what they would pay for a comfortable house. The wild rush suddenly ended in February 1637, leaving some investors penniless in what is considered the first bubble-and-burst episode in investment history. For some, the irrational fever that struck the Netherlands is a cautionary tale for the hype surrounding cryptocurrencies, as the story of Bitcoin reveals. The obscure payment method became a primary target for speculators. The price of one Bitcoin skyrocketed almost 10-fold in the
“The European Commission will unveil its long-awaited proposal on cryptocurrencies this autumn in order to seize the opportunities brought by these tokens powered by networks of computers. Europe will become the first major jurisdiction to regulate these new means of payment.”
second half of 2017, reaching nearly 20,000 dollars (16,960 euro) at the end of that year. In December 2018, one Bitcoin was worth around 3,300 dollars (2,800 euro), around 75% less compared with the all-time high. Since then, Bitcoin prices recovered some of the lost ground (price as of early September is just below €9,000), but doubts around crypto-assets persist. Created in 2009 after the housing market crash by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto (a pseudonym), Bitcoin brought lower fees for online payments and a decentralised authority, aligned with the libertarian spirit firing the digital world. Bitcoin balances are kept on a public ledger, supported by a network of computers that everyone on the network can see. This is the blockchain technology that powers every cryptocurrency. For some, blockchain is the greatest technological breakthrough since the Internet. Author and consultant Don Tapscott told top EU analysts back in 2015 about its potential, when the technology was still nascent. While the first generation of the Internet enabled us to communicate information only, the second generation, based on blockchain technology, allows users to communicate value and money in a peer-to-peer way, he said. Bitcoin’s rollercoaster ride in the markets eclipsed the potential of blockchain. But regulators across the world are not only concerned about the volatility of these digital tokens and
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Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the US House Committee on Financial Services in Washington, October, 2019. National authorities fear that their cryptocurrency project, “Libra”, could destabilise the global economy, given the substantial reach by the social media giant.
“The Commission expects to achieve the holy grail of rule makers: to come up with legislation that will not only protect customers but will also spur innovation by designing a clear framework.”
the impact that the Bitcoin frenzy could have on users. They are also wary of some of its beneficiaries, as the anonymity provided by Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies made them an optimal payment method for drug dealers and other illegal activities.
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The slow progress of authorities in Europe and elsewhere to regulate it and the struggle to fully understand and legislate without killing it, significantly changed in the summer 2019.
Libra’s earthquake That June, Facebook announced that it would launch in 2020 a ‘stablecoin’, a digital currency backed by the “best performing independent currencies”, to offer cheap and fast means of payment to users. The announcement provoked an immediate backlash from governments and central bankers. Users were also uneasy with the social
“Don’t push Fintech innovations of any size offshore from the European market because, in the long run, it is going to be bad for the economic competitiveness of the region.”
The irruption of the social network pushed cryptocurrencies to the top of the priority lists for regulators across the world, concerned not only about their price instability and dodgy users, but also the implications for the global economy as a whole. The reason is that Libra is a “stablecoin”, a type of cryptocurrency backed by a reserve asset, in this case a basket of sovereign currencies. By being tied to national currencies, Libra wants to address the high volatility of cryptocurrencies. But national authorities fear that it could destabilise the global economy, especially when you can reach potentially 2.7 billion users around the world.
“While the first generation of the Internet enabled us to communicate information only, the second generation, based on blockchain technology, allows users to communicate value and money in a peer-to-peer way.”
network’s intentions to build an alternative global system for instant payments, in light of its poor record respecting their private data.
“We will not accept that Libra is transformed into a sovereign currency that can endanger financial stability,” French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, told us in an interview in July 2019, on the eve of the G7 finance ministers meeting, where France sent a strong warning to Facebook. Dante Disparte, deputy chair of the Libra project, said in December last year that “we have always said that the project would seek to be regulated.” But he asked for the “same risks, same rules” principle that regulators defend in Europe. “Don’t push Fintech innovations of any size offshore from the European market because, in the long run, it is going to be bad for the economic competitiveness of the region,” he stressed. The concerns erupted across the world, and the withdrawal of some initial partners from the Libra project, including Visa and Mastercard, led the Libra Association this spring to lower its ambitions, by offering primarily stablecoins backed
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“Although most of the money issued by central banks is in fact already digital, it is accessible only for banks. Their new digital currencies could make their balance sheets accessible to citizens, a true game-changer. In other words, we could have a deposit account in our central bank.”
by only one sovereign currency, becoming in practice digital versions of national money. By scaling down their plans, Facebook intends to convince financial supervisors of their reasonableness in order to win their approval when it is finally launched in the EU. But it won’t be easy. While US authorities apply existing rules on cryptocurrencies, the Commission drafted new legislation (announced for autumn 2020) to rein in these digital assets. The rules will come after more than two years of slow but steady progress to regulate cryptocurrencies, a Commission official told The Brussels Times. “Libra was a ‘wake-up call’ to take these developments seriously.” The EU executive was wary from the outset of the risks of over-regulating because of Libra, as Europe could strangle the innovation brought by smaller Fintech firms. As a result, the Commission designed a set of rules that will be proportionate to the level of risks. Less risky cryptocurrencies will face lighter legislation, while for global cryptocurrencies such as Libra, rules would be stronger, given that they are likely to raise challenges in terms of financial stability and monetary policy, Dombrovskis warned before the summer break. The new European framework will substitute the national rules that are starting to emerge in a few member states, including France, Germany and Malta. Once the cryptocurrencies win
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regulatory approval at EU level (by following a series of requirements, depending on their risks), they would obtain an EU-wide ‘passport’ to operate in the bloc.
Our central bank’s account Libra also became a ‘wake-up’ call for central bankers. A recent survey among 66 central banks by the Bank for International Settlements showed that more than 80% are working on central bank digital currencies, including the ECB. Yves Mersch, member of the executive board of the ECB said last May that Frankfurt wants to be ready “to embrace financial technological innovation, which has the potential to transform payments and money faster”. Although most of the money issued by central banks is in fact already digital, it is accessible only for banks. Their new digital currencies could make their balance sheets accessible to citizens, a true game-changer. In other words, we could have a deposit account in our central bank. This scenario would have major consequences for the banking industry, as savers would prefer to have their money in the safe hands of the ECB or the Federal Reserve, given the long history of banking crises. For that reason, central bankers are thinking twice about how to design their digital currencies without provoking a financial earthquake. The journey won’t be short or easy, as every step forward in the crypto-world has brought new challenges. While ‘stablecoins’ addressed the volatility of Bitcoin and the first cryptocurrencies, Libra still does not meet the standards of commercial bank money. Meanwhile, central bank solutions still raise “profound questions about the shape of the financial system and the implications for monetary and financial stability”, and their own role in the system, Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, said on 3 September. Like every new technology, cryptocurrencies must overcome numerous obstacles and address many outstanding risks. But the sense of direction is clear. The future of money is already here.
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WHICH SUBARU SUV IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
These advanced technologies are common across the range of SUVs (they’re what makes a Subaru a Subaru). So your decision about the best SUV for you is likely to depend on the essential differences between each of three options. Start by thinking about which type of Subaru SUV would best suit your lifestyle… Have you got a dog? Kids? Lots of outdoor and leisure gear? All three? And where do you live and drive? Do you need to be able to cope with occasional flooding, muddy tracks and crumbling, potholed roads? Or are you looking for weekend getaway opportunities after putting in the majority of your miles around town or on the motorway? Let’s take a closer look at the key attributes and features of each model:
Forester is arguably Subaru’s best-known SUV An original ‘go anywhere’ utility vehicle, evolved and refined over the years to offer space and comfort to suit every lifestyle. It’s now also Subaru’s first self-charging hybrid SUV – with an e-BOXER engine that gives you full adventuring ability with the added benefits of battery-based power. And all without the need to plug in to recharge.
ubaru is renowned for the safety, capability and reliability of its range of SUVs – but which is the best choice for you?
Subaru constantly strives to build cars that are Better Where It Matters. So Forester, Outback and XV all boast exceptional credentials, and are fitted with a host of advanced safety features as standard. All three Subaru SUVs hold the maximum 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating and all come with EyeSight driver assist technology fitted as standard. This acts like a second pair of eyes on the road – to help keep you and your passengers protected, informed and safe at all times. Subaru knows that how your car handles and performs in different road and weather conditions is key to driver confidence. So all Subaru SUVs also feature a range of engineering and technology innovations that are specifically designed to enhance safety, capability and reliability, as well as the overall driving experience. These include the unique Boxer engine used by Subaru, the always-on Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, and X-MODE with Hill Descent Control technology – all of which combine to make the SUVs both supremely capable and superbly reliable.
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The Subaru Forester e-BOXER is a good towing vehicle, with 1,870kg capacity and the battery adding torque. With ground clearance of 220mm, it’s also an excellent choice for off-roading requirements. Forester is enduringly popular among Subaru owners who live in countryside locations, who often find themselves needing to negotiate local floods, icy roads and snow drifts. Others enjoy the ability to use Forester for outdoor adventures every weekend, all year round. Whatever your own driving needs, you can rely on Forester to comfortably and safely tackle all terrain and weather conditions with ultimate ease. Forester e-BOXER also comes with the most sophisticated safety features fitted as standard and is considered by industry experts to have superior safety credentials. It was named ’Best in Class 2019 in the Small Off-Road/MPV Class’ in the Euro NCAP 2019 safety performance test and also registered the highest ever score in its category in the Child Occupant Protection test. Forester features a multitude of active and passive safety technologies to ensure it always provides a reassuringly safe driving experience for you and your loved ones. In addition to the advanced EyeSight driver assist technology, Forester comes with a Driver Monitoring System, Subaru Rear Vehicle
Detection (including Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert), Reverse Automatic Braking, Rear Seat Reminder and Side View Monitor.
Outback is the rugged crossover estate Offering exceptional space, plus full SUV capabilities. Whether you’re piling in the luggage for a week on the road or packing gear for a weekend of exploration, it’s perfect for family road trips and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Ready for anything, anywhere, the Subaru Outback offers refinement and comfort for high-mileage drivers, delivering superb safety and effortless capability on every type of journey. With 200mm ground clearance, it copes easily with challenges presented by uneven ground and small floods. It’s also a great choice if you need to tow a caravan, trailer or boat, with a towing capacity up to 2,000kg. As with all Subaru SUVs, Outback comes with a comprehensive range of premium safety features fitted as standard. EyeSight driver assist technology is complemented by Subaru Rear Vehicle Detection (including Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert), Front and Side View Monitor, and a Reversing Camera.
XV is Subaru’s compact crossover With all the SUV attributes and driveability you need to confidently tackle any rough terrain you might come across on your adventures. Bold and sporty-looking, XV is the smallest of Subaru’s SUVs. But it’s perfectly happy to punch above its
weight, with a range of features that leaves many of its competitors eating dust. The Subaru XV e-BOXER self-charging hybrid, matches Forester for the highest ground clearance – a class-leading 220mm – making it an ideal option for buyers looking for rugged SUV styling and capabilities in a smaller, crossover vehicle. The result is a car that’s as sure-footed and reliable in urban settings as it is in the countryside. A great choice for confidently navigating rough tracks and all the adventure you can handle (when you’re not using it to conquer the daily commute or school run). XV e-BOXER also comes with an impressive range of premium safety features – fitted as standard alongside the innovative EyeSight driver assist technology. These include Subaru Rear Vehicle Detection (including Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert), Rear Seat Reminder, Reverse Automatic Braking and a Reversing Camera. Defying convention and challenging the norm, Subaru thrives on rising to the challenge of leading where others can only follow. Visit any Subaru dealership or book a test drive via www.subaru.be and see for yourself what it is that sets these vehicles apart.
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ON THE BRINK IN THE WAKE OF THE PANDEMIC, A SOCIAL CRISIS BREWS IN BRUSSELS By Gabriela Galindo
By April, only a month into the lockdown, nearly 76,000 employees had already applied for temporary unemployment benefits in the Brussels region, according to a study by Perspective.Brussels. Credit: Gabriela Galindo
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n the spring, as the coronavirus pandemic reached Belgium, and health care workers triaged and treated the throngs of patients sickened by the novel virus, stacks of files began piling up on Jan Willems’ desk.
the budget deficit, sucked millions out of the social security coffers and repeatedly let the budget of the public health system deflate in the face of the rapidly rising cost of care and other expenses.
With the virus creeping unchecked into Belgium, sickening the first hundred patients with Covid-19, shuttering businesses and sending citizens indoors, the government went into overdrive to ready front-line workers to face the disease that had brought the Chinese industrial hub of Wuhan to a standstill and to which wealthy northern Italy was already succumbing.
Face masks and other personal protective equipment had passed their expiry dates under Health Minister Maggie De Block, so several uncoordinated orders were placed; understaffing and burn-out of medical staff threatened, so decrees to simplify recruiting for the front lines were signed; tests kits were scarce, so a federal minister was put in charge of a new, ad-hoc Testing & Shortages task force; ventilators were in short supply, so hospitals appealed to the public for donations.
Government officials scrambled to make up for past decisions, which, in the name of stabilising
“It’s coming from all fronts from the low-income earner who had to pay higher bills, the fairground float owner suddenly unable to pay his businesses expenses, an employee abruptly put on temporary unemployment, to a student who is no longer needed for a summer job.” And as government officials had their eyes locked on the health care and economic systems, while citizens, retreating indoors, witnessed an unknown virus upend their everyday lives, Willems and his colleagues saw another storm coming.
A sinking feeling A social worker in the City of Brussels’ Public Centre for Social Welfare (CPAS/OCMW), Willems watched the number of new case files for financial aid swell as the days passed under an unprecedented lockdown which, in Belgium and elsewhere, was the go-to measure to keep contagion rates manageable for the public health system, whose anti-austerity cries had gone unheeded for years. “It’s coming from all fronts - from the low-income earner who had to pay higher bills, the
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The demand for social welfare assistance has surged to unprecedented numbers all over the country in recent months.
“The average citizen cannot imagine what it is like to live with such levels of anxiety, and, in the context of lockdown, cannot imagine what it could have been like to live in a small and overcrowded apartment, with children at home and wondering how to stretch a thinning income onto the next week, the next month.” fairground float owner suddenly unable to pay his businesses expenses, an employee abruptly put on temporary unemployment, to a student who is no longer needed for a summer job…,” he told The Brussels Times. Willems coordinates the debt mediation department of the CPAS, a social welfare public service that exists in each of Belgium’s 581 municipalities and provides various social and financial integration services, ranging from welfare checks to one-time material assistance, such as helping a low-income family buy a computer for a child about to go to university. Like other countries, Belgium is still reeling from the pandemic’s initial blows, dealt to an economy heavily dependent on global trade
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networks under no single country’s control. But the global epidemic’s aftershocks may prove just as costly and its impact may still be felt for generations to come. Globally, the coronavirus crisis is forecast to deliver a forceful setback to international development goals. A recent report by the United Nations University estimates that global poverty could increase for the first time since 1990, setting global efforts to fight it back by as much as a decade. In Brussels, as the capital city emerged from the lockdown, the individual consequences of months in prolonged confinement began to appear on Willems’ desk: the mental toll of prolonged confinement and, in some cases, deep isolation, the skyrocketing anxieties brought on by thinning budgets and poor employment prospects, the emotional stress of navigating interpersonal relationships strained by a new and imposed kind of months-long proximity, and, in the worst cases, the consequences of physical, emotional or financial abuse. As the days of lockdown trickled into weeks and then months, the welfare office in Brussels registered a surge in requests for economic assistance, compounding a steady rise in demand already recorded by the service over the past few years. As of June 2020, roughly a month after the country began easing out of lockdown, some 12,500 persons were registered with the City of Brussels’ (1 of 19 communes in Brussels region) social services office, or had applied for some kind of assistance.
“A recent report by the United Nations University estimates that global poverty could increase for the first time since 1990, setting global efforts to fight it back by as much as a decade.” To help the service face the surge in demand, welfare offices across Belgium received a boost in the form of increased subsidies, part of a raft of relief measures from the federal government in an effort to plug the gaping revenue gaps that were sending the budgets of everyone from big corporations to ordinary workers into a tailspin. Out of the total €114.9 million unblocked for all the CPAS in the country, the communes within Brussels region received around €28 million in total. In other words, over 20% of the budget was allocated to Brussels, despite having a population size representing only 10% of the country. The additional funding, Willems said, would be enough for the city’s CPAS to give an extra €50 per month to their existing beneficiaries until the end of December, acknowledging that although it brought them some relief, it was ultimately a stopgap solution, which insufficiently took into account the concrete realities of many struggling to keep their heads above the water in regular times, let alone throughout an economy-crippling pandemic. “At the same time as households’ revenues plummeted, many saw their living expenses climb,” he said. “Having three kids always home, for example, means having to pay more in utilities, we know that the cost of food and basic necessities in supermarkets spiked, there is increased usage of telecom services… it’s a whole series of small expenses that, put together, can really weigh down on already strained family budgets.” The subsidy would also be put to use by the office to bolster and develop additional aid programmes, including a reach-out operation for the new publics affected by the pandemic, those who find themselves in need of help but do not know how or where to get it. According to a study published in early July by Perspective.Brussels, by April, only a month into the lockdown, nearly 76,000 employees had already
applied for temporary unemployment benefits. Additionally, by the same date, 46,585 people running a small or microenterprise under Belgium’s self-employed, or independent status, had applied for government support to make up for loss of partial or all revenue. The report by the agency, which fleshes out urban development strategies for the capital region, was commissioned by the regional administration with the view of crafting a “reboot and redeployment” post-lockdown strategy capable of delivering a short-term response to the economy, while still keeping the regional government on track to meet the flagship sustainability goals it announced after taking office last summer. But the same report warns that the rush to get the economy back on its feet “as quickly as possible” could jeopardise the government’s capacity to push the capital region towards the much-touted road to social, economic and environmental sustainability. And even without the counterproductive effects that a rush to business-as-usual would bring, the post-Covid-19 landscape forecasted in the report predicts that, in the best case scenario, at least 10,000 new jobseekers will be added to the unemployment ranks in 2020 alone — meaning officials seeking to boost the region into new standards of sustainability are about to dive into much murkier waters.
Financial fragility In July, a policy contribution paper by the Bruegel Institute, a Brussels-based think tank specialising in European economic policies, found that, two years before the coronavirus crisis hit the Continent, “a substantial share” of median-income households in the EU were already unable to shoulder a significant and unexpected expense.
“As the days of lockdown trickled into weeks and then months, the welfare office in Brussels registered a surge in requests for economic assistance, compounding a steady rise in demand already recorded by the service over the past few years.”
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33% of residents in Brussels already lived below the poverty-threshold before the coronavirus crisis, making them the most vulnerable to the pandemic’s socio-economic aftershocks. Credit: Michel Petillo
“In Brussels, before the coronavirus hit the regional economy, one-third of Brussels residents already earned a salary below the atrisk-of-poverty threshold.”
The report, which aimed to gauge the financial ability of median EU households to cope with unexpected expenses, such as those brought on
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by the current pandemic, found that “in some EU countries, many households had savings equivalent to just a few weeks of basic consumption.” For its assessment, the paper used the concept of household financial fragility, first devised by Italian economist Annamaria Lusardi in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis in the United States. At the time, Lusardi, who co-authored the Bruegel report, asked American families how confident they were in their ability to come up with $2,000 within a months’ time if an unexpected need arose. In the post-crisis context, as many
progressed, in February 2020 — when unemployment sat at just below 4% before ballooning to 10% in pandemic-hit July — nearly 30% of American households remained financially fragile, suggesting that even as indicators boast a healthy economy, there remains a “sizeable group” of households who will be “disproportionately affected by shocks and changes in policy.” In the EU context, the Bruegel report drew from the 2018 edition of the EU statistics office’s survey on Income and Living Conditions, in which respondents are asked to self-assess their ability to meet an “unexpected and required expense” through their own resources. The year 2018 was chosen by the authors because it was a year of moderate growth in Europe and “importantly, was not a period of specific financial stress.” The amount in question varied from country to country but represented a sum necessary to cover, for example, “an unplanned surgery, a funeral, major home repairs or the replacement of a durable good such as a washing machine or a car.” The report surveyed median EU households and only took into account their ability to draw from liquid assets to meet the expense, not taking into account other wealth indicators such as owning properties or other financial assets, with Demertzis saying that having to draw on those to meet an unexpected expense would still underscore some degree of financial distress. With 25% of its households identified as financially fragile, Belgium stood below the EU and EEA average, while, at 35%, the pre-Brexit UK had an above-average level of household financial fragility.
as half of surveyed families said they would be unable to come up with the sum. “During the financial crisis, we were all looking at banks as the source of instability — all the trouble came from banks,” Maria Demertzis, the deputy director of Bruegel and a former EU Commission official, told The Brussels Times. “But Lusardi looked at households who could not make ends meet as an added source of wider financial instability,” said Demertzis, who also co-authored the report. Lusardi’s exploration of household’s financial resilience also allowed for the later assessment that, even as the US economy
Overall, an assessment of the survey’s figures since 2009 and until 2018 showed that the EU-area average of household fragility has remained “broadly constant” at around the 30% mark. Further, in over half of member states, the median value held in bank accounts — current and savings accounts combined — was less than €5,000. “What is very interesting here is that this study is about the median households — we are talking about the EU’s middle class,” Demertzis said. “So, if the middle class is not as safe against shocks as it may appear to be, then let alone the poorer households.” In Brussels, the Perspective.Brussels report found that, before the coronavirus hit the
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“Two years before the coronavirus crisis hit the Continent, a substantial share of median-income households in the EU were already unable to shoulder a significant and unexpected expense.” regional economy, one-third of Brussels residents already earned a salary below the at-riskof-poverty threshold. The regional agency found that 34% of households in the region had reported a loss of revenue between April and May, only the first two months since the all-out lockdown was imposed in mid-March. Among those households, 14% were already considered as being “extremely vulnerable” to the crisis, since their savings were insufficient to make up for the loss of revenue incurred in the single month of April. And, in the densely populated Belgian capital, the crisis risks aggravating inequalities in an area already rife with gaping differences in income and quality of life standards. “Brussels is not Belgium — the average Belgian number will not tell you what is going on in Brussels,” Demertzis said. According to the latest report on the state of poverty by the Brussels-Capital Region’s (BCR) Health and Social Observatory, in 2019, 33% of residents in the capital lived below the poverty-threshold, compared to 10% in Flanders and 22% in Wallonia, a figure which also towered above the national average of 16%. “Brussels is very vulnerable in comparison to the rest of Belgium, it has some extremely vulnerable areas,” Demertzis said. For Willems, the dishing out of subsidies by the government came as a relief, providing additional resources to public servants like himself to continue identifying and alleviating the hardships of those still sidelined by policies that give more priority to keeping the globalised economy churning as welfare and public services trudge and sputter along. But the additional resources will stretch out only until the end of the year, he said, acknowledging that this crash response to the crisis would fail to bring about the structural changes social workers say are necessary to protect the
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Belgian capital’s most vulnerable households from sliding into poverty. “What happens after? We all know that these peoples’ problems will not magically disappear on the 31st of December, 2020 — so, what do we do on 1 January?” he said, also noting that the policy priorities of the as-of-yet-unformed federal government remained shrouded in mystery. Both the Bruegel and the Perspective.Brussels report advocate for “policies that tackle causes and not just symptoms,” with the latter pointing to the adoption of a robust policy of “vigorous and accelerated” public investments as a way to simultaneously boost the regional economy in the short term while keeping Brussels region in line with its long term sustainable development goals. A central demand from the city’s CPAS, echoed in an open letter to Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès in the context of the crisis, is to align the lowest welfare payments with, at minimum, the poverty-threshold, a demand that has gone, as yet, unheeded. But, even in their role as the very last bulwarks against extreme poverty in Brussels and wider in Belgium, the impact that the CPAS can have will remain determined and circumscribed by the wider policies implemented by higher levels of government, which, Willems said, must better account for the distressing reality of continuously teetering over the poverty line. “The average citizen cannot imagine what it is like to live with such levels of anxiety, and, in the context of lockdown, cannot imagine what it could have been like to live in a small and overcrowded apartment, with children at home and wondering how to stretch a thinning income onto the next week, the next month…,” he said. “They may be familiar with the concept of it, but not with the realities.” Asked whether he thought the decision-makers crafting the social policies at a regional and federal level were aware of these concrete realities, he appeared sceptical. But despite a gloomy forecast for the months and years to come, he said the current moment was crucial for social workers and decision-makers aiming to contain the damages set to rise when the pandemic’s dust settles. “We have to be very attentive to it, it’s like this virus, right? We have to follow everything and everyone up close to be able to step in on time and keep things from going under - if we close our eyes to it, it will eventually blow up in our faces.”
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Philippe Van Parijs is a philosopher and a Brusseler. He teaches at the Universities of Louvain and Leuven, and is a Robert Schuman Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence.
FIVE QUESTIONS TO PHILOSOPHER PHILIPPE VAN PARIJS ON UNCONDITIONAL BASIC INCOME AND THE PANDEMIC
n 1986, you convened the first international conference on universal basic income, which saw the birth of BIEN, a network that now spans the whole world and whose advisory board you still chair. Has the hour for Universal Basic Income finally come? In these forty years, I have learned not to get excited too quickly. It is true that the idea is coming up right, left and centre. But there are several versions, with distinct purposes. One purpose is to ensure that no one ends up without an income for weeks on end, as a result of the lockdown imposed by a government. In many countries, including Belgium, some scheme of “technical” or “temporary” unemployment is triggered, with workers receiving 70 or 80 percent of their wage for a limited period of time. But it is harder to design a scheme that satisfactorily covers the growing category of the self-employed, the platform workers, and workers with irregular or “zero-hour contracts”. In several countries, these are the categories that have been growing fastest in recent years.
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This is what inspired, for example, a proposal made at the end of March by over 170 members of the British Parliament. They advocated the introduction of an “Emergency Universal Basic Income” for at least the duration of the lockdown, to be paid weekly to all residents and funded by public borrowing. Compared to the existing schemes, including the UK’s so-called “universal credit”, such a genuinely universal scheme would have the advantage of reaching all households with a minimal amount of bureaucracy. But it would have the disadvantage of increasing, at a high cost, the net income of a majority of people whose problem is not that their income is too low, but that they cannot spend it due to shop closures.
Universal Basic Income posters could be seen in Belgium already before the pandemic.
It can therefore be argued that the public debt would be unnecessarily swollen by such a measure and that something more finely tuned to address the sudden fall in income of the people hit by the crisis would make more sense, even if the targeting is imperfect.
Is an “emergency basic income” different from so called “helicopter money”, a label sometimes also used to defend an unconditional basic income? The purpose is different. When an economy is in a recession, a central bank will want to boost it by pumping more money into it. This is
“ One purpose is to ensure that no one ends up without an income for weeks on end, as a result of the lockdown imposed by a government.” commonly called Quantitative Easing (QE), a monetary policy that injects money into the economy, thereby enabling and inducing private banks to lend more to both firms and households.
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“With a permanent unconditional basic income in place, there would be no one without an income at all, waiting for ad hoc schemes to be implemented or trying to find out how they could access existing schemes they never dreamt of ever needing. ”
But as interest rates approached the lowest possible level, many economists started pleading for so-called “helicopter money” or “Quantitative Easing for the People”, the printing of money to be distributed directly to households. The simplest way of doing so consists of a direct payment of the same amount into the bank account of every resident. Of course, such a payment has an inflationary
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effect, and it is meant to have one. It is to be used when there is not enough inflation, and it must therefore necessarily be temporary, which is also the case for an emergency basic income or other measures meant to address the immediate impact of the pandemic on the disposable incomes of many households. But its optimal timing is different. Helicopter money is best reserved for the moment businesses can reopen and welcome a strong demand. The fear sometimes expressed is that, just as firms may not invest even when interest rates are very low, households may not spend but rather hoard the additional income they receive. Some of the proposals for a “QE for the people” therefore suggest that this payment should be made in a “melting” currency that loses value through time, in order to encourage households to use it straight away. Some of the proposals also exclude households with high incomes and therefore a lower propensity to consume. The case for such measures is well explained in a recent paper by the NGO Positive Money. But the recession we are experiencing is very special not only by virtue of its size, but also because economic activity is hampered not only by the lack of demand but
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also by all sorts of constraints required to contain the pandemic. Helicopter money, therefore, cannot be expected to be the magic bullet it could hope to be under different conditions.
income of the rich nor need to be funded by a massive increase in public borrowing. The bulk of it would be paid for by those whose income is not affected by the crisis.
You seem rather lukewarm about these various developments.
This would not make it unnecessary to have social insurance schemes that protect both wage earners and the self-employed against a sudden income loss. But such schemes would come on top of a basic income security provided unconditionally to all.
Whether actually implemented or just proposed, measures of this sort serve useful purposes and, in certain circumstances, they can be the best tools available. But they are all intrinsically temporary. Over more than the short term, they are unsustainable because they are funded either by deficit spending or by money creation. However, they all share a most welcome virtue. They all boost our awareness of how much better equipped our societies and our economies would be to face challenges, such as this one, if a permanent unconditional basic income were in place, funded in a sustainable way.
“I believe in opportunistic utopianism. Crises can provide opportunities for major breakthroughs. In Belgium, universal suffrage was the product of World War I, and a developed welfare state, like in many other countries, the product of World War II.”
If such a scheme had been in place, would there have been no need for all the measures improvised by the various governments in order to address the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic and the lockdown? With a permanent unconditional basic income in place, there would be no one without an income at all, waiting for ad hoc schemes to be implemented or trying to find out how they could access existing schemes they never dreamt of ever needing. Contrary to an emergency basic income, a permanent basic income would not boost the net
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If such a basic income existed at the EU level, it would additionally operate as a mechanism of automatic solidarity among member states, with the shock attenuated in the countries hit hardest. Moreover, whenever Quantitative Easing would be required, the pipeline would be ready for it, in the form of an administratively straightforward, temporary increase of the basic income regularly paid to all.
So, do you think that the time is ripe for a fundamental reform of our social protection systems that would incorporate such a permanent basic income, even possibly at the European level? I believe in opportunistic utopianism. Crises can provide opportunities for major breakthroughs. In Belgium, universal suffrage was the product of World War I, and a developed welfare state, like in many other countries, the product of World War II. We do not know at this stage how long, how deep and how wide the economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic will be. But we must try to use the momentum to restructure our institutions so as to make our economies and our societies more fair and more resilient. Enabling our societies to better cope with a pandemic is of course only one of the reasons for introducing a basic income. After the Swiss referendum and the Finnish experiment, the presidential campaigns of Benoit Hamon in France, and Andrew Yang in the United States, and the many proposals for an “Emergency Universal Basic Income” or for a “QE for the people” in response to the current crisis, can further contribute to persuading people that an unconditional basic income is not a ludicrous idea fancied by a handful of eccentrics, but a central part of what we need. To make it a reality in a particular national context or at the European level, visionaries and activists are needed, but also, at the right moment, clever institutional tinkerers and courageous politicians.
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TOGETHER, WE CAN BE STRONGER You Raise Me Up www.facebook.com/ChinaEUMission/videos/305055500735132/
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he COVID-19 reminds us of the fact that we all live in a global village and are part of a community with a shared future. The Sunshine Children's Choir of the Chinese Mission to the EU, consisting of 25 children aged from 2 to 16, recently sang the song “You Raise Me Up”, and the Women’s Choir of the Chinese Mission presented the musical piece “We Are the World”, conveying
the message of love and peace to Europe and beyond. This is a demonstration of confidence in overcoming the pandemic and respect for health workers. The COVID-19 is a common enemy for mankind. Only with unity can we defeat it. To watch the videos in full, please visit the following link or scan the QR code:
We Are the World www.facebook.com/ChinaEUMission/videos/2598278980422919/
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POLIAESTHETICA 40-61 p
CONTEMPORARY ART, POLITICS & CULTURE
Denis Maksimov is a critic, curator, consultant and educator of art and politics.
POLIAESTHETICA CONTEMPORARY ART, POLITICS & CULTURE
DANSER BRUT AT BOZAR // from 24 September until 10 January open Tuesday to Sunday 10 am - 6 pm, Thursdays until 9 pm @ Rue Ravensteinstraat 23, 1000 Brussels 18€ admission; €16 concession How does a gesture translate into a visual work of art? Can dance be communicated in a still object or an image? And what can be said about the history of the world through the lens of transformation, enrichment and the culture of dancing as a whole? With works by Michael Borremans, Charlie Chaplin, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Rebecca Horn, Vaslav Nijinsky, Arnulf Rainer, Philippe Vandenberg and Mary Wigman, among others, BOZAR aims to reveal the answers to these questions. The exhibition analyses the connection between what appears to be an improvised and a repetitive movement. In various cultures, the language of dance has been used to communicate rituals, an emotional or mental state, or to create a sense of community.
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Through the history of motion and visual representation of dance cultures, BOZAR attempts to put modernity in a different light. The exhibition is more of a case study of the French art movement “art brut” or “raw art”. It was initiated largely through the organising efforts of Jean Dubuffet in the 1940s as a result of artists’ reflections on the mindless atrocities of the Second World War. The exhibition presents the public with a route through history of the critical period, as seen through a concerned, creative mind. The current global pandemic has been variously compared to global wars by politicians and pundits.
CENTRALE.VITRINE: A NEW SPACE FOR SHOWCASING EMERGING ARTISTS AT CENTRALE FOR CONTEMPORARY ART // open call closes on October 4, results announced in December @ Place Sainte-CatherineÂ 44, 1000 Brussels free submission CENTRALE is known for its commitment to young contemporary artists in Brussels. The centre for contemporary art serves as a public space in the heart of the capital, which often offers the public critical and unexpected ideas from a new generation of creative artists. In March 2021 CENTRALE will launch a new space, which is dedicated to the emerging imaginative talents of Brussels. The artists are invited to respond to the open call by proposing an IN SITU project. The institution expects the proposed project to reflect the local geography and fit into the mission of the CENTRALE, which is to constantly re-energise the dialogue between the city and its inhabitants. The projects should reflect the neighbourhood, inhabitants, passers-by, tourists, and whoever finds themselves passing through Rue Sainte-
Catherine, which is soon to become fully pedestrian in accordance with the city plan of removing cars from the city centre. There is no age limit, and artists, as well as collectives are invited to apply. The proposals are expected to be submitted by 4 October and the decision of the jury will be announced in December. The winners will be able to exhibit their work for eight weeks, with 1000 euro worth of financial and logistical support from the CENTRALE in promotion and marketing. There is no age limit for applicants.
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The Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels bring thousands of art lovers from all around the world to Brussels every year. The permanent collection features globally renown masterpieces of the early modernity and late middle ages by old masters such as Rubens, Brueghel, Van Eyck and Bosch. This year, the museum offers a new journey through its repository of the Dutch Golden Age with the works of Rembrandt Van Rijn, Frans Hals, Nicolaes Maes, Jan van Goyen and Pieter de Hooch, among others. They are shown in the newly renovated wing of the museum, which are called the “Dutch Galleries”. The visitors are able to journey through landscapes, portraits, still lifes and genre painting of one of the most prolific periods in the history of Dutch art. The Royal Museums’ collection of the Dutch school of painting is the largest of its kind outside of the Netherlands.
DUTCH SCHOOL: THE DUTCH SCHOOL COLLECTION AT ROYAL MUSEUMS OF FINE ART (OLD MASTERS WING) // until summer 2022 open Tuesday to Friday 10 am - 5 pm, weekends 11 am - 6 pm @ Rue de la Régence 3, 1000 Brussels €10 admission; €8, 3 concessions
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The seventeenth century was the era of unprecedented economic prosperity in the Netherlands. The popularization of the culture of patronage among rich merchants led to artistic innovation in style and untied the hands of creative artists in search of support for the new voices via aesthetic expression. The collection reflects the transformation of the predominantly agricultural lowlands into the industrial and trade heartland of the late Renaissance Europe. The display of the paintings in the Dutch Galleries is a perfect opportunity to become familiar with the history of the art of the epoch.
POST-GROWTH AT IMAL // from 3 September until 17 January open Wednesday to Friday 1 pm - 7 pm, Saturday and Sunday 12 pm – 6 pm @ Quai des Charbonages 30, 1080 Brussels €8 admission; €4 concession The COVID-19 pandemic continues to make the headlines. However, another emergency, which has been dwarfed by the virus, still looms over our heads. The industrial growth in the world in the last couple of centuries has accelerated the warming of the planet, and more cities and even countries are facing an existential threat. Rivers are drying up, drinking water is becoming scarce, and ocean levels are rising as arctic ice melts, leading to the potential apocalyptic predictions from future conflicts. How did we get here?
rule our cultural epoch. Can we imagine a postgrowth epoch? The artists and thinkers Disnovation.org (Nicolas Maigret & Maria Roszkowska), Baruch Gottlieb, Clemence Seurat, Julien Maudet, and Pauline Briand offer their visions of the future beyond the concept of growth. Is there still hope for a better future for the next generation? Can it be found in the artistic imagination?
The exhibition Post-Growth addresses these challenges head on via the primary source: the obsession with economic growth. Despite all the conversations about planetary awareness, the concepts of perpetually growing economic prosperity, consumerism and accumulation still
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FIGURES ON A GROUND AT FONDATION CAB // until 12 December open Wednesday to Sunday, 12 pm - 8 pm @ Rue Borrens 32, 1050 Ixelles €6.5 admission; €5.5, 4.5 concessions It is often assumed that the feminist fight for recognition and equality is on the right track. But the state of play in the industries of production and thought has not changed a lot over time. Art history is one of the areas. The works and the artists are set within the context of the books by white male theorists and thinkers. Until quite recently, the movement of Minimalism in art was mostly associated with male artists, while female artists were often presented as their followers.
Minimalism was a reaction to abstract art and modernism: a call to return to simple geometric shapes and forms, which minimal artists had seen as the ‘alfa’ and ‘omega’ of art. The geometric abstractions of early twentieth century radical artists such as Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian and Constantin Brâncusi laid the foundation for the emergence of the movement in the aftermath of the Second World War. The Fondation CAB exhibition, Figures on a Ground, recontextualises Minimalism by presenting works by pioneering female Minimalist artists. The works of Agnes Martin and Anne Truitt as the matriarchs of the movement take the centre stage. The curators say, “the exhibition brings the alternative touch to Minimal art … approached through themes such as spatial perception, relationships, nature, the sacred, the body and spirituality.” The works by the founding artists of the movement are juxtaposed with the contemporary interventions by Anna-Maria Bogner, Claudia Comte and Sonia Kacem, among other artists. They compare the current context with the concerns of the minimalists almost 50 years earlier, including the critique of over-representation and the politicisation of art. The exhibition goes beyond its subject into the deeper realm, looking at the concerns of the contemporary zeitgeist.
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Open Gallery Weekend October 31st & November 1st ART Knokke-Heist is an open gallery weekend that aims to make art accessible to everyone. Whether youâ€™re an amateur or connoisseur, the gallery owners will welcome you with open arms.
CYBER-PIRAMMMIDA AT WWW.PIRAMMMIDA.LIFE
// throughout the year online, until the opening of the 17th Venice Biennale of Architecture The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the postponement and re-conceptualisation of numerous art exhibitions around the world. One of them was the highly anticipated 17th Venice Biennale of Architecture, which was supposed to be open earlier this year in May. Adapting to the new normal, the exhibition was re-translated into a digital format with the prefix “cyber” slapped on. PiraMMMida, or Palazzo Perverso #2, is the second iteration of the exhibition and public programme curated by the research collective Perverting the Power Vertical (PPV): Politics and Aesthetics in the Global East, which critically addresses the problem of the power structures in different imaginary realms created by humans, such as the worlds of politics, architecture, and art. The name PiraMMMida is an ironic homage to the MMM Bank, a pyramid scheme established by convicted fraudster Sergei Mavrodi in 1991 in Russia and further spread around the world in the 2000s and 2010s. It led to the defrauding of thousands of vulnerable people. The online platform features the works of artists, philosophers and thinkers from various disciplines. Among them are David Bernstein, Liva Dudareva, Keti Chukhrov, Agnieszka Kurant, Thandi Loewenson, Georgios Papadopoulos, Tabita Rezaire, Natalia Romik, and the Centre for Plausible Economies (Kathrin Böhm and Kuba Szreder). The metaphor of the pyramid unites the diverse critical voices in their attempt to dismantle the elusive and unconquerable structures of power.
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At BEPS, student means
Founded in 1972, BEPS International School is proud of its history. Today, with a growing secondary school, it is building for the future and preparing students for life beyond school. Come and visit us today to find out how much BEPS really means.
Step by step guide to easily feel at home in Brussels TO MAKE YOUR MOVE SWIFTLY: • Visit the website www.expatsinbrussels.be • Discover the printed guide and order it.
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MOBUTU’S LEGACY AND KINSHASA’S VOODOO WRESTLERS Interview with Belgian photographer
COLIN DELFOSSE By Boré Kedober
he first time Colin Delfosse went to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was in 2006 on a reporting mission to cover the first free elections since the country’s independence in 1960. Captivated by the country, its history and the more contemporary stories, he has since been returning every year. A Brussels-based photographer, Delfosse combines personal long-term projects in the DRC and Central African region with NGO assignments. He is also a founding editor of the Belgian investigative journalism magazine Médor. His work is regularly featured in The New York Times, Le Monde, L’Echo and Jeune Afrique, and is exhibited at various international photography festivals. He has also won numerous prestigious awards worldwide. Delfosse’s current exhibition, Mariophane, takes place at the cultural centre of Saint Gilles, Brussels, until 17 October, and focuses on pilgrimages for Virgin Mary.
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“The River that Swallows All the Rivers” is a project which explores the remnants of dictator Mobutu Seseseko’s 32 years of reign. This series revisits Mobutu’s mammoth projects built across Congo – often for personal purposes. “These decaying structures express the exuberance of the 1970s and 1980s in Zaire (the name of the state between 1971 and 1997 in Central Africa that is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo), then a country dreaming of grandeur. Courted by the great powers amid the euphoria that followed independence, the country seemed a laboratory full of possibilities. What is left today reminds us of the power’s vacuity, even if absolute. And the vanity of autocrats in believing themselves to be eternal,” Colin Delfosse explains.
“Today more pictures than ever are created, so I don’t simply want to take pictures that are just catchy to grab attention, but which say something and make sense.” As a photojournalist, what is a good image for you which makes you satisfied? As a storyteller, I’m not focused on one particular picture, but rather how I want to tell the story, and that the images as a whole make sense and tell the story well. Today more pictures than ever are created, so I don’t simply want to take pictures that are just catchy to grab attention, but which say something. For a long time now, I have focused on portraits. I love doing that, because it’s about relations with people. I love showing people and talk about their stories. For me it has to be human-based.
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Choosing what gets into the image and what doesn’t, how do you maintain objectivity? I’m mostly waiting for the moment to come, and then I take the picture. Sometimes it is part of being sent on an assignment for a particular project. However, to be frank, I’m not trying to be objective. Being a documentary photographer, or even in my personal capacity, I do not search for objectivity. To take a picture is already to have an opinion, you always start from somewhere. Portraits, on the other hand, I stage, as it’s a
relation between myself and the subject. It’s what I like to do; meeting people, learning their stories, and finding a way to convey that through the picture. That’s when the portrait becomes good. When you understand and get an idea of who the person is. I love to experiment and try different techniques, different approaches, but what always links the images is the human research and story. That there is something beyond the technical aesthetic outcome. The story may be social, economic or historical.
“Belgium has a long history there and the Congolese still talk about what happened during the 75 years of Belgian colonisation. They have a link with us and we with them. We can’t deny what happened, so we need to get somewhat interested in what is happening there.
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As a photojournalist you have travelled around the world, but keep returning to the DRC. What is it about Congo that makes you keep returning there? I started working in Congo as a young photographer. The first time I was sent there to cover the first presidential elections, which took place in 2006, following years of authoritarian rule under Mobutu, and later under Kabila. At that time, it was chaotic after two major wars, and the Congolese people had not experienced any free elections since its independence when Patrice Lumumba became Prime Minister in 1960. I had never been there before. As a Belgian, growing up in Brussels, Congo is what comes to mind when talking about Africa because of our shared history and Belgium being the former coloniser, but I still hardly knew anything about the country. I first landed in Kolwezi town, in the former Katanga province in the southeast part of the country. Katanga is known for its many cobalt and copper mines, and in early 2000 the world’s big international companies returned after a long period of trouble. Most of the local people worked in those mines, as there was not much other work after the two Congo wars, and many had been fired, sparking strikes.
I spent about a month there and saw the diggers strike. It made a strong impression on me. After the elections, I decided to document the unrest in the Katanga mines further. The social situation was really intense, and that’s how it all started. Since then I have returned many times. I made one story, then another one and so forth. Belgium has a long history there and the Congolese still talk about what happened during the 75 years of Belgian colonisation. They have a link with us and we with them. We can’t deny what happened, so we need to get somewhat interested in what is happening there now, and that is why I decided to keep returning to try to show the different perspectives of the country. And not only focus on the so-called negative stories such as the mining unrests or the wars, but also its history and the more contemporary stories, such as the wrestlers of Kinshasa or the space rocket history. Most of all, what makes me go back are my friends there. I work in partnership with Congolese artists; it’s an incredible lively art scene. When they come to Brussels, we work together mixing photography and performance, and when I go to the DRC they introduce me deeper into their bold contemporary art. That is what’s happening in November in Bozar.
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This year marks the 60th anniversary of Congolese independence from Belgian rule. How much influence does Belgium still have in Congo? What is the relationship like between the countries now? It is still a very hot topic, and I am not an expert on Belgian “influence” in the DRC. What is clear is that there is still a lot of co-operation between both countries. Recent heated debates on Leopold II have, at last, opened a long overdue reflection on Belgian colonial history.
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As a Belgian journalist often travelling in Congo, how would you describe the current Congolese generation’s attitude to Belgium and to the past colonial rule? It really depends on where you are in Congo. If you talk to people in the capital, Kinshasa, and in academic circles and universities, you will get into intense discussions – especially these days. In the mainland and in the little villages, they’re quite happy to meet foreigners in general as it takes weeks to travel out of the main cities. In-
“As a Belgian, growing up in Brussels, Congo is what comes to mind when talking about Africa because of our shared history and Belgium being the former coloniser, but I still hardly knew anything about the country.”
frastructure is not great, to say the least. In general, it’s not difficult at all to travel as a Belgian in Congo, and the attitude is quite friendly toward Belgians as opposed to in, for example, some former French colonies such as Mali or
Senegal toward French people. When you say you are from Belgium in Congo, they call you “noko”, which translates to “uncle” in the local language Lingala. They think we’re still together at some levels because we shared something.
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Who are the Congolese wrestlers? I came across a few wrestlers in a suburb of Kinshasa in 2007. As soon as I saw them, I knew it would be a good story, so I returned to Kinshasa a year later to look for the wrestlers. I managed to find them, but it took a long time until I could convince them and take pictures. Weâ€™d usually go to Kinshasa suburbs, places without electricity and as a photographer standing out with fancy equipment, it was not without risks, but being with the wrestlers it was safe and a lot of fun.
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There are two types of wrestlers in Congo; those doing American wrestling training and competing in the big stadiums, and those performing in the suburbs, in what is called voodoo wresting. The voodoo wrestling is the more popular of the two. The principle is the same, two wrestlers fighting in a ring, but adding old traditional voodoo elements. This is unique to Congo, you canâ€™t find it anywhere else in the world. It is especially popular in Kinshasa and the bigger cities in Congo.
“Congo is a very religious country - a legacy of the colonisation - and voodoo is not seen as a good thing, however voodoo wrestling is extremely popular and draws huge crowds.”
Congo’s voodoo wrestlers: “Kinshasa is like a storm on a lake of lava. Muimba Texas, Mabokotomo, Petit Cimetière and États-Unis are still the most striking expression of this daily fury. These men, taxi-drivers, street peddlers and, for the most fortunate, bodyguards, are the new heroes of the city’s nightlife. Their charisma commands respect and instils fear – two major assets in a city as busy and competitive as Kinshasa.” “In the last few hours of daylight when they have managed to pull themselves away from their daily routines, they slip on masks and costumes to defy those, who like themselves, thirst for glory. When the time of the fight rings out they walk headfirst into a different world, into a fantasy life where all is possible,” Colin Delfosse says upon describing the project.
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“I came across a few wrestlers in a suburb of Kinshasa in 2007. As soon as I saw them, I knew it would be a good story”
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“To be frank, I’m not trying to be objective. Being a documentary photographer, or even in my personal capacity, I do not search for objectivity. To take a picture is already to have an opinion, you always start from somewhere.”
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“What is clear is that there is still a lot of cooperation between both countries. Recent heated debates on Leopold II have, at last, opened a long overdue reflection on Belgian colonial history.” What role does the sport play in Congolese society? The same as in other countries, national pride and social contact. But Congo is a very religious country - a legacy of the colonisation - and voodoo is not seen as a good thing, however voodoo wrestling is extremely popular and draws huge crowds. The wrestling in Congo can be a bit theatrical, where people like to create a show. Kinshasa in particular has a reputation of a bit of a show-off city. For many of them living in poor neighbourhoods with few activities, the wrestlers bring
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a lot of excitement with their imaginative and mysterious identities. Metaphors can also be drawn with the general life-struggle in Congo, where the combination of the wrestlers’ fighting styles, magic and use of old traditional customs resonate with the people’s own proud defiance in the face of adversity, going through the hardships of daily life. Each neighbourhood has its own voodoo-wrestling superstar. Having covered the country’s political landscape, how do you see the political and economic outlooks evolve? It’s a bit touchy as a Belgian and foreigner to come with a political opinion, especially having a critical external point of view. But personally, I think it’s very challenging. Congolese people do not expect anything from the authorities because they know they will not do anything to improve their lives or have a long-term ambition to tackle the many problems in the country. At the same time, this country has to deal with so much. On almost every border there is a conflict or refugee crisis, with internally displaced Congolese and refugees coming from neighbouring countries.
What are you working on now? I’m working on two projects in DRC. Following the 60th year of independence, I work on a story about the train railways in Katanga. This train system was built during the Belgian colonisation. It connects two railways. One going from Lubumbashi to Kalemie up north, and another one leaving from Lubumbashi to the Congo river. I’m also working on a story about Congo’s space project. When Mobutu was in power in the 70s, a German company, Otrag, tried to send rockets into space from the Katanga plateaux. This was during the Cold War years and there was much
pressure from the US and other countries to halt the programme. I am now following a Congolese engineer who is preparing the launch of small rockets from Kinshasa to get satellites up to space orbit. The more I go back to Congo, the more I discover the country, and think people here in Belgium should have an interest to learn about. I am also exhibiting a new project about the Virgin Mary’s apparitions. It’s a long-term project I worked on with another photographer, Julie David de Lossy. It started in Rwanda a few years ago and lead us to Mexico, Wisconsin, the Alps and Lourdes among others.
“The combination of the wrestlers’ fighting styles, magic and use of old traditional customs resonate with the people’s own proud defiance in the face of adversity, going through the hardships of daily life. Each neighbourhood has its own voodoo-wrestling superstar.”
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PHILOSOPHY, CULTURE AND HISTORY 64-101 p During the colonial era, the missionary movement played a significant role in Belgium, and it is estimated that 10% of all Catholic missionaries around the world were Belgian. One of them, Father Damien, was even voted in 2005 as “the greatest Belgian of all time”. Damien became far more than just a “converter” however, and may have acted more as a human rights defender in a colonial world, before this concept even existed. After his arrival in Hawaii, he studied hard to learn the Hawaiian languages, and built up a strong and affectionate relationship with the Hawaiians. Devoting his life to help and stand up for the sick people with leprosy in Hawaii, he finally succumbed to the illness himself. Loved and respected by the Hawaiians, his shrine is well visited today, and inspires locals and visitors from around the world.
Alicja Gescinska is a Polish-Belgian philosopher and novelist.
THE DRAMA OF BELGIAN POLITICS TOO MANY PRINCIPLES, TOO LITTLE RESPONSIBILITY
ur society might be better off with politicians who have fewer convictions, less principles and less beliefs.
This might seem a bold, rather counter-intuitive statement. To be a person of principles, to be willing to defend ones beliefs, to have clear convictions about the way we should be heading; these are all characteristics we tend to associate with a noble, praiseworthy, virtuous character. People who lack convictions, beliefs, and principles often lack a moral backbone. So why should such a questionable character trait be what Belgian politicians need? Before I try to answer that question, I need to include a disclaimer: I began writing this piece exactly a year ago. It was three months after the elections, and a federal government was still nowhere in sight. I tried to commit a few ideas to paper â€“ the core of the column you are about to read â€“ about why the government formation in Belgium is such a slow and difficult process.
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Then these ideas ended up in a drawer of my desk, among all those other things to finish. But we are now one year and three months after the elections, a federal government has still not been formed, and after I recently saw a programme on a Polish news station, I thought it would be good to open that drawer again.
After more than a year and three months since Belgian general elections were held, the country is yet to form a federal government.
“Here in Belgium we’re getting used to having to do without a proper federal government, so you could almost forget how unusual that is. In 2010-2011 the formation took 541 days. Now we are getting close to beating that record.”
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“There are those who participate in politics because of their principled convictions. And there are those who do politics out of a sense of responsibility. Weber argues that it is in particular the latter that are conducive to the wellbeing of society.”
An international tragedy The programme is entirely devoted to the world news: the important things that happen beyond
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the Polish borders. It lasts fifteen minutes and regularly consists of three items. The episode I watched dealt with these topics: the protests in Belarus, the aftermath of the terrible explosion in Beirut, and… the ‘headaches of King Philippe of Belgium’. It was quite troubling to see: the episode went straight from the rubbles and ruins of Beirut to the royal castle in Laeken, images of Bart De Wever and Paul Magnette standing next to the king, followed by a live-broadcast from a correspondent in Brussels, as if going from one international tragedy to another. Maybe that is what Belgium has become, maybe that is how the world looks at us: a tragedy on the stage of world politics. To be a news item is rarely a good thing, for the news is dominated by the bigger and smaller disasters of the day. Being an international news item is often a terrible thing.
“We are seriously in need of politicians who are driven by a sense of urgency, a sense of responsibility. That applies to our polarized times in particular, when the political climate is dominated by strong statements, catchy quotes and a proliferation of big promises and exalted principles.”
Here in Belgium we’re getting used to having to do without a proper federal government, so you could almost forget how unusual that is. In 2010-2011 the formation took 541 days. Now we are getting close to beating that record. So perhaps it is good to delve into the question I asked myself a year ago: why is this formation such a painful process, and why could we be better off with fewer principles and convictions in the political arena?
Max Weber’s distinction A possible answer comes from Max Weber, arguably the most important German sociologist of the previous century. In 1919, he wrote a small essay, Politics as a Vocation. In it, Weber analyses the main characteristics of the life of politics, the motivation, mind-set and capabilities that are required to be a good politician. Weber made an important distinction that is as relevant today as it was back then. He claims there are two kinds of politicians, characterized by two opposite mind-sets. There are those who participate in politics because of their principled convictions. And there are those who do politics out of a sense of responsibility. Weber argues that it is in particular the latter that are conducive to the wellbeing of society: politicians driven by a sense of responsibility. It is out of this sense that these politicians are better able at putting their own egos and ideas aside, when the common good and the wellbeing of society are at stake.
Weber is sceptical about politicians who stick to their beliefs, who shout them into the public domain through a megaphone, who expound them with clenched fists, who turn their opinions into sacrosanct dogmas that are non-negotiable and can’t be discussed. They make the essence of politics impossible.
Clenched fists and open hands Politics is all about being able to negotiate, trying to find consensus and reaching compromises. The public debate should be a dialogue, not a duel, in which your speech is not a clenched fist, but an open hand reaching out to the other side. It is not hard to see how Weber might be right: we are seriously in need of politicians who are driven by a sense of urgency, a sense of responsibility. That applies to our polarized times in particular, when the political climate is dominated by strong statements, catchy quotes and a proliferation of big promises and exalted principles.
“In politics, when you don’t want to give an inch, no one will get anywhere. Result: impasse. That is where we are now. That is where we have been for hundreds and hundreds of days.”
Impasse Prior to and following the May 2019 elections, our political parties made numerous bold statements about the people and parties with whom they were certainly not willing to make a government. They were more vocal about what they definitely didn’t want to do, than about what they wanted to do for this country. Almost all the Walloon parties have stated that they are as willing to form a governing coalition with N-VA as a cat is willing to jump into water. The former president of the Flemish socialists declared that Bart De Wever should turn into a
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Belgium’s Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès was appointed to lead a caretaker government in 2019. On 16 March 2020, in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, she was nominated by the King to form a minority government. She was sworn in the day after.
“You can reasonably wonder: if the biggest international health crisis of the post-war era, and its terrible economic and social impact, do not imbue our politicians with a profound sense of responsibility, what will? Is there a wake-up call to which our politicians won’t remain deaf?”
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“What this country needs rather than new elections, or politicians who once again act as the true defenders of the truest of principles, is what any healthy democracy has to rely on: politicians who certainly have ideas and ideals, but whose sense of responsibility is stronger than their belief in the righteousness of their own beliefs. ”
It seems as if each party defends a worldview that is incompatible with another. That is absurd, and it makes formation talks immensely complicated. In politics, when you don’t want to give an inch, no one will get anywhere. Result: impasse. That is where we are now. That is where we have been for hundreds and hundreds of days.
A Wake-Up Call You can reasonably wonder: if the biggest international health crisis of the post-war era, and its terrible economic and social impact, do not imbue our politicians with a profound sense of responsibility, what will? Is there a wake-up call to which our politicians won’t remain deaf? This country is as badly in need of a federal government as California is of rain. People cannot hold the weather gods accountable, but they can hold their politicians to account. If we are heading to new elections, the result might be a devastating blow to the political establishment. Whether this will be to the benefit of the country, and whether it will make the formation of a federal government easier, is far from certain. climate activist, who agrees with the communist manifesto, before SP.A would consider joining N-VA in a federal government. The Greens have been depicted as semi-communists, who would be willing to adopt the most drastic measures and eradicate the most essential freedoms for the sake of the environment and the fight against climate change. And so on and so forth.
What this country needs rather than new elections, or politicians who once again act as the true defenders of the truest of principles, is what any healthy democracy has to rely on: politicians who certainly have ideas and ideals, but whose sense of responsibility is stronger than their belief in the righteousness of their own beliefs.
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THE GREATEST BELGIAN OF ALL TIME HOW A BELGIAN MISSIONARY IN HAWAII BECAME A NATIONAL HERO AND SAINT By Mose Apelblat
Father Damien surrounded by orphan boys who had leprosy, Molokai, March 1889. Credit: Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (SS.CC.), Leuven
e was born as Jozef de Veuster in 1840 in Tremelo, a small village in Flemish Brabant. Better known as Father Damien, he worked as a missionary in Hawaii between 1864 – 1889 during a critical period of its history when it was colonised by the US and its population decimated by infectious diseases.
“For 16 years, Father Damien dedicated his life to the people with leprosy on Molokai, an island in Hawaii, until he succumbed himself to the disease.”
For 16 years, Father Damien dedicated his life to the people with leprosy on Molokai, an island in Hawaii, until he succumbed himself to the dis-
ease. In 2009, he was canonized by the Catholic Church as Saint Damien of Molokai. Father
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“It came as a surprise during the coronavirus crisis when an American politician singled out Father Damien as a symbol of “patriarchy and white supremacist culture.”” Damien has become a legend in both Belgium and Hawaii and achieved the status of national hero in both countries. In 2005, he was chosen by the TV audience of the Flemish broadcasting company as the greatest Belgian of all times (“Grootste Belg”). In a similar poll organised by the French-speaking broadcaster in Wallonia, he came in third place (“Plus grand Belge”). In the US, each state is represented by two statues in the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol building in Washington. The statues depict persons “illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military service, as each State may deem worthy of this national commemoration.” Hawaii chose to send statues of Father Damien, an immigrant and non-native who became one of their own, and King Kamehameha I, the ruthless founder of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810. Both statues were unveiled in the Capitol Rotunda on 15 April 1969. The day is also the day when Father Damien passed away and is celebrated annually in Hawaii as Father Damien Day. To the Hawaiians, he embodies the fundamental values of family and community (ohana), of attention and care for each other (malama pono) and of love and solidarity reaching across borders (aloha).
Recent controversy It came therefore as a surprise during the coronavirus crisis when an American politician, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives – singled out Father Damien as a symbol of “patriarchy and white supremacist culture.” Or maybe it was not a surprise considering the demands to tear down or remove statues of American-Confederate generals, European slave traders and King Leopold II who colonised Congo.
View of peninsula Kalaupapa, Molokai. Credit: SS.CC., Leuven
“Even when we select figures to tell the stories of colonized places, it is the colonizers and settlers whose stories are told – and virtually no one else,” she wrote on Twitter, besides a photo of Father Damien. “This is what patriarchy and white supremacy culture looks like! It’s not radical or crazy to understand the influence white supremacist culture has historically had in our overall culture and how it impacts the present day.” Her remarks sparked an uproar, and, facing worldwide criticism, she was forced to retract. “At no point did I say Fr. Damien was a bad figure. It’s about the fact that a huge supermajority of statues in the Capitol are white men. Barely any women or BIPOC (black, Indigenous and People of Colour).” “It was quite common in the 19th century to become a missionary,” explains Ruben Boon, director of Project Damiaan Vandaag in Leuven, a project run by the same Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, which Father Damien had joined. The Congregation works closely with the Father Damien Museum in Tremelo to keep the legacy of Father Damien alive. ”Father Damien was definitely not the only missionary who left his motherland at a young age. There were many male and female missionaries who did the same thing but are much less known. The missionary movement from Belgium was actually very common in the 19th century and also continued strongly in the first half of the 20th century,” says Boon.
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“He shared his life with incurably sick people and gave his life for them. He took care of their physical, psychological and spiritual needs, organised their social life and became their voice to the outside world.”
Father Damien: a short biography and historical background Belgium had only existed as an independent country for less than ten years when Jozef – the future Father Damien – was born on 3 January 1840 in Tremelo, a village 17 km north of Leuven. His life can be divided into three distinct periods: his childhood and upbringing in Belgium and his joining a religious congregation (1840 – 1864), his first years as an ordinary missionary in Hawaii (1864 – 1873) and his work as a priest-social activist until his death at the leprosy settlement in the island Molokai (1873 – 1889). It was a turbulent period, politically, socially, and economically, with new technological inventions. In Belgium, the Catholic church took advantage of the freedom of education, association and press to expand its influence over society. Many new religious congregations were founded, just as in France and other countries in Western Europe.
Father Damien in Paris before his departure to Hawaii, October, 1863. Credit: SS.CC., Leuven
One of them was the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, which opened its first house outside France in Leuven in 1840, the birth year of Jozef. At that time, choosing a religious calling meant becoming “born again” and receiving a new name and even identity. These religious organisations did not stay confined in monasteries but worked hard in the local community to provide education, health care, and assistance to the poor – social services that are taken for granted in modern welfare states. Jozef grew up in the Flemish part of the country, speaking Dutch. He attended secondary school in the Walloon part of the country, being taught in French. His parents were farmers and traders, religious, enterprising and progressive. He was the youngest of three brothers and four sisters in a Catholic family. His parents hoped that he would take over the farm while other siblings would choose a religious profession. But at the age of 19, he was convinced by his brother to enter the same congregation as he had done, the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. By doing so, Jozef also changed his name to
Father Damien’s parental home in Tremelo. Credit: SS.CC., Leuven
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Damien and studied to become a priest at the congregation’s headquarters in Paris. He dreamt about missions far away but it was a pure coincidence that he went to Hawaii. His brother had been chosen to go to Hawaii as a missionary but he fell ill and Damien took his place though he had not yet been ordained as a priest. From Europe, Catholic and Protestant missionaries travelled to all the continents as messengers of the faith, to spread the Christian religion and bring “Western civilisation” to other parts of the world. Missionaries of different confessions competed for saving the souls of unbelievers. In fact, the missionary movement played a significant role in Belgium and it is estimated that 10% of all Catholic missionaries around the world were Belgian. When Father Damien arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in March 1864, he was introduced to a vibrant and multicultural society – a product of the fast-paced nineteenth century, with all its changes. At the beginning of the century, King Kamehameha I had unified the Hawaiian Islands into one kingdom. The US, Great Britain and France tried to strengthen their hold on the islands. A white minority of missionaries and businessmen, descendants of the first Protestant missionaries who had arrived from the US in 1820, dominated the native Hawaiian people. Western worldviews, capital and products influenced the Hawaiians and replaced the Hawaiian culture.
Because of their isolation, the Hawaiians lacked immunity to these and other infectious diseases like measles and smallpox. Hit by waves of epidemics, the Hawaiian population was drastically reduced during the nineteenth century and almost wiped out. Even the royal couple Kamehameha II and his queen Kamamalu, who visited London in 1824, were infected with measles and died there. In his letters home, Father Damien was aware that the Hawaiian population was being decimated by diseases. When he worked as a missionary in the Hawaiian Islands, the spread of leprosy claimed many Hawaiian victims. The local government reacted with a policy of isolation and confinement in an attempt to halt the epidemic. Since the beginning of 1865, a Hawaiian law stipulated that all persons infected with leprosy had to be deported to two settlements, Kalawao and Kalaupapa, at the northern end of the peninsula of the island of Molokai, which functioned as a natural prison. According to Anwei Law, a Hawaiian author who has studied the history of Molokai, an estimated population of 8,000 inhabited the leprosy settlements between 1866 and 1969. At least 90% of them were native Hawaiians. Father Damien wrote in his letters that there were 700-800 people with leprosy during his first years there and that he buried 190 – 200 every year.
The missionaries revealed themselves to be either accomplices of the foreign powers or activists for the Hawaiian people. According to Hawaiian history professor Jonathan Osorio, a class of “haole” (non-native or white) businessmen, which made up a small minority of the population, dominated the government in the 1880s.
In 1873, the year Father Damien volunteered to share his life with the deported Hawaiians, the Norwegian doctor Gerhard Hansen discovered the leprosy bacillus. But for the remainder of the nineteenth century, scientists were unable to find a cure, and it would take several decades until antibiotics were found that would eradicate leprosy from the world. With early diagnosis and treatment, the disease can be cured today.
In fact, Hawaii’s encounter with the outside world started with British explorer James Cook’s landfall in 1778. As happened centuries earlier when the Spanish colonised America and brought diseases which would decimate the local population, the same happened in Hawaii. Cook’s crew introduced sexually transmitted diseases.
During his lifetime, Damien continued to work hard to improve the living conditions and quality of life of the leprosy patients. He received support and sympathy from the Hawaiian authorities, the royal family and the outside world, but met also opposition, slander and envy from within the Church and its hierarchy.
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Father Damien with a choir, Molokai 1878. Credit: SS.CC., Leuven
“He dreamt about missions far away but it was a pure coincidence that he went to Hawaii. His brother had been chosen to go to Hawaii as a missionary but he fell ill and Damien took his place.” How can we understand Father Damien’s motives and beliefs from his diaries or letters? “Father Damien’s motives and beliefs were very clear,” Boon replies. “In his farewell letter to his parents and family, when he left Europe for Hawaii, he stated that he went there to spread the gospel and convert the people.” He was not unaffected by European cultural prejudices and believed in Christianity, especially Catholicism, as the only way to redemption.
Not a typical missionary But Damien became far more than a converter. After his arrival in Hawaii, he studied hard to learn the Hawaiian languages and to become a priest. He arrived in March 1864 in Honolulu after a boat trip of five months. By May 1864, he was already ordained as priest. Shortly thereafter,
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he was sent as a missionary to the biggest island of the Hawaiian archipelago. He did there what every “classical” missionary did in those times: baptizing people, teaching religion, celebrating mass, organizing processions, visiting the sick, spreading the gospel and converting people. As a very practical person, using his skills from his farm life in Belgium, he even built churches and chapels. “Damien was a special person and built up a strong and affectionate relationship with the Hawaiians despite the prevailing colonial mindset. He spoke with the Hawaiian people in their own language, visited them in their homes and stayed with them for dinner. He was there for them when they needed him and cared for them. He started to love the Hawaiian people, and they felt the same way about him,” says Boon. This might explain his own transformation from a typical missionary to a social worker and activist. He reacted against the ruling that every person who was infected with leprosy should be turned in and sent away to a natural prison on the island Molokai. Hawaiian families were torn apart by this ruling. The act was against Hawaiian cultural values that prescribe society to take good care of sick people and not to send them away. “Father Damien saw the pain and suffering of these families and became another person and another kind of missionary,“ Boon says. “He wasn’t any longer a converter of souls in the
“On the one hand, missionaries tried to protect and help the native population, on the other hand they were also part of colonialism.”
first place. He became a religiously inspired activist defending the cause of the Hawaiian people. He chose their side against the warnings of his superiors and volunteered to assist the sick people in the leprosy colony of Molokai.” In fact, he had committed himself to do whatever it takes to help people in need already when he took his religious vows. “In Molokai, he shared his life with incurably sick people and gave his life for them. He took care of their physical, psychological and spiritual needs, organised their social life and became their voice to the outside world.” Against all odds, Father Damien tried to build a miniature model community in which every person was respected and taken care of, as part of one family or ohana (Hawaiian for family). Most of the time there was no resident physician or nurse in the colony. Eager to find a cure for leprosy, Father Damien corresponded with physicians abroad and experimented with medicines. Because of his differences of opinion with his hierarchy, he was often accused by them of disobedience, but Ruben Boon thinks that this is a misunderstanding, which has been refuted by research. “It’s true that Damien was strong-tempered, and it wasn’t always easy to get along with him. But everybody who knew him better, admitted that he had a good heart and that he was ready to apologize. He wasn’t at all a quarrelsome person and had good relations with his first bishops and superiors.”
“The missionary movement played a significant role in Belgium, and it is estimated that 10% of all Catholic missionaries around the world were Belgian.”
Father Damien, Molokai 1889. Credit: SS.CC., Leuven
But the hierarchy did not understand the very special conditions in Molokai and might have envied him. In 1881, Father Damien was appointed to Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Kalākaua by Princess Lili’uokalani, the future queen of Hawaii. The international attention he received for his work in the leprosy settlement would overshadow the rest of the mission in Hawaii.
Legacy Father Damien was proposed for beatification following his death. But it would take until 1995 and then to 2009 until he was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI. King Albert II of Belgium was present with Queen Paola at the ceremony to mark his canonisation. While no miracles are linked to him, his whole life was considered a miracle. “It is difficult to say why it took so long,” Boon says. “He was a kind of a rebel who had clashed with his superiors in Hawaii and in Europe and that might be an explanation.” But in Belgium, Father Damian was admired both during his lifetime and even more after his death in 1889. “The first statue of him was raised in Leuven in 1894,” explains history professor Idesbald Goddeeris at KU Leuven. “When his bodily remains were brought back to Belgium in 1936, they were received by the Belgian king. After a journey around the country, the remains were
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Father Damien Statue in front of the Hawaii State Capitol. Credit: Daniel Ramirez
“Damien was not a white ruler. He spoke the language of the Hawaiians. He deliberately chose their side against the white rule. He eventually gave his life for them. In that sense – even for the Hawaiians themselves – he is much more Hawaiian than Belgian, white or whatever.” laid to rest in Saint Anthonus’ Chapel in Leuven. On the centenary of his voyage to Hawaii, a new statue was erected in Tremolo in 1963.” Currently, Flanders has more than ten outdoor statues, certainly six indoor statues (mostly in churches) and at least 28 streets or squares named after Father Damien or Jozef De Veuster, he adds.
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Professor Goddeeris teaches colonial history and has studied postcolonial debates in Belgium and the memory of missionaries. “Every Belgian knows about Father Damien from early school years. He is looked upon as an inspiration for all and has become an important figure in Belgium, even in Wallonia, which is less Catholic than Flanders.”
“Every Belgian knows about Father Damien from early school years. He is looked upon as an inspiration for all and has become an important figure in Belgium, even in Wallonia, which is less Catholic than Flanders.” But in the case of Hawaii, the European missionaries there were not sent by European colonial powers to promote their interests. It was the American missionaries and their descendants who played a double role, overthrew the Kingdom of Hawaii by the threat of force in 1893 and paved the way for the US annexation of Hawaii. Hawaii became an American territory, or colony, with a small minority of native Hawaiians who had survived the diseases that foreigners had brought to the islands. Its status changed in 1959 when it became a state. The memory of the suppression of Hawaiian culture and the illegal annexation of Hawaii is still a painful memory that was recognized by the US congress in 1993 in the Apology Resolution. In the non-binding resolution, the Congress conceded that “the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii occurred with the active participation of agents and citizens of the US… The Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished to the US their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people over their national lands, either through the Kingdom of Hawaii or through a plebiscite or referendum.” “Father Damien is regularly commemorated, not only in religious ceremonies but also in a secularized way, because his life transcends national and religious boundaries and everyone can identify themselves with him,” he adds. In the 60s, in the wake of decolonisation, a medical charity NGO (Damien Action) was formed in his memory. Both Ruben Boon and Idesbald Goddeeris admit that the colonial context in the 19th century should be taken into account and that colonialism and the missionary movement are interlinked. On the one hand, missionaries tried to protect and help the native population, on the other hand they were also part of colonialism.
What about the remarks of Ocasio-Cortez? “She has a point that there are many white men among those statues in Washington,” admitted Ruben Boon. “And Damien was undeniably a white man. But the choice of Damien as an example of white male supremacy weakened her own argument.” “Damien was not a white ruler. He spoke the language of the Hawaiians. He deliberately chose their side against the white rule. He eventually gave his life for them. In that sense – even for the Hawaiians themselves – he is much more Hawaiian than Belgian, white or whatever.” Inspired by his Christian faith, Father Damien was a human rights defender in a colonial world when this concept did not exist.
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At age 6 Claire fell from her bicycle. This resulted in brain damage that in turn caused epilepsy and spastic quadriplegia. At the age of 12, Claire was involved in a car crash, a second calamity that caused her great trauma. She was ejected from the backseat and the car landed on her back. It left her scarred for life. She had not seen her back until she asked me to photograph it.
‘I’M NOT MY BODY’ A STORY ABOUT EUTHANASIA
Text and photos by Michel Petillo
he word euthanasia stems from ancient Greek meaning “good death”. The first usage of the term is attributed to historian Suetonius, who described how Emperor Augustus, who “died quickly and without suffering in the arms of
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his wife, Livia, experienced the ‘euthanasia’ he had wished for.” In the 17th century, philosopher Francis Bacon saw euthanasia as an “easy, painless death, whereby it is the physician’s responsibility to alleviate the ‘physical sufferings’ of the body. An act of compassion, if you will?” In 2002, Belgium became the second country in the world, after the Netherlands, to legalise euthanasia, also known as “physician-assisted dying”. Only a handful of other countries such as Luxemburg, South Korea, and Canada have since then also decriminalised active euthanasia under certain conditions. Passive euthanasia, on the other hand, is considered a somewhat more tolerated practice in more countries, such as the UK, India and Sweden. This form of euthanasia is brought about by an omission or withdrawal of treatment necessary to keep the patient alive. Whether it is active or passive, the topic of euthanasia in Belgium remains widely debated and controversial ever since it was legalised.
The path to euthanasia The underlying legal conditions for active euthanasia in Belgium stipulate that there must be – as a result of a serious or incurable medical condition or accident – persistent, unbearable physical or psychological suffering with no hope of improvement. The request for euthanasia must be made in writing repeatedly (at least twice), be voluntary and well-considered and free from any external pressure. Finally, euthanasia may only be performed by a physician and the applicant must be of legal age and compos mentis (having control of one’s mind). In other words, the applicant must be well aware of his or her situation, the remaining treatment options and prognosis. A physician will evaluate the applicant’s medical outlook in terms of prognosis and chance for improvement. The degree of unbearable suffering and despair, and the
“In 2002, Belgium became the second country in the world, after the Netherlands, to legalise euthanasia.”
The pain scale is a clinically validated pain-measuring device to capture the pain experienced. Claire has a constant pain in her right foot (3-5 on a scale of 10) and very frequently this will increase to an unbearable 8.3. At that point her only recourse is morphine-based medication.
Since Claire suffers from reduced mobility, she is entitled to a guide dog. His name is Yeuze (pronounced: Youse). He is retired now due to old age.
This is one postcard (address has been blurred for privacy reasons) of a larger series posted world-wide to capture people's perception when confronted with Claire's struggle. On the front of each postcard there is a picture of Claire. THE BRUSSELS TIMES MAGAZINE
Claire enjoys swimming as it eases the pain. However, going in and out of the pool requires a tremendous effort and resistance to pain, to the point that she needs the assistance of social workers.
“Last year, the Belgian Euthanasia Commission recorded 2,655 cases, representing a 12.6% increase from 2018.”
patients, as is the case for example in the context of an incurable mental illness which causes unbearable suffering, a third physician such as a LEIF doctor, a psychiatrist or another medical specialist must also be consulted. Following that, a waiting period of one month goes into effect between the final written request for euthanasia and the lethal injection.
wish to end one’s life resides with the applicant. However, he or she must convince the physician of the direness of the situation and the wish for euthanasia.
Dr. Michel Roland, euthanasia physician (LEIF) in Brussels and member of the Association Pour le Droit de Mourir Dans la Dignité (association for the right to die with dignity), explains how euthanasia has changed over the last 40 years from a clandestine, but humane way of ending one’s life, to a legal framework which offers the possibility of a dignified farewell in all openness and without legal repercussions for the attending physician or the family of the patient.
In a second step, the attending physician must consult a colleague (a “LEIF doctor”) who will also speak with the applicant. A LEIF doctor is a trained physician specialised in all aspects related to euthanasia and palliative care in Belgium. However, the applicant and attending physician are under no obligation to follow the conclusions of the LEIF doctor. For example, if the consulted physician believes that there are still other options such as palliative care, the applicant may reject this assessment and still apply for euthanasia. It is within the attending physician’s remit to comply with the applicant’s request. In case of euthanasia requests by non-terminally ill
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Last year, the Belgian Euthanasia Commission recorded 2,655 cases, representing a 12.6% increase from 2018. According to the commission, this increase appears mostly related to cancer patients and could be explained by the fact that physicians are more willing to talk about euthanasia in this context. Statistics show that most euthanasia patients are between the ages of 60 to 89. 1.5% are younger than 40. The majority of euthanasia requests are made by terminally ill patients. About 44% of all euthanasia cases were performed at home, 40 % in a medical facility, and 16% were done in care and nursing homes.
Claire’s story And then there is the case of Claire. I met Claire, then 33 years old, in the summer of 2016. Claire a wheelchair-bound woman, suffering from a constant, severely debilitating pain in her right foot, epilepsy and spastic quadriplegia – a form of spastic cerebral palsy. Since the age of six, her life has been marked by a series of almost fatal accidents, invasive operations, strong painkillers and ultimately a wish to end her life. A simple fall from her bicycle at age six and a severe car accident several years later determined how the rest of her life would unfold, ultimately leading to a wish to end it. Nevertheless, she remains hopeful, owns an apartment, hosts refugees, travels the globe, and is a theatre performer. Ever since the pain in her foot began in 2012, she has been seeking a diagnosis and an effective treatment, as medical specialists could not find anything physically wrong. They attributed the pain to past trauma and referred her to mental health care as a last resort.
“Claire appears to have decided to take the last and final step. She does not see herself reaching forty. For her, euthanasia is the right to decide whether she lives or dies.” In January 2017, Claire was ready to throw in the towel, but one physician took up her case once more. He anesthetised locally the main nerve in her leg to see whether the pain was “real”. The intervention revealed that the pain might be the result of nerve damage, most likely due to the invasive operations to treat her spastic quadriplegia following the bicycle accident back when she was still a little girl. This discovery cleared the way for a spinal neurostimulator implant with a price tag of 20,000 euro, in the au-
Every day is a struggle: fighting the pain, getting from one point to another, taking her pain medication is exhausting.
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Regardless of her condition and her wish for euthanasia, Claire continues to embrace life to its fullest. Here, Claire is travelling on her own to Marrakech.
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The butterfly symbolises transformation: reaching the next level of existence, even beyond the realm of the living. Claire is very much a freethinker, not afraid to ask herself the difficult questions of life.
tumn of 2017. Initially, the procedure appeared to be a success, but a few weeks later, the pain reoccurred. Last year, Claire committed herself to rehab to treat the morphine addiction. Years of using morphine-based painkillers to ease the pain was taking its toll in terms of her overall health and their analgesic effect. Beginning this year, Claire started to suffer from additional physical complications. Following a serious bacterial infection, the subdermal neurostimulator and the surrounding necrotic tissue had to be surgically removed. Since then, the pain in her foot has returned in full force. Prior to this operation, Claire officially renewed her wish for euthanasia (DĂŠclaration anticipĂŠe relative Ă l'euthanasie / Formulier van wilsverklaring inzake euthanasie) by filling out the legally required documents; the first step towards euthanasia. Claire drew up her last will and is committed to finalising her memoirs. During my most recent
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interview with her this August, she told me that she holds on to life until this photo documentary book which we both started four years ago is completed and published. Claire appears to have decided to take the last and final step. She does not see herself reaching forty. For her, euthanasia is the right to decide whether she lives or dies. It must be by all means a conscious choice. A decision which is not biased by some form of depression, and only performed after all possible options to alleviate her suffering have been explored. She does not believe there is anything noble through endless suffering. Within the same sentence, she tells me that it will be an inherently selfish act, very painful for her family, as they will lose a child, a sister, and an aunt. As she puts it, there is not even a word such as orphan or widow to denote the loss of a child. Nevertheless, she still considers it her life, her suffering, her decision, and her release. This photo documentary, a portrait of Claire C,
sheds a light on living with impairment and pain. It is also a testament to freedom and the courage to find a solution regardless of the moral indictments.
nasia; conveying a message of hope instead of despair. In Claire’s words, this entire journey is “an act of liberation”.
It sets out to document that euthanasia, contrary to suicide, is not triggered by a severe depressive state. It is a conscious decision and a deeply human journey, on which the dichotomy of right and wrong must make way for compassion and hope.
Michel Petillo is a Brussels-based freelance fine art photographer and photojournalist. His work can be best described as driven by close personal contact, and socially relevant themes. Besides a photographer, Michel is also a practicing psychologist.
The photos and the settings in which they are taken, are at times confrontational, private and delicate; inviting Claire to revisit an old trauma, challenging her beliefs about love, life and death, and redefining her relationship with her parents and friends.
The aim of this documentary is to turn it into a book together with Claire’s memoires in order to reach a wider audience. Funds and a publishing house are currently being sought to materialise the project.
As a photographer and psychologist, it has been not always possible to merely observe from the sideline. Ultimately, and ideally, this body of work will contribute to the discussion on eutha-
Instagram: michel_petillo Facebook: Michel Petillo Photography Website: www.michelpetillo.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Suffering from severe pain yet holding on to life is considered by some as fulfilling God’s will, and praised as a strength of character. Claire does not share this belief. She rejects this kind of reasoning by those in a privileged position who enjoy full health, while blinded by religious dogma. She is no hero and does not want to be considered one.
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Getting around by public transport is quite an undertaking, especially when facilities are not geared towards people with reduced mobility.
It shows another level of dependence that overcomplicates the logistics of daily life in a city.
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Claire getting ready for her theatre performance.
“A simple fall from her bicycle at age six and a severe car accident several years later determined how the rest of her life would unfold, ultimately leading to a wish to end it.” Claire performing with her theatre group. The play is called “The Great Sextacle” and its central theme is about sexual diversity, gender equality and the demystification of sex in general. Impaired people are often viewed as asexual. Although this is far from the truth, finding a partner is no easy feat. In Belgium, impaired people have access to specialised professional sexual services.
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Claire no longer identifies with her body. I believe she has reached a level of abstraction that actually helps her deal with the future prospect of shedding her impaired body.
â€œLast year, Claire committed herself to rehab to treat the morphine addiction. Years of using morphine-based painkillers to ease the pain was taking its toll.â€?
The little square box and thin metal wires were Claire's new hope to achieve permanent pain relief and to end her morphine-based medication.
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Ever since the pain started in 2012, she has been seeking a diagnosis and an effective treatment. In 2017, one physician took up her case again. His intervention revealed the pain to be the result of nerve
damage and thus real, most likely due to the invasive operations to treat the spastic quadriplegia (aiming to straightening the legs and feet from a cramped position to a straight one).
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Her surgeon getting ready to implant the neurostimulator and spinal electrodes.
Claire was fully conscious during the intervention as the effect had to be tested for maximum efficiency.
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Initially, the operation was a success. A few weeks later however, the pain returned. This year, during the corona outbreak, Claire needed emergency surgery to remove the subdermal implant. It had caused a severe bacterial infection. The pain is now back in full force.
Last year Claire renewed her request for euthanasia and her wish for euthanasia has taken a new and more definitive turn.
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Concentrations of the deadly exhaust pollutants NO and NO2 reportedly fell by 75% and 50% respectively on busy roads during the lockdown period, and by 30-40% on less busy streets. Credit: Jules Johnston
HOW COVID CHANGED BRUSSELS By Gareth Harding
emember those sunny days in spring when the roar of cars, the rev of motorbikes and the rumble of planes suddenly stopped; when we opened our windows at eight o’clock to clap, bang pots and scream support for health workers; when corner stores became our supermarkets and empty highways our impromptu cycle paths; and when we may not have learned to bake sourdough bread or write that long-planned novel, but we did learn to stockpile pasta and toilet paper? For some in Brussels, the lockdown that started in March and started easing in May was a period of urban bliss. “I feel guilty saying this because it was such a terrible time for so many people, but I loved confinement,” says Alison Abrahams, who has lived in the city for over a decade. “Things slowed down, it was quiet and there was a real sense of community. It was like a lesson in how we could live.” Of course, as Abrahams is quick to point out, Covid has been a disaster for Brussels and Belgium. There have been 85,000 confirmed cases in the country so far, and almost 10,000 people have died – one of the highest per capita rates
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“Almost overnight, bike lanes sprouted up like mushrooms after the rain, with an extra 30 kilometres of dedicated cycle paths marked out since lockdown and another 10 kilometres set to be finished by the end of September.”
in the world. Many people, especially women, have suffered abuse and psychological trauma. More than one in four workers have been put on temporary unemployment. GDP is expected to shrink by 8% this year. And many companies have shut up shop. “I feel very sad because a lot of great institutions – like the Metropole Hotel – are closed or bankrupt,” says Brussels native Isabelle Léonard, adding: “businesses are terrified.” But the dark cloud of the pandemic has some
silver linings. “Covid has changed everything – the way we act, the way we move, the way we talk to each other,” says Elke Van den Brandt, the minister for mobility, public works and road safety for the Brussels Region. “It will have a deep impact for many years.” From more bike lanes to greater space for pedestrians, many of these changes have been positive, and some may even become permanent. Let’s look at a few.
More space to cyclists, pedestrians and shoppers When confinement was imposed on 19 March, the immediate priority of Brussels authorities was to encourage social distancing by giving more space to cyclists, pedestrians and shoppers. So the region, along with many of the 19 local municipalities in the capital, started the frantic construction of dedicated bike lanes in the capital – infrastructure that has been increasing in recent years but still lags behind cities in Flanders, the Netherlands, Denmark and elsewhere. “We had to act urgently and even if the measures were temporary, we know what we did during Covid are things we need on a permanent basis,” says Van den Brandt, arguing that the mobility measures taken are all in keeping with Brussels’ new regional transport plan, known as Good Move. Almost overnight, bike lanes sprouted up like mushrooms after the rain, with an extra 30 kilometres of dedicated cycle paths marked out since lockdown and another 10 kilometres set to be finished by the end of September. Even Rue de la Loi, one of Brussels’ most congested streets that snakes past the Belgian parliament and the European Commission headquarters, got the bike lane treatment in May – much to the exasperation of right-wing separatist politician Theo Franken, who fumed that the measure would lead to the break-up of Belgium. “It’s normal when you change things that you have a reaction – especially when you change things fast, as we did,” shrugs Van den Brandt. Dedicated bike lanes and fewer cars on the road has led to an explosion in bike use – up 44% on the previous year in early September. “Fewer cars on the road makes cycling much more pleasant – especially for older people and families with kids,” says Alison Abrahams. “With the infrastructure there, you feel safer cycling around.” The dramatic reduction in car use – down 95% in the first three weeks of lockdown – also led to a
“Covid has changed everything – the way we act, the way we move, the way we talk to each other.”
dramatic improvement in air quality. According to a study by Brussels Environment, concentrations of deadly exhaust pollutants NO and NO2 fell by 75% and 50% respectively on busy roads during the lockdown period, and by 30-40% on less busy streets. “Space used by cars is space not used by people,” says Van den Brandt. “And when Covid started, we could see how cars were taking almost all the space.” To provide more room for people to walk and gather in the neighbourhoods they were stuck in, the Brussels regional government helped create 100km of slow streets – where pedestrians have the right right to use the entire road not just the pavement, and where car speeds are limited to 20 km/h.
The ‘Battle for the Bois’ One of the most contentious decisions taken by authorities was to shut the roads slaloming through the Bois de la Cambre – the park and woods that serve as the green lungs of Brussels. Usually only partially shut on weekends, the closing of the Bois to cars during lockdown delighted local residents like Shada Islam. “We were all looking for peace in uncertain times and knowing the air was clean there gave me a sense of safety and certainty. To feel the quietness and stillness was magical.” However, the measure has infuriated some commuters, who say banning cars from the Bois increases journey times, creates congestion and diverts traffic through quiet streets. The council of Uccle, one of the city’s wealthiest municipalities, is so incensed by the plan that it is looking at legal action to stop it. A compromise, introduced since the end of lockdown, is to keep the southern part around the lake car-free, but to reopen the northern chunk to traffic. But campaigners and local residents like Islam still hope the Bois de la Cambre will revert to its lockdown state when a permanent decision is taken later in the autumn. “It would be amazing for quality of life and peace of mind if it remained closed to traffic,” she says.
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The ‘Battle for the Bois’ pits urban versus suburbanites, car-drivers versus cyclists and those who believe Brussels city-dwellers have an inviolable right to safe streets and clean air against those who believe everyone has an inviolable right to plough into the capital every day in their cars. Van den Brandt’s spokesperson, Marie Thibaut de Maisières, is clear which side she’s on. “The 80s model of development where everyone jumps in their cars is terrible for health, terrible for air quality, terrible for traffic jams and terrible for local life in cities.” Noting that public transport has been one of the ‘big losers” from the lockdown as people sought to social distance, Professor Imre Keserü from the MOBI Research Centre at VUB University in Brussels says: “The big danger is that people will return to their cars and those who used to take public transport will start driving instead.” With 300,000 people and 200,000 cars entering Brussels every day from surrounding regions, teleworking could significantly reduce congestion and improve air quality in the capital, he argues.
“Things slowed down, it was quiet and there was a real sense of community. It was like a lesson in how we could live.”
Since lockdown, I’ve felt a stronger bond with Brussels – a city whose hidden secrets never cease to amaze, even after all this time. “You don’t need your car to drive 10 minutes to a bakery on the other side of the city when there’s a good local one within 10 minutes-walk from you,” says Thibaut de Maisières. She’s right. If we free ourselves from the tyranny of the weekly supermarket run – easier with more flexible working times – we can find most of what we need in our neighbourhoods. And we can support local shops that desperately need our business in tough times, while living a healthier lifestyle that is less reliant on polluting cars.
The second change Covid brought to Brussels is it forced us to get to know our own neighbourhoods.
The third change Covid has brought is the way we view our neighbours and interact with our fellow ‘Brusselaars’.
I have lived in what one friend jokingly described as “the shabby part of Uccle” for over 15 years. I thought I knew my neck of the woods. How wrong I was.
“The biggest thing that changed for me is that my street became a community, whereas before it was just houses next to each other,” says Alison Abrahams. “Everyone’s got to know each other, and now I can’t walk down the street without spending 10 minutes talking to neighbours.” Shada Islam adds: “There’s been a sense of solidarity in my neighbourhood. People look out for each other.”
As I started walking around my neighbourhood I discovered an area of barley fields, cow pastures and abandoned mills within Brussels’ city limits – it’s between the Verrewinkel woods and Hoboken train station if you’re interested. I discovered two parks within a 10-minute walk from my house – Kauwberg and Engelberg – that have only recently been saved from developers and are now delightful places for families to picnic, teenagers to smoke weed, and middle-aged men in lycra to bomb around on their mountain bikes. And further afield, but still within walking distance, I found the forest of Schaveyshoeve – which is visited by fewer people than can pronounce it properly.
Bonding with the city Before lockdown, I’m ashamed to admit I spent longer getting to know islands off the coast of Cambodia or national parks in the west coast of America than I did getting to know the streets bordering my house. And it was partly because of this restless zipping around that I felt alienated from the city I’ve called home for 27 years.
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However, Ixelles resident Isabelle Leonard disagrees, arguing that Covid has left a hole in the heart of a city known for its casual conviviality. “I really miss the social side of the city and because of Covid and the masks, the social barriers are stronger. It feels less warm and people are more lonely and individualistic. There’s a void.” The effect of the pandemic has also been felt unequally in Brussels, where infection rates have been two or three times higher in poorer, cramped neighbourhoods than in richer, greener ones. “Lockdown here was hell,” Molenbeek mayor Catherine Moureaux told Politico Europe. “A lot of big families live in very small houses. They rely on public spaces to go outdoors, which wasn’t possible anymore.” From the start of the lockdown, local authorities in Brussels were particularly worried that Covid would widen this divide, says Minister Van den
The lockdown saw many kilometres of new bike lanes laid out in the capital. In addition, new so-called “slowstreets” were created, with car speed limits at 20 km/h, and where pedestrians can use the entire road and not only the pavement.
“We had to act urgently and even if the measures were temporary, we know what we did during Covid are things we need on a permanent basis.”
optimistic for the future. “Political support will help the measures stay in place. Of course, there’ll be people who oppose them, but I don’t think we’ll see all the improvements go back to the previous state.”
Brandt: “We had to make sure everyone could get out and go out in a safe way. This is not just about mobility but about creating a city that is social and warm.”
This is already starting to happen. Car traffic, air and noise pollution and out-of-town shopping are on the rise again. The eight o’clock clapping has long withered out. And the kids’ posters thanking essential workers for their heroism have been taken down from apartment windows.
As a result, the regional government funded 56 projects – ranging from a beach in Porte de Hal to installing street furniture in Molenbeek. When cafes and restaurants opened up again in late May and June, authorities also allowed owners to create makeshift terraces spilling out onto parking spaces. The city has since become flooded with furniture made from old wooden pallets. As schools reopen and people start jumping in their cars and trickling back to their offices, the big question is whether the changes made in Brussels since March will prove temporary or permanent? Describing the initiatives taken in Brussels as “forward-looking,” VUB’s Imre Keserü says he’s
Longtime Brussels resident Shada Islam is more pessimistic. “It would be nice to hold on to the habits developed during lockdown, but I’m not sure they’re going to last,” she says, adding: “I fear we’re going to snap back to the old way of doing things.”
But Brussels is unlikely to be the same city again. The Atomium and Eiffel Tower show that temporary constructs can become permanent fixtures – so expect those hastily-painted bike lanes to stay. Connections with local neighbourhoods – and neighbours – may loosen, but they can’t be undone. And while Belgium’s powerful car lobby may rail against the changes happening in the nation’s capital – from pedestrianising the city centre to closing the Bois de la Cambre – they don’t appear to be winning many battles in a city which increasingly cycles clean and votes green.
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NO MAN’S LAND BELGIUM’S RED LIGHT DISTRICTS By Maïthé Chini
ust like everything else in Belgium, prostitution is a complicated topic. With different rules in different parts of the country, and no clear message on what is and what isn’t allowed, a lot of different people have a lot of say on it. The biggest issue, however, is that most of them don’t really want to.
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Despite sex work being the oldest job in the world, the lack of official statute makes it difficult for the estimated 28,000 sex workers in Belgium to do their job without getting in legal trouble. First, the official rules. Sex work in itself is legal. Neither the sex worker nor the client can be prosecuted. However, all third parties are committing a crime when they get involved.
“Sex work in itself is legal in Belgium. Neither the sex worker nor the client can be prosecuted. However, all third parties are committing a crime when they get involved.”
“Of course, the aim of this law is mostly to impact pimps. However, the law also affects anyone who might provide services to sex workers, such as lawyers or bookkeepers,” Daan Bauwens, a spokesperson for a union of sex workers in Belgium, UTSOPI, tells The Brussels Times. “Anyone who receives money that is earned through sex work, could in theory be punished by law.” However, as that is not workable, Belgium has a tolerance policy. “The policy is mostly aimed at people who rent property to sex workers, and websites hosting sex worker ads.” The Belgian prostitution law, which dates from the 1950s, is at its core an abolitionist one, aiming to eradicate sex work in the country, according to UTSOPI. “If you do not allow support for the job of a sex worker, like a bookkeeper for example, then you are making sure that the work is de facto not recognised as an actual job. But eradicating prostitution has not worked anywhere, so why would it work in Belgium,” Bauwens questions.
Legal no man’s land To complicate matters even further, the tolerance policy is not a matter of federal law, or even a regional one: it is implemented by the municipalities, meaning that different rules apply in different cities, and sometimes even in neighbouring municipalities within a city. One of the main reasons why the regulation concerning sex work have major flaws is because no one wants to deal with the subject, according to Bauwens. Legally, sex work is in no man’s land, as while it is not forbidden by law, it is not entirely legal either, and regulations depend on the region, but also on the municipality in which it is practised. The red light district in Ghent, for example, officially only has ‘bar personnel’ working, to make sure that undocumented people cannot end up behind the windows. The ‘Schipperskwartier’ in
Antwerp is so well known for sex work, that the city’s tourist website even advertises the streets on which their ‘ladies of the night’ work. In Brussels, it all depends on the commune. In Schaerbeek, sex work is entirely tolerated. In Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, however, a policy was initially created to get rid of all sex workers, which resulted in situations where the rules on one side of the street differed from those on the other side. “We have had so many problems in Saint-Josse,” Bauwens says. “Initially, regulations had been agreed upon between the police, the municipality and the sex workers, but they have been blown up by [mayor] Emir Kir several times.” However, even though the coronavirus pandemic in Belgium underlined the need for a legal interpretation and basis to fall back on in times of need, it also resulted in better communication between Brussels’ sex workers and the municipalities. “In Saint-Josse, for example, the communication between the sex work sector and the municipality was really bad, for years and years. There was a lot of bad press, and just a general lack of healthy communication,” Maxime Maes from UTSOPI tells The Brussels Times.
“If you do not allow support for the job of a sex worker, like a bookkeeper for example, then you are making sure that the work is de facto not recognised as an actual job. But eradicating prostitution has not worked anywhere, so why would it work in Belgium?” At the height of the first wave of the coronavirus crisis, sex workers were first overlooked and left without support when the federal government ordered the sector shut. Then in June, they were left to fend for themselves again when the workers were given the federal green light, subject to some conditions, but local authorities kept their businesses closed, according to Maes. “That is when we started communicating, sometimes almost weekly. After at least five years without really talking, this was a huge step. Now, we decided to continue to meet about four times per year to evaluate the situation per district and work together,” he says. “This is a really good step.”
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A lack of a clear legal statute for the estimated 28,000 sex workers in Belgium has left the sector unregulated, with those involved unprotected and in constant insecurity.
“In Schaerbeek, sex work is entirely tolerated. In Saint-Josseten-Noode, however, a policy was initially created to get rid of all sex workers, which resulted in situations where the rules on one side of the street differed from those on the other side.” But even with steps in the right direction, there is still a long way to go. The fact that Saint-Josse is now changing its approach to sex work, does not alter the situation in other municipalities. “That is exactly what we are talking about: leaving important decisions about sex work to the local level creates a situation of contradictions, arbitrariness and legal uncertainty for sex workers,” the sex worker union says, adding that they demand a design of a federal framework that brings “coherence and legal certainty.” “A statute would determine if the job falls under the penal code of Belgian law, or not. The current situation creates a lot of insecurity among
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sex workers, because some of them are under the impression that sex work is tolerated in a certain area, but are then suddenly prosecuted,” Bauwens explains.
Breaking world records The law has an element of randomness to it, according to UTSOPI, which is why the organisation wants to see a revision of the penal code, specifically of article 380, which punishes “those who cooperate in fornication and prostitution.” The office of federal Justice Minister Koen Geens started the task, looking to decriminalise adult pornography and the economic exploitation of consenting adults. However, Belgium would not be Belgium if everything just went smoothly, and in December 2018, while the law was being revised, the federal government fell. “We are now waiting for the next government, in case the revision of the penal code will still come through,” Bauwens says. According to Sigrid Schellen, a Flemish sex worker, an official statute for sex workers would help many people but she does not think it will become a reality soon. “I am afraid that the political part will be a very long time coming, mostly
“The pandemic has made a group of people in an already precarious situation even more vulnerable. We have the same duties as everyone else, we have to pay taxes. But when the time comes to get something in return, we have no rights. That is incredibly hypocritical, if you think about it.” because it is a very difficult subject,” she tells The Brussels Times. “Of course, I hope that it will come sooner rather than later, but I am very realistic, and I’m well aware that it is not going to happen overnight. I just do not see it happening anytime soon, to be honest. It’s very unfortunate. The thing is, as long as everything happens according to plan, a statute does not change a lot. The statute becomes important from the moment something goes wrong. The problem is that sex work is some kind of grey zone. There is zero protection for people working in my sector,” Schellen says. This lack of protection, which already caused a great deal of trouble for many sex workers before the pandemic hit, was laid completely bare due to the impact of the coronavirus and subsequent lockdown. It did not create new problems as such, but it allowed existing problems to surface. “Bills have to be paid, and money has to come from somewhere. I can very well imagine that the people who do not have a safety net, the most vulnerable group, in other words, continued to work,” Schellen says. “The crisis made a group of people in an already precarious situation even more vulnerable. We have the same duties as everyone else, we have to pay taxes. But when the time comes to get something in return, we have no rights. That is incredibly hypocritical, if you think about it.”
Juggling Besides the statute for which UTSOPI has been campaigning for several years, an official social statute would also make many sex workers’ lives easier, according to Schellen. Under the current law, everyone providing services to sex workers is technically doing something punishable. “My
landlord is committing a punishable offence by allowing me to rent from him, because I practice my job from my apartment. My bookkeeper is ‘facilitating prostitution’ by taking care of my finances. Volkswagen too, because I lease my car from them,” Schellen says. In practice, sex workers can officially register, by using a NACE-BEL code (Statistical Classification of Economic Activities in the European Community, in Belgium) that stands for ‘other services’. “The situation in Belgium is unclear however. The code has the subsection ‘escorting services’, but that applies to bodyguards just the same as to sex workers,” Bauwens from UTSOPI says. “However, sex workers have a lot of job-specific costs.” “Not having official guidelines also has its upside on this front,” says Schellen, explaining that she can also use the lack of clear rules to her advantage. ”I have been working independently for about two years now. I admit, it has required some juggling with NACE-BEL codes. I can declare pretty much everything as a job-specific cost,” Schellen says, adding she can declare children’s toys for her daughter with the explanation that it’s a kink for one of her clients. “With no rules, no one is going to tell me I can’t.”
Stepmother-like treatment Any binding regulations that could be agreed on, however, should not reinforce the existing stigma on the job of sex workers, as that leads to discrimination. This stigma, according to Bauwens, is in part both the cause and the result of what he calls the authorities’ “stepmother-like” treatment of the sector, in a direct and unsubtle reference to the fairy tale in which Cinderella is neglected by the person who should have taken care of her basic needs. Policies that include compulsory medical checks, or the restriction of sex work to areas within municipalities that are too small and too dangerous, only enforce the stigma and should not be implemented. “We ask, instead, that the government join us in the direct fight against the stigma, in particular its possible presence in services essential to daily life,” UTSOPI pleads, referring to, among others, public services, treatment at hospitals and by the police. “Belgium has laws to combat discrimination. It is time to apply them to curb discrimination against sex workers in their daily lives,” the sex worker union says. “This is the only way we can create equal opportunities for sex workers.”
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LIFESTYLE 104-146 p
Access to a garden, terrace, or sunny balcony made time during the stricter confinement moments easier to pass for many households. For those in Brussels who did not have any, some comfort could be taken from the fact that Brussels is one of the greener cities in Europe, with forest and parks taking up over 20% of the city. Countless parks dot around the capital. The major ones include Parc du Cinquantenaire, Woluwe Park, Bois de la Cambre, and Brussels Park opposite the Royal Palace. From the city centre, it is also only a 15-minute drive to the UNESCO listed Sonian forest, which stretches across the municipalities of Uccle, Watermael-Boitsfort, Auderghem, and Woluwe-Saint-Pierre.
Hughes Belin is the author of the first-ever gastronomic guide to Brussels’ European Quarter. After covering EU energy policy for 18 years, he now writes about food and personal development. He won the Louise Weiss prize for European journalism in 2007.
THE BELGIAN GOURMET CORNER
ike it or not, the way we go out and enjoy food and drinks has been heavily impacted by Covid-19. To echo my interview on the future of gastronomy in Belgium in this issue, I chose a post-Corona flavour for this Belgian Gourmet Corner. I’ll take you to a very special restaurant where your “bubble” is the sole guest. We’ll have a brunch, an after work get-together or just a drink with friends at a café nestled in nature at the Bois de la Cambre. Then let’s take the train to visit one of Belgium’s touristic jewels,
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Bruges, where a three-starred chef is creating the country’s most extravagant ice creams after his newest restaurant struggled with the post-lockdown rules. Finally, let’s bolster our health and sip a cocktail with some organic ginger, a great Belgian success story. In spite of the authoritarian measures that continue to undermine the recovery of the horeca (hospitality-restaurants-cafés) sector, there are still ways to enjoy a drink or a meal outside your home, (almost) like it used to be.
LA CABANE Have you ever dreamt of eating in a restaurant with no one else in sight? I don’t mean a deserted restaurant, but your very own private place, with just your partner or friends. I really thought hard about unveiling this exclusive address to The Brussels Times’ readers. Not because I don’t want to share my hidden gems — that’s my job — but just because this secret place only welcomes one party (of two, four or six) at a time. In normal times you have to book far in advance and patiently wait your turn. This is a special place designed for a special dinner. It’s a genuine tree house, which means you have to take a steep wooden staircase to get there. I can already reassure you: the toilets are within reach, at Le Fou Chantant, the restaurant a few steps away downstairs which owns La Cabane.
Yes, privacy has a price: €100 a head in this case. That includes half a bottle of real champagne for two (or a whole bottle for four), as well as soft drinks. If you want more wine, there is a good, short wine list, although prices start at €50 a bottle. Tip: bring your own CDs or a USB key to enjoy your favourite music — there is a stereo with a limited selection of CDs. The tree house is fit for any time of year: heated in winter, open windows in summer. Once Jamal, the owner, has introduced you to the place and how to use it, you’re on your own for the evening. It’s pure magic. Be it for a discrete business meeting or an evening with your significant other, you’ll enjoy being left alone, suspended in air and isolated from the world.
La Cabane - 176, Avenue de Fré 1180 Uccle – phone booking only: +32 2 374 33 15
You don’t even have running water in the tree house. It’s just a cosy room with a leather sofa for two, a table flanked by two benches — plus two stools on demand, so it can seat six, although the room starts to feel small — a little bar, a fridge, an oven and a couple of candles. The idea is to DIY with the food you’re given. Don’t panic, you won’t be eating cold snacks. The food comes from the catering service of the nearby La Villa Lorraine; in other words, you can have a premium dinner with top quality products. La Cabane also works with neighbouring restaurant Les Frères Romano, but when you book you can ask for Traiteur La Villa Lorraine — and specify (no) meat, vegetarian, fish-only etc — for the same price.
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LE FLORE Many of us fled the city and its anxiety-provoking atmosphere during the summer of Covid-19. But there was no need to go very far, as Brussels is full of parks and open-air spaces. My favourite place to hide is nestled in the Bois de la Cambre, a stone’s throw from Avenue Franklin Roosevelt. There are not many buildings in this wood – the most famous being the Chalet Robinson, the Patinoire and the Jeux d’Hiver nightclub. But very few people know the story of the listed forest house that hosts Le Flore and the Association Le Bois de la Cambre. Built in 1888, by the City of Brussels for its gardeners and road menders to store their tools,
the “shed” (Le Hangar) is very representative of the artwork of its designer, Victor Jamaer. The city’s chief architect had a thorough knowledge of architectural styles and history. Here, he mixed the then-in-vogue Flemish Neo-Renaissance style into a 17th-century Flemish barn. The place became a refuge for animals at the end of the 1990s and was subsequently abandoned until early 2009, when it was fully refurbished to become the Wood. Initially designed to be a café for the park’s Sunday strollers, it quickly became one of Brussels nightlife’s hotspots. It was forced to close in 2016 due to the noise pollution and abandoned again until it reopened in 2019 as Le Flore, a cocktail bar and café. The inside décor, envisaged by Carl de Moncharline, the first owner when it reopened, is stunning: inspired by the sixties, the walls are pastel-coloured and it’s luminous, fresh and girlish. The tapas menu (€7-13 each) is influenced by the chef’s Spanish background and by the latest food trends (veggie, vegan, healthy, Asian fusion, etc.). A brunch (€25pp) with a good choice of garnished toasts is available at weekends. The wine list is small and mostly French, with a touch of Italy; bottles are €25-35. Cocktails (€1215) and mocktails (€7) seem to be the Flore’s signature drinks. The beer and soft drinks menus offer no surprises. You won’t be disappointed by the food and drink but you come here for the place itself. The terraces around the building are surrounded by nature. It’s a perfect getaway from the city’s concrete and Covid-19 repression.
Le Flore – Avenue de Flore 3, 1000 Bruxelles - leflore.brussels
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recipes of old-fashioned soft ice, and the originality of the homemade toppings. The mixtures have been carefully prepared to create a perfect balance of flavours. My favourite, sticky peanuts (€4.99), is based on vanilla soft ice topped with peanuts and a great butterscotch syrup. If you’re a chocolate fan, you’ll be delighted with the funky chocolate (€6.99), a vanilla soft ice covered in chocolate sauce and many crunchy bits, including dark chocolate chips.
The poppin’ cherry (€6.99) will take you back to your childhood with a fruity trip of Amarena cherry, almond syrup and fizzy candy on a frozen yoghurt. The girlish strawberry fields (€5.99) also has a base of frozen yoghurt, topped with Haribo’s Fraise tagada, pieces of crispy lemon and a cuberdon (Belgian candy) syrup.
THE FOOD PRODUCT
ICECONIC Have you ever eaten in a Michelin-starred restaurant? I have, a few times in my life. It’s in another league, even for the simplest things, like ice cream. After they closed their three-starred restaurant Hertog Jan in Zedelgem at the end of 2018, Gert De Mangeleer and his friend, business partner and sommelier Joachim Boudens launched a bistro-bar in Bruges called L.E.S.S. (Love. Eat. Share. Smile.) in March 2019. It temporarily closed due to the lockdown, and they realised the premises weren’t adapted for an economically viable re-opening under post-lockdown rules. They decided to move the restaurant and its staff to their original premises in Zedelgem, leaving the place on Bruges’ central square empty.
Finally, the magic maracuja (€7.99) is a genuine innovation based on passion fruit soft ice and syrup, topped with a crumble of liquorice, cola and anis. You may get lucky, the owners are also thinking about selling half portions and even creating a new one. There are many reasons to go to Bruges, even if it’s only for an ice cream. One, it is one of the most beautiful cities in Belgium. Two, post-Covid, the federal government is offering all Belgian residents free rail tickets twice a month for six months (check “railpass Belgique”). And three, Iceconic is a mere 10-minute walk from the station, across the park. Hurry up, the store will still be there in September, but its future thereafter is unknown. “It has a lot of potential,” Boudens acknowledges. I totally agree. Iceconic – ‘t Zand 21a 8000 Brugge - iceconic.be
“We started to think about doing something simple that people love, to bring some pleasure back into their lives during this unprecedented crisis,” Boudens says. Ice cream with a magical touch it would be. It took the team a few months of brainstorming and testing in close collaboration with dairy company FrieslandCampina to create Iceconic. The result is stunning: five different cups of 200g of soft ice or frozen yoghurt topped with different syrups and crumbles. Their excellence lies in the high-end dairy base, revamped
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Tropical Gimber Sour THE DRINK
GIMBER The market for non-alcoholic drinks is exploding in Western countries. This has paved the way for lots of innovation in a sector traditionally dominated by the soft drinks giants. Belgium’s non-alcoholic sector is booming, in part due to the Tournée Minérale every February, when more and more people stop drinking alcohol for a month to make up for the excesses of Christmas and New Year. Post-Covid — and for many a rather “wet” lockdown — health is more important than ever. So why not drink something supremely healthy like ginger? This rhizome is known as an aphrodisiac and powerful anti-nausea agent, but it also helps to keep your blood glucose down, is packed with vitamins and minerals, fluidises blood, boosts immunity, helps digestion and is a natural anti-inflammatory packed with antioxidants, which can even have anticancer properties. But you may drink Gimber just because it makes everything taste different. This concentrate of organic Peruvian ginger with a touch of lemon and spices is very versatile indeed: you can use it in cold or hot drinks, mocktails (or cocktails, if you insist), sweet or veggie concoctions, with food or plain, with sparkling water, an ice cube and a sprig of thyme. Just don’t add too much, as the ginger aftertaste is very powerful. “With the sensations it provides, you don’t need alcohol. Gimber is a concentrate of rock n’ roll for your taste buds,” says Dimitri Oosterlynck, its creator. Like many, this former cartoon producer started his business from home. He
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This spicy, sweet and sour tropical mocktail is as good as the version with alcohol. The spiciness of Gimber gently pricks the softness of the egg white and the sweetness of the pineapple, while the acidity of the lime juice binds the extremes together. A perfect balance. Cocktails with egg white are always spectacular, and this one can also be made with a milk frother if you don’t have a shaker. Ingredients per glass: 20ml Gimber, 30ml pineapple juice, 30ml fresh lime juice, 10ml sugar syrup, 30ml egg white, ice. Process: Chill the glasses in advance in your freezer. Put all the ingredients but the ice into your cocktail shaker. Shake for 30 seconds. Fill the shaker with ice and shake again for 10 seconds. Strain the cocktail into the glasses. The foam will gradually give way to the yellow liquid. Option: garnish with dried pineapple, ginger and lime. Serve immediately; it should be drunk as cold as possible.
created the drink he also hoped to find at one of the endless cocktail parties he attended: “I felt like Willy Wonka, without the crazy children around,” he recalls. His friends liked it and some wanted to buy it. And there you go: the first bottle was sold in early 2018 at Mamuli, a lifestyle store in Halle. Since then, it has gone from success to success in Belgian and Dutch bars and restaurants, but also in high-end stores in Paris and London. Gimber comes in several sizes: a 2cl shot (€2.90), 20cl flask (€13.95), 50cl bottle (€21.95), 70cl bottle (€24.95) or giftbox (€64.95). Recipes are available on gimber.com.
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Be amazed ! Buy your ticket
Mini-Europe is a park situated at the gates of Brussels featuring all the wonders of Europe in miniature. Bonsai trees, flowery groves and dwarf trees embellish the monuments which have been meticulously reproduced in the finest detail.
A two-hour walk, that is both entertaining and educational, to learn about the member states of the European Union and the historical, architectural and cultural wealth of Europe.
A trip full of surprises. Destroy a section of the Berlin wall, set off the eruption of the Vesuvius, launch an attack of legionnaires or scare the Vikings. Depending on what you fancy, operate the many interactive live action animations to (re) discover Europe as you’ve never done before.
Discover Europe’s nicest places ...
Have fun whilst learning! Behind the captivating universe of the miniature monuments, the dramatization and live action animations, relive our surprising common history with its values and heritage! From the origins of democracy to the enterprising spirit, from our Greek, Roman or Viking heritage to the political transformations of the 21st century, you will find commentary at every stage of the journey in the free catalogue that is teeming with information and anecdotes that will delight all children, inquisitives and history fanatics.
Unrivalled quality of artistry.
The park exhibits more than 350 monuments which were selected for their architectural quality and their European symbolism. They are reproduced to the finest detail. Many statues of the Grand-Place of Brussels are painted with real gold leaves. The Big Ben is 4 meters tall. At 13 meters, the Eiffel Tower is taller than a 3-storey building. Yet, all the buildings are on a scale of 1/25.
All of Europe animated in miniature! 8994-MNE-Annonce-185x132.indd 1
Fascinating presentation for everyone, not to be missed during your stay in the capital of Europe ! Mini-Europe is open every day from mid of March until the 1st week of January. Catalogue available in 11 languages (D, E, F, EN, I, NL, HB, RU, PL, PT, CN). Restaurant - cafetaria. MINI-EUROPE Bruparck, B-1020 Brussels Tel.: +32 (0)2/474.13.13. - Fax : +32 (0)2/478.26.75 http://www.minieurope.eu - Email : email@example.com
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© M. Fasol
VISIT WATERLOO & BEYOND
rom the battlefield of Waterloo to the abbey of Villers-la-Ville, via the Collegiate Church of Saint-Gertrude in Nivelles or the Château d’Hélécine, there are many traces of the past in the territory of Walloon Brabant. Our artistic soul is woken at every turn in the L Museum, in the company of Tintin at the Hergé Museum or even when entering the giant book at the Folon Foundation. You can also stroll along country roads, in parks or woods, on foot or by bike. There are pleasurable things to see and pleasures to taste and your journey begins here.
Land of history
At the top of the Butte, the lion watches over the plain of Waterloo as the keeper of History. At the Waterloo 1815 Memorial, Napoleon’s Last HQ and the Wellington Museum you can enjoy a multi-sensory experience unique in Europe. The Waterloo 1815 Memorial includes the Butte du Lion, the Memorial Museum, the Panorama and Hougoumont Farm, Napoleon’s Last Headquarters, the Wellington Museum and the MontSaint-Jean Farm. Thanks to the Pass 1815, you will have the opportunity to visit all seven locations at a very attractive price!
Secrets of stones
Listed as an exceptional heritage site in Wallonia, the Cistercian Abbey of Villers-la-Ville has been remarkably well preserved since the 12th century! It is one of the largest archaeological sites in Belgium. Immerse yourself in the past thanks to Slate, the augmented reality, interactive tablet! This technology brings back to life the architectural elements and people which have now disappeared. With its impressive 102-metre nave, its two opposing choirs and its 11th-century crypt, the Collegiate Church of Saint-Gertrude in Nivelles is one of the oldest and largest Romanesque churches in Europe. The crypt under the eastern choir is the largest in our region. In addition to this treasure, you can also visit the archaeological basement under the main nave, the cloister and the central bell tower which houses the bells and the carillon.
Art and culture
Three major art museums can be found in Walloon Brabant: the L Museum, the Hergé Museum and the Folon Foundation.
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As Belgium’s first large-scale university museum, the L Museum brings together 1,500 works from the 20,000 pieces that make up the collections. Explore the 3,830 m² of space open to the public, spread over 6 floors, and explore the collections from all 5 continents, ranging from Prehistory to the 20th century. You’ll find works of art, natural history specimens, archaeological and ethnographic objects and scientific inventions. You will be able to manipulate, touch and even play with the works. Discover the fabulous journey of one of the greatest artists of the 20th century who gave birth to the famous comic strip characters Tintin and Snowy. Slightly set back from the city, the Hergé Museum has brought together more than 80 original plates, 800 photos, documents and various objects from this multi-talented artist. Stroll around this lightfilled space with its particular shapes reminiscent of a suspended vessel. At the heart of the wonderful Solvay regional park in La Hulpe, the Folon Foundation houses more than 500 works by the Belgian artist JeanMichel Folon. The museum presents the multiple facets of his art: watercolours, silkscreen prints, engravings, posters, reused objects, stained-glass windows, sculptures etc. You’ll get lost in games of mirrors, discover endless posters, uncover the secrets of the workshop and finish the journey ‘with your head in the stars’. Take advantage of your visit to the museum to stroll around the 227 hectares of the Solvay regional park, bordered by ponds and home to some remarkable flora and fauna. More info on: www.waterlooandbeyond.be
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REDISCOVERING THE FORGOTTEN AND UNKNOWN BELGIUM By Derek Blyth
The world’s first stock exchange
merchants did business in the 15th century. When the traders moved to Antwerp in the 16th century, the city provided them with this stunning new building.
The stock exchange incorporated a courtyard surrounded on four sides by exotic Moorishstyle arcades. Originally open to the sky so that God could observe the transactions, the courtyard was later roofed over to protect the international traders from the harsh northern European weather.
One of Antwerp’s best-kept secrets is hidden at the end of the narrow lane Twaalfmaandenstraat in the historic heart of the city. A small door leads to a building known as the Handelsbeurs that has been closed for many years for renovation work. But this stunning building where the 16thcentury global economy was fired up is open again to the public. The original building was constructed in 1531 by architect Domien de Waghemakere in the elaborate Flamboyant Gothic style of the period. It was called the Handelsbeurs after the Huize ter Buerze in Bruges where foreign
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The English banker Thomas Gresham was one of the merchants who transacted regularly in the Handelsbeurs. While God looked down, Gresham developed some dubious methods to boost the value of English sterling, allowing the king to pay off his huge debts. Gresham eventually returned to London to set up the Royal Exchange in 1565, closely modelling it on Antwerp’s Handelsbeurs. Antwerp’s Golden Age came to an end in 1576 when Spanish troops rampaged through the city. The stock exchange was badly damaged by
fire in 1583, and destroyed by a second blaze in 1858. Fortunately, the port was booming at the time and the money was found to rebuild in 1872. The architect Jos Schudde largely recreated the original building in Neo-Gothic style. It continued to serve as one of Europe’s principal stock exchanges until 1997 when the business moved to Brussels. By 2003, the building was so dilapidated it had to be shut down. But then a miracle happened. A consortium of private investors came up with the funds to renovate the building from 2016 to 2019. It reopened last summer with every detail restored, from the arcades decorated with world maps to the 56 snug offices where the stockbrokers used to work. The arcades are now occupied by local shops including a florist and a branch of Goossens chocolatier. The complex also features a coffee truck parked in the courtyard and a stylish restaurant located in the shipping exchange next door. You might also spot the figure of the architect looking down from a first-floor balcony. Watching over everyone, like God.
Belgium’s extreme staircases MONTAGNE DE BUEREN In 2013, the Huffington Post ranked the Montagne de Bueren in Liège as one of the world’s ten most extreme staircases. Built in 1881, this incredibly steep climb of 373 stone steps runs from the old town straight up the steep hill leading to the citadel on the summit. The Montagne de Bueren was originally built to allow soldiers to reach the garrison without having to use the old narrow alleys lined with bars and brothels. The name comes from the fifteenth-century aristocrat Vincent de Bueren who saved the city from an attack by the Duke of Burgundy.
Midway up the slope, Clara and Geert have created a stylish B&B called Dormir en Altitude with two bright rooms that look across the roofs of Liège. Their home makes the perfect base to explore the hidden alleys and terraced orchards that overlook the ancient Walloon city. But there’s another staircase in Belgium that is even more extreme. Its 408 stone steps lead from
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Dinant to a hilltop fortress high above the River Meuse. The steps run next to the country’s only funicular railway, which most people choose to get to the top. But the steps are more challenging. The funicular also serves as a tiny restaurant on Saturday evenings. Two couples can book a table in the cabin suspended 100 metres above the town. The evening begins with an aperitif in the citadel followed by dinner prepared by the
Restaurant La Citadelle. You can climb another flight of steps to reach the highest point in Belgium. The strange stone staircase stands behind the car park at the Signal de Botrange. It was built in 1923 in the middle of the bleak Hautes Fagnes moors. The land at this point is 694 metres above sea level, but the 25 steps add a further six metres, bringing the height to a neat 700 metres.
But there are other reasons to visit Anseremme. It is one of the easiest places in the Ardennes to get to by train. Once you arrive, you can set off along a quiet hiking trail that clings to the river. The route takes you past the castle of Freyr on the opposite bank and under a series of sheer cliffs that rise straight out of the water. As you follow the wild trail, you hear the sound of mountain climbers high above your head. Occasionally, a motor boat speeds past on the river trailing a water skier. There are occasional swimmers in the river, although swimming is “strongly discouraged.”
The lost resort ANSEREMME Anseremme is a quiet town south of Namur where the River Lesse joins the Meuse. It used to be a popular resort where Belgian artists and writers would spend the summer. But it has become less fashionable. Most of the hotels have closed down, leaving just a couple of cafes looking out on the river. Hundreds of kayaks descend the River Lesse in the summer from small upstream locations such as Houyet and Gendron Gare. Anseremme is where the kayakers end up.
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Eventually, after a couple of hours, you come to a bend in the river with the village of Waulsort on the opposite side. There is no bridge at this point. The only way to get across is to take the last surviving ferry on the River Meuse. Dating from 1871, the boat is slowly pulled by hand
across the river using a submerged cable. It runs every day from April to September. Waulsort used to be a popular tourist town. The local man who started the ferry service also built the first hotel in Waulsort. Eventually the town had ten hotels, but they have all closed down. One of them stands in ruins after a fire swept through the building. Walk along the river another kilometre and you can cross at a lock. Cross the Meuse and climb the steep hill on the other side to follow the marked trail back to Anseremme station.Â
It doesnâ€™t have to be Amazon INDIE BOOKSHOPS One of the most beautiful bookshops in Europe stands on a quiet square in Kortrijk. It occupies a grand Neoclassical building that has served as a casino, concert hall, school and bank. Lovingly restored in 2017, the building is now home to a spectacular bookshop with a grand entrance hall, polished parquet floors and a sweeping marble staircase. Owner of Theoria Bookshop, Pascal Vandenhende, has added literary details, like life-size figures from Tintin comics and photographs of visiting writers. Anwerp bookshop Luddites Theoria bookshop in Kortrijk
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De Zondvloed (The Flood) occupies three floors of a former Art Deco theatre in Mechelen
The book selection includes serious fiction, photography books, travel guides and kids’ literature. Vandenhende also organises readings, cookery sessions and even piano lessons. And there are armchairs and little tables scattered around where you can sit with an espresso coffee or a local beer.
1902. Named Luddites after the English radicals who protested against industrialisation, its three floors have been lovingly restored by local interior architect Dries Otten to create rooms with creaking wood floors, tall bookshelves and antique fireplaces.
The most beautiful indie bookshop in Antwerp was created by Jorien Caers from the Kempen and Richard Bolte from New York. Opened just before lockdown was imposed, it occupies a handsome Antwerp town house dating from
They stock unusual and eclectic books in Dutch and English ranging from Sophy Roberts’ “The Lost Pianos of Siberia” to Shaun Bythell’s “Diary of a Bookseller”. But the best thing about this place is the wine bar on the first floor where you can sit with a book and a glass of Prosecco. Your phone turned off. Open until 20.00.
The oldest bookshop in Belgium, De Reyghere (The Heron) was opened in Brugge in 1888.
In the heart of Mechelen, De Zondvloed (The Flood) occupies three floors of a former Art Deco theatre. The sprawling space is filled with novels, magazines and artist’s books. Most of the stock is in Dutch, but they have interesting new English fiction on a table at the front. Three floors up, you find a café where you can sit at the window looking down on the street life. The oldest bookshop in Belgium, De Reyghere (The Heron) was opened in Brugge by a local couple in 1888. Still a family business, this literary institution sells Dutch novels as well as international newspapers, magazines and foreign fiction. A second shop was added next door devoted to maps, dictionaries and travel guides. In 2013, the bookshop marked its 125th anniversary by turning the family living room above the shop into a literary salon.
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The secret beach ZEEBRUGGE It’s almost impossible to find a quiet beach along the 67-km Belgian coastline. But Zeebrugge is one resort that can often be surprisingly empty. Most people think it is just a vast container port. But head down to the sea and you find the widest and quietest beach in the country, along with some beautiful old buildings that have somehow survived. Overlooking the beach, the Résidence Palace was originally built as a hotel in 1913. The timing could not have been worse, and it was occupied in the First and Second World Wars by German troops. The troubled hotel finally closed down in 1949, but the building was converted into apartments with sea views (one of them available to rent for a weekend at the sea).
days or climb up to the roof when the weather is good to watch massive Chinese car carriers and cruise ships slowly move through the port. Meanwhile, cool surfers make their way to the Icarus surf school on Zeebrugge beach to squeeze into wetsuits and ride the North Sea waves. You can also sign up at the wooden clubhouse for lessons in kite surfing or stand up paddling. Some of the best seafood on the coast comes out of the kitchen at the unpretentious dockside café ’t Werftje. This friendly place has stood on Zeebrugge harbour for more than a century. The interior still has its ancient stove, wood-panelling and mirrors. Locals and tourists drop by for a bowl of fish soup or some simple homemade garnaalkroketten – croquettes filled with North Sea shrimps, served with a sprig of deep-fried parsley and a slice of lemon.
Overlooking the beach, the Résidence Palace was originally built as a hotel in 1913.
The old harbour at Zeebrugge was the setting for one of the most daring raids of the First World War when the British warship Vindictive attacked the German submarine base. A monument on the harbour commemorates the heroic attack that took place on St George’s Day, 1918.
Located next to the old village church, the fries shop ’t Kastaarke has the atmosphere of a roadside diner. Everyone comes here, from dock workers in oily overalls to elderly couples who have retired to the coast. As well as perfect frites, you can order a bowl of fish soup, or even a plate of North Sea sole.
The huge industrial sheds where fish used to be auctioned have been turned into a maritime theme park. The main attraction is a former Soviet submarine from the Cold War era where you can crawl through claustrophobic spaces while hidden speakers boom out patriotic Russian songs. The busy modern seaport can be observed from a striking red metal observation cabin on the Zweedse Kaai. You can shelter inside on rainy
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DISCOVER AND EXPERIENCE BRUSSELS’ NEWEST HOTSPOT
Between the vibrant nightlife of Flagey and the prestigious Avenue Louise, Qbic offers a range of experiences, so you’ll never get bored! As soon as you enter, you can see how quirky and different it is, check in at one of the iPads or be welcomed by one of the friendly Qbic employees. Take a seat on one of the swings and don't forget to take a selfie in the large round mirror above you. Click, post, share & like! Did we say a new hotel experience?
bic Brussels has opened the doors of its first Belgian branch in the most booming area of our capital. Business and holiday travellers, but also locals, can’t wait to discover this new place to be, for dining, working out, working, chilling and sleeping at this special setting! You won't find another place like Qbic in Brussels!
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Follow the green walls and have a seat at Motley, a refreshing place where restaurant, bar, entertainment and work meet. Qbic likes to bring people together. With Motley they create a living room, a playful but relaxing environment, a place "just like home", where you can hang out, work, drink coffee and flirt. When the weather is fine, you can enjoy a delicious cocktail on the terrace that is hidden in a green oasis in the middle of the city. After an adventurous day in the city or a busy day at work, you can take the elevator (or stairs) to one of their 148 hotel rooms. Everyone comes home to Qbic. Young travellers, families or business people will find what they are looking for in the Mini, Cosy, Fun or Fancy Rooms range. Expect to be adopted by great design that resounds throughout the hotel. Once in your room, you can finish those last work emails on the super-fast WiFi while you charge your mobile via UK, EU or US port. But first enjoy a fresh glass of filtered water, coffee or tea and jump under the smart rain shower. Lay down on your bed and dream away with the gigantic Netflix offer. At Qbic you go for an amazing experience! Whether you want to sleep comfortably, eat and drink well, organize a meeting with colleagues or
customers or just want to relax, Qbic is the right place for you! Each of the functionally furnished bedrooms is equipped with the so-called "Cubi" or Qbi. Moreover, every Qbi in Brussels is unique because the furniture's wall is decorated with scenes from "The Adventures of Tintin", designed by Belgian cartoonist Hergé.
Share drinks & dinner! Wake up with the scent of freshly ground Parlor or Purocoffee coffee and start your day full of energy with an invigorating breakfast at Motley. The restaurant serves dishes made with local ingredients such as chocolate from Frédéric Blondeel and meat from Dierendonck, and various types of milk to pimp your drinks and home-made lemonades. Would you rather have a savory bite? Then enjoy one of the sandwiches served on authentic wooden boards.
Our Place, Your Space Meetings, presentations, networking events, interviews or workshops can take place in the 3-in-1 meeting rooms. Read: inspiring spaces, which are not at all reminiscent of the boring meeting rooms of other hotels. It is the ideal location for anyone who wants to do the greatest things in a stimulating environment. In need for some entertainment? Transform the meeting tables into a game of chess, checkers or Monopoly or enjoy a movie in the Qbic movie theatre with its extremely comfortable velvet seats. And for the more active visitor? They can empty their head at the gym with high-tech equipment. Qbic Rue Paul Spaak 15, 1000 Brussels +32 (2) 645 61 11 www.qbichotels.com/brussels
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A SECTOR IN TURMOIL THE FUTURE OF BELGIAN GASTRONOMY POST-COVID By Hughes Belin
elgium’s elite restaurants were no less severely hit by the Covid-19 crisis than the rest of the HORECA (hotels, cafés and restaurants) sector. Yet Ivan Brincat, founder of the prestigious Food & Wine Gazette blog (www.foodandwinegazette.com), is optimistic, given the level of quality of Belgium’s current and upcoming chefs. Belgian customers responded positively to post-lockdown reopening conditions. But much, including business models, will have to change for the sector to become more resilient.
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As the Covid-19 lockdown started in midMarch, Ivan Brincat stopped writing about food. “For a few days it seemed pointless. Then I started to look for best practices [to cope with the situation] in Belgium and elsewhere as a way to inspire and help spur people back to action,” he remembers. Since it wasn’t possible to have the usual face-to-face interviews, he used messaging apps and social media to communicate with his ‘pool’ of chefs and report on the initiatives they took.
“The hit was huge. In general, the sector went through a very hard time. But chefs showed a lot of energy after the initial shock.”
by his sous-chef. L’air du temps** reopened with a wine bar in the middle of its garden, where anyone could go for an affordable glass of wine. Christophe Pauly turned his Coq au champ* into a drive-in on Saturdays, and served up the first Michelin-starred takeaway dinner. For those who went into delivery mode, the big question was: do customers want fine dining at home? The answer seems to be ‘yes’.
The lockdown shock
The reopening challenge
Like in the rest of the world, restaurants were the first to close down. “The hit was huge. In general, the sector went through a very hard time,” Brincat recalls. “[But] chefs showed a lot of energy after the initial shock.” They cooked for hospital staff, the homeless or people in difficulties. This kept them busy doing what they do best.
From his discussions, Brincat concludes that the government’s blanket support to all was well received and enabled most restaurants to retain their staff. “A restaurant business is very cash flow sensitive because of extremely low margins,” he explains. The biggest problem was the lack of visibility on the date for reopening in June 2020: “Restaurants cannot reopen at too short notice.”
Some took the time to stop and rethink their concept. “The period was quite creative,” says Brincat. Karen Torosyan at BOZAR Restaurant* (one star Michelin), for example, launched his casse-croûte, a takeaway version of his signature dish, the pâté en croûte (pie), made much more accessible to the public. After hours, Christophe Hardiquest at Bon Bon** now turns his restaurant into a bistro run
“Of course, you can’t blame the government for not knowing when to reopen. But you cannot do it overnight, because of complex logistics and the need to prepare it carefully,” he explains–all the more so with intricate new safety rules to follow. During the lockdown, chefs worried about how customers would react when restaurants
Christophe Hardiquest, Chef at Bon Bon**. Credit: Ivan Brincat – Food & Wine Gazette
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Gert De Mangeleer, previous owner chef at Hertog Jan***, and now entrepreneur of several new concepts. Credit: Ivan Brincat – Food & Wine Gazette
“2020 was going to be a very important year for Belgian gastronomy: the World’s 50 Best Restaurants annual event was due to take place in Antwerp in June, and the 6th UN World Tourism Organisation’s World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism was scheduled for Bruges in the same month.” reopened. They wanted to make sure that customers felt safe but at the same time they knew that the experience would be disturbing and could make people hesitant to come back: nervous tension, staff in masks, different ways of serving, etc. People would have an experience they were not used to or they simply didn’t want. So far, the reopening seems to have gone well, according to Brincat: “the chefs’ worst fears have not materialised.” But they still worry,
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notably that the pandemic may come back in autumn and lead to a worse situation in winter. Individual opinions differ however, also based on the available outdoor space (and weather) that restaurants have.
Lessons from the crisis Every country has suffered, and Belgium still needs to assess the full impact of Covid-19 on its HORECA industry. For example, tracing customers’ presence in restaurants is too new to assess. What is clear is that the collapse of tourism has been highly damaging. On top of that, 2020 was going to be a very important year for Belgian gastronomy: the World’s 50 Best Restaurants annual event was due to take place in Antwerp in June and the 6th UN World Tourism Organisation’s World Forum on Gastronomy Tourism was scheduled for Bruges in the same month. “Food writers, influencers, journalists would have come to Belgium. It’s a huge lost opportunity for Belgian gastronomy (read: tourism) to shine worldwide,” Brincat laments. The silver lining is that for the time being, both events have been postponed by a year in the same places.
Chambre Séparée’s Chef Kobe Desramaults. Credit: Ivan Brincat – Food & Wine Gazette
“For those who went into delivery mode, the big question was: do customers want fine dining at home? The answer seems to be ‘yes’.”
Overall, gastronomy in Belgium proved more resilient than in other countries because “Belgians love to eat out,” says Brincat. Hence Belgian restaurants were somewhat less impacted than so-called ‘destination restaurants’, such as René Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen, where 90% of the customers come from outside the city.
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Nick Bril, chef at The Jane**. Credit: Ivan Brincat – Food & Wine Gazette
“The biggest problem was the lack of visibility on the date for reopening in June 2020. Restaurants cannot reopen at too short notice.”
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The Michelin guide will “probably not judge restaurants this year”, Brincat suspects, but he does not believe that will dent chefs’ ambitions to either work towards another star, or win a slot on the 50 Best list. As a reminder, there is only one three-starred restaurant left in Belgium, Hof van Cleve***.
Peter Goosens, Chef at Belgium’s only remaining 3 star Michelin restaurant, Hof van cleve. Credit: Ivan Brincat – Food & Wine Gazette
“Overall, gastronomy in Belgium proved more resilient than in other countries because Belgians love to eat out. Hence Belgian restaurants were somewhat less impacted than so-called ‘destination restaurants’, such as René Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen, where 90% of the customers come from outside the city.” “Belgian chefs are motivated to fight. From what I saw before the summer break, things look promising on the plate. The quality and level of creativity, presentation and so forth were as strong as ever, if not better,” Brincat says. He observes that “creativity may now have to move from plate to concept”. In other words, taking care of staff and business models rather than “just” the food. “It’s a question of survival,” Brincat says. From business development to the use of space, everything has to be rethought. Innovative business models could build greater resilience. For example, restaurants could offer two or three different kind of services, to be more resilient
to future pandemics. Some restaurants have already started to do this. For example, Massimo Bottura has a three-starred restaurant in Modena (Emilia-Romagna, Italy) plus a small osteria, soup kitchens, and other restaurants. During the lockdown and the summer, René Redzepi experienced serving hamburgers to thousands of people in Copenhagen. “The crisis will accelerate this trend [to diversify],” Brincat predicts. He suggests that in the next few months we’re going to see much more reliance on local markets, with easier ways to book tables. He also foresees chefs offering experimental menus on quieter nights and more communication with interested customers. “Some innovations may work, some may not,” he cautions. In any case, the overall economic situation is important, and chefs hope that it will pick up because without a strong economy, there is no strong gastronomy or HORECA sector. “When times are good, restaurants are full, when times are bad, they struggle,” Brincat sums up.
An opportunity for Belgium “Given the small size of the country, it can punch well above its weight,” Brincat says. He is optimistic about the future of gastronomy in Belgium, thanks to the country’s assets and gastronomic history. He recalls that in 1972, La Villa Lorraine* in Uccle was the first restaurant outside France to get
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Sang Hoon Degeimbre, Chef at L’Air du Temps**. Credit: Ivan Brincat – Food & Wine Gazette
the Michelin guide’s three stars. And the next generation is blossoming. “Well-established chefs have behind them a lot of young and interesting chefs ready to jump onto the national and international stage,” he says.
“I may be naive, but I see Belgium as one country. Outside Belgium, people don’t know Flanders or Wallonia.” As people travel less than before, the crisis is an opportunity to promote the sector differently.
So how would he advise the Belgian authorities to support the recovery of this important sector? “Belgium should definitely promote its gastronomy as Belgian, not regionally,” he answers.
That said, Brincat doesn’t deny that Belgium’s regional cuisines are “strikingly” different. “In Flanders, chefs have more influence from the North Sea because it’s closer. And since many
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young chefs have travelled and worked in Scandinavian restaurants, some specificities are visible in their cuisine. “There are major differences, but you can eat very well everywhere in Belgium. From Peter Goossens’ Hof Van Cleve*** to Gert de Mangeleer’s new casual spots, from Kobe Desramaults’ Chambre Séparée* to Nick Bril’s The Jane**, from Christophe Hardiquest in Brussels to Sang
Hoon Degeimbre’s L’Air du Temps**, you will be astonished by the depth and diversity of what Belgium has to offer,” Brincat concludes. “And that’s doing an injustice to the many other chefs and restaurants all worthy of a mention.” At the end of the day, politicians should recognise that “the country has enough… to satisfy an international audience,” he adds. In gastronomy too, l’union fait la force.
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Comès d’Ombre et de Silence FREE EXPO 25/09 - 3/01/2021
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Liz Newmark is a Brussels-based journalist. She is the former Editor of European Environment & Packaging Law and currently works for International News Agency and a number of different Belgian publications.
BRUSSELS’ ARCHITECTURE HISTORY THE HIGHS AND THE LOWS
Hôtel Solvay, Avenue Louise 224, 1050 Brussels
or a fairly small capital city, Brussels packs a punch where architecture is concerned. The 17th century Grand’ Place cannot be missed, but the capital’s heyday comes 300 years later. Brussels led the way with the Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Modernist and 1950s ‘Style Spirou’ movements and its 1960s skyscrapers could rival New York’s.
the typically Brussels’ Style ‘Spirou’ [a Belgian comic strip] or ludic Modernism.
Brussels is not only the capital of Europe, it also championed many architectural styles after 1900. While Victor Horta and Art Nouveau are the big names that come to mind, the city boasts many other architectural geniuses leading other movements – from neo-Renaissance Flemish to
“Brussels is unique as far as modern architecture is concerned, because of the richness and diversity of its Art Nouveau. But then there is also the eclecticism that you see in every period and the fact that with urbanism too, Brussels is very eclectic,” said Dubois, who also founded
Indeed, as art historian, guide and author of many books on Art Nouveau and Art Deco, Cécile Dubois, tells The Brussels Times, this fascinating town regorges examples of every 20th century style.
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the Brussels Art Deco Society. “In one street, you sometimes have five different styles, which shows a certain individualism. Brussels also contains key examples of every 20th century movement.” At the end of the 19th century, the young Belgian capital witnessed rapid industrial development spurred by the arrival of the railway in 1835. Between 1870 and 1910, Brussels’ population skyrocketed from 250,000 to 800,000. The former villages of Saint-Gilles, Schaerbeek, Ixelles and Saint-Josse became linked to the city with a new and efficient public transport system. It was a perfect time for ambitious and innovative architects like Victor Horta (classic, ‘swirly’ Art Nouveau), Paul Hankar (geometric Art Nouveau, often characterized by ‘sgraffitos’ and ceramic designs as in the painted panel Maison
“Between 1870 and 1910, Brussels’ population skyrocketed from 250,000 to 800,000. The former villages of Saint-Gilles, Schaerbeek, Ixelles and Saint-Josse became linked to the city with a new and efficient public transport system.” Cauchie, by Paul Cauchie, rue des Francs 5) and Henry van de Velde. They developed a new architecture that broke away from the stuffiness of Beaux Arts or heaviness of the Neoclassical movement.
The Art Nouveau movement Art Nouveau – spearheaded by Horta’s Hotel Tassel (rue Paul Emile Janson 6), used industrial materials like steel, iron and glass to bring light and fluidity to its creations. One masterpiece – Gustave Strauven’s very narrow Saint-Cyr building, Square Ambiorix, is almost over-decorated by its mass of green curved ironwork. The movement oozed industrial and social buildings as well as individual homes. Henri Jacobs for example was the master of Art Nouveau schools. Two must-sees are at rue Josaphat in Schaerbeek (Ecoles 1 and 2), featuring huge ‘préau/inner courtyards’, big windows and curved iron girders. Art Nouveau was socially conscious too. Social housing in this style included the beautiful red-
Art Nouveau used industrial materials like steel, iron and glass to bring light and fluidity to its creations. One masterpiece – Gustave Strauven’s very narrow SaintCyr building, is almost overdecorated by its mass of green curved ironwork.
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Maison Saint-Cyr, Square Ambiorix 11, 1000 Brussels
brick symmetrical Cité Hellemans housing complex, with its inner walkways, in the Marolles district (Emile Hellemans, 1915). A smaller-scale version, but equally appealing, graces rue Rodenbach in Forest.
Hôtel Solvay, Avenue Louise 224, 1050 Ixelles
Maison Cauchie, Rue des Francs 5, 1040 Etterbeek
Fashion, shopping and tourism increased at the time as Brussels became more prosperous. Architecture met this need with stunning Art Nouveau establishments like the Daniel Ost flower shop with its wonderful wooden-decorated façade (rue Royale 13), the Falstaff café with its gorgeous stained glass interior (architect Emile Houbon, rue Henri Maus 17-19) or the Hotel Métropole with its original entrance hall (Alban Chambon, 1893, place de Brouckère 31).
Maison Ciamberlani, Rue Defacqz 48, 1050 Ixelles
Horta House, Rue Américaine 25, 1060 Saint-Gilles
Hôtel Tassel, Rue Paul Emile Janson 6, 1050 Ixelles
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Hotel Metropole, Place De Brouckère 31, 1000 Brussels
Falstaff Café, Rue Henri Maus 19, 1000 Brussels
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Musical Instrument Museum, Rue Montagne de la Cour 2, 1000 Brussels.
Horta House, Rue AmÃ©ricaine 25, 1060 Saint-Gilles
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Art Deco arrives In the 1920s, the mood changed. Inspired by international movements like Viennese Jugendstil or the British Arts and Crafts movement, Art Deco arrived. Rebelling against Horta’s curved excesses, it applies to architecture and interior design. The name comes from the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, held in Paris. Like Art Nouveau, the movement spans all types of dwellings – from individual bijoux like Jette’s ‘Withuis’ (Joseph Diongre, avenue Charles de Woeste, 183) to public buildings including beautifully renovated 1933-built St Josse swimming pool (rue Saint-François 37). This keeps original features like the yellow brick tiles, two-tiered ‘cabines’ and warning in period-style writing that you MUST not swim until three hours after eating. This was also the age of the cinema. Brussels’ gems include the classified salle Grand Eldorado (1933) at what is now UGC De Brouckère. The huge hall is adorned with impressive, if less politically correct, images of Belgian colonialism by Maurice Wolf de Van Neste. The charming
Forest Town Hall, Rue du Patinage 30, 1190 Forest
Movy Club in Forest (rue des Moines 21) with characteristic stylized lettering on a yellow sign has its original ticket office. For Dubois, must-sees of the period include David and Alice Van Buuren’s house – now a museum – in Uccle (Avenue Léo Errera 41). “This is more for the ensemble it represents
“Brussels also boasts arguably the world’s largest Art Deco church, and fifth biggest Catholic church globally, the Green copper-domed Basilica de Koekelberg.”
Saint-Augustin Church, Place de l’Altitude Cent, 1190 Forest
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Villa Empain, Avenue Franklin Roosevelt 67, 1050 Brussels
“One of Brussels’ most famous buildings, the Viennese Secession-style Palais Stoclet with its tempting collection of Gustav Klimts, remains firmly shut.” with its garden and artworks, than for its architecture per se,” she explains. Indeed, the deep red-brick exterior of this late 1920s villa cre-
ated by Léon Govaerts and Alexis Van Vaerenbergh is charming, almost Amsterdam school Modernist.
Stoclet Palace, Avenue de Tervueren 279-281, 1150 Woluwe-St-Pierre
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Le Flagey, Place Flagey, 1050 Ixelles
Public Swimming pool of Saint Josse, Rue Saint-Franรงois 27, 1210 Saint-Josse
Villa Empain, Avenue Franklin Roosevelt 67, 1050 Brussels
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Stoclet Palace, Avenue de Tervueren 279-281, 1150 Woluwe-St-Pierre
Withuis, Avenue Charles de Woeste, 183, 1090 Jette
The wow factor comes from its art. The Van Buuren house features futuristic Jaap Giddings mosaic carpets as well as Peter Breughel the Elder, James Ensor and Gustave van de Woestyne paintings. Perhaps best of all is a walk round the grounds, or attempt to master the René Pechère-designed labyrinth/maze near the stunning rose gardens.
Another gem is Forest town hall. Jean Dewin’s 1925-built masterpiece is not as impressively gargantuan as its neo-Renaissance Flemish Saint-Gilles neighbour (Albert Dumont, 1904) or equally massive Schaerbeek Hôtel Communal (Jules-Jacques Van Ysendyck, 1919). But the beautifully renovated building’s statues are gleaming gold and the interior still keeps its original ‘ticket offices’.
The vast majority of Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings are viewable, if not regularly – at least occasionally, for example during one of Brussels’ annual Journées du Patrimoine (every third September weekend). But one of Brussels’ most famous buildings, the Viennese Secession-style Palais Stoclet (avenue Tervuren 279-281) with its tempting collection of Gustav Klimts, remains firmly shut. “I’ve never been able to visit, which makes it even more attractive,” Dubois said with a sigh of the Josef Hoffman masterpiece (1911).
Withuis, Avenue Charles de Woeste, 183, 1090 Jette
Other Art Deco gems have not suffered the same way. A visit to the sumptuous Villa Empain, now a successful arts museum run by the Boghossian Foundation, is “a must”, Dubois urges. The icing on the cake at this beautifully renovated Michel Polak building (1931-1934) is the Art Deco-ceramic tiled open-air swimming pool – sadly bathing is not permitted. Brussels also boasts arguably the world’s largest Art Deco church, and fifth biggest Catholic church globally. Green copper-domed Basilica de Koekelberg, the work of Albert Van Huffel, with its enamelled terracotta interior, towers over the city. The Bauhaus and Byzantine-influenced work features an amazing panoramic viewing platform.
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Economic decline and architectural change
Evere Town Hall, Square Servaes Hoedemaekers 10, 1140 Evere
Familistère, Quai des Usines 155, 1000 Brussels
La Cascade, Avenue du Général de Gaulle 36, 1050 Ixelles
“In the 1930s, the economic crash of the United States reverberated across Europe. Architects needed to scale down. Out went the costly ‘total art’ ideas of Horta, where even the door handles were beautifully worked.”
the majestic Flagey building, complete with ‘mast’ and tower (Joseph Diongre, 1935-1938). It is even nicknamed the ‘paquebot’ (ocean liner). Or check out stunning apartment blocks like nearby ‘La Cascade’ (René Ajoux, 1939, avenue Général de Gaulle 36). In complete contrast to its swirly Art Nouveau Ernest Blérot neighbours, it caused a scandal when first built.
In the 1930s, the economic crash of the United States reverberated across Europe. Architects needed to scale down. Out went the costly ‘total art’ ideas of Horta, where even the door handles were beautifully worked. The money was no longer flowing to build more grand affairs like Horta’s Art Nouveau Hôtel Solvay or Polak’s Art Deco Résidence Palace with its sumptuous ceramic-tiled interior, theatre and gold-decorated swimming pool. In came more simple lines, influenced by ocean liners, and cheaper construction materials. Modernism ruled the waves. Chefs d’oeuvre include
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Also in Ixelles, Henry Van de Velde’s Hotel Wolfers (rue Alphonse Renard 60), with almost zero decoration – even windows – and arresting curved walls, is a real surprise next to its rather bourgeois neighbours. And on the Ixelles/Uccle border, don’t miss the Corbusier-influenced bright white ‘Maison de Verre’ (rue Jules Lejeune 69). Designed by Paul-Amoury Michel in 1935, it sports an almost totally glass façade. Public buildings too got the Modernist makeover. Budgetary constraints often transformed what were to be neo-Renaissance Flemish affairs into simpler, in my view more appealing, architecture. Evere’s maison communale, (Robert Rousseau, 1938-1939, square Servaes Hoedemakers) in true paquebot style using concrete and yellow brick, is a notable example.
“The 1930s Modernism also embraced socialist values, notably the need to provide lower-cost housing for Brussels’ workers.”
Or enjoy stand-out, striking reinforced concrete Eglise Saint-Augustin in Forest (architects Léon Guiannotte and André Watteyne, 1935). The crowning glory of place Altitude Cent, it is visible from miles around and as you come into Midi station. Like Evere’s town hall, it was destined to be a much grander and bigger building, before funds ran out in the 1920s. The 1930s Modernism also embraced socialist values, notably the need to provide lower-cost housing for Brussels’ workers. It was a tradition that began in the late 19th century. Brussels’ now forlornly empty ‘Familistère’ in Laeken (quai des Usines 155-157), stands incongruously opposite the Docx shopping centre. The grand Victorian-style industrial building was constructed to house the Godin saucepan factory workers. Many of Brussels’ amazing ‘cité jardins’ – some 25 were built between the wars – also have less expensive accommodation in mind. The aim is to provide simple, but attractive and comfortable houses using more economical materials. Green- and yellow-painted Le Logis and Floréal (designed by urban planner Louis Van Der Swaelen and architect Jean-Jules Eggericx), set in lush parkland and cherry trees in spring, is the most famous and ‘pretty’ area in wonderfully green Watermael-Boitsfort.
Maison Blomme, Avenue Franklin Roosevelt 52, 1000 Brussels
overlooking a beautiful fountained square, ‘Les Cytises’, rue de l’Eglise). Maison Wolfers, rue Alphonse Renard 60, 1050 Ixelles
But I find Berchem-Sainte-Agathe’s primarily monochrome Cité Moderne (Victor Bourgeois) and Anderlecht’s similarly roughcast concrete ‘La Roue’ (also designed by Eggericx as well as Fernand Brunfaut and Louis Henri de Koninck in the 1920s) more striking. In contrast, the first 30 years of the 20th century also saw charming cottage-style villas, often in Brussels’ greenest communes like Jette and Evere. Many are supremely ‘English’ with overhanging thatched rooves like François Van Meulecom’s gem in Forest (avenue Victor Rousseau 72-74). My favourites, adorned with beautiful flowers in summer and surrounded by lush front gardens, and more ‘Belle Epoque, beachy’, are in the ‘village dans la ville’ that is Berchem-Sainte-Agathe (for example avenue René Comhaire 94-112, or,
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Style Spirou architecture
Atomium, Square de l’Atomium, 1020 Laeken
The next major architectural movement, in the optimistic post-war 1950s, fitted Expo’ 58 perfectly. And what could be more Bruxellois than a movement, ‘Style Spirou’, named after a comic-strip? Many of Brussels’ more urbanised communes abound with bel-étage houses (garages under the living room floor) or apartment buildings with boomerang door handles, bright blue ceramics, star designs and quirky overhanging porches. In Molenbeek, the maison Durieu (rue de la Fraîcheur 26), with its gorgeous blue mosaic tiles and wacky steel balcony, of Jacques Dupuis (1954) has been classified. The commune also enjoys Style Spirou apartment blocks on Avenue de Roovere, overlooking park Marie-José. They feature brightly coloured, often muralled doorways and interesting-shaped door handles. ‘Residences’ in Etterbeek, for example Beaulieu or Reine Astrid, place du Roi Vainqueur, also ooze this style. Number 11 even has a beautiful, small ceramic-tiled mural of a mother holding her baby in bright sunshine. The jewel in the Style Spirou crown is undoubtedly the Atomium – a Brussels’ icon and Expo’ 58 showpiece. Its nine gleaming 18-metre diameter giant balls attracted some 650,000 visitors last year. It is hard to imagine what would have happened if this 102-metre, 2.5 million kg symbol of Brussels had turned out the way its original architects intended – as a glass arrow. If so, I doubt it would have lasted much longer than the Expo itself.
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“The jewel in the Style Spirou architectural movement is undoubtedly the Atomium – a Brussels’ icon and Expo’ 58 showpiece.” Maison Durieu, Rue de la Fraîcheur 26, 1080 Molenbeek
Brusselisation Shortly afterwards, Brussels made its name on the skyscraper front. In Forest, Jacques Cuisinier built gigantesque and dramatic 25-storey-plus concrete buildings including Royal Building, place Albert (1962) and the Corbusiesque stilt-containing, boomerang-shaped Magnanerie (avenue Minerve, 1957).
But Dubois remains optimistic. “We did not just build horrors, and now we must conserve our ar-
At the other end of the city, in Schaerbeek opposite Parc Josaphat, Brusilia (1967-1970) was also his creation. This giant was hated by some people, especially when it was first built. It was undoubtedly sad that its construction saw the end of a wonderfully retro sports and entertainment stadium (the Rolling Stones was its last event). But wonderfully curved Brusilia’s sheer size is staggering, the views are amazing and the interior – including a beautiful marble entrance hall – is very well maintained. Knocking down buildings was a Brussels trend at the time, Dubois regrets. “The biggest disaster architecture wise is clearly Brusselisation [in the 1960s],” with many characterless concrete buildings springing up after the Second World War. The arrival of the European Union in 1957 hardly helped. A mass of faceless, now often deserted, grey office blocks line the virtual motorways that are rue Belliard and rue de la Loi. Brusilia, Avenue Louis Bertrand 100, 1030 Schaerbeek
Residences, Place du Roi Vainqueur 11, 1040 Etterbeek
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and that was a mistake, but yes, restoring the building would have cost a fortune,” she told The Brussels Times. On the destruction front, clearly the loss, in 1965, of Horta’s stunning social monument ‘La Maison du Peuple’ was a tragedy. Inaugurated in 1899, this beautiful steel-structured building, with its amazing dinner halls, salles de spectacles and shops, had to make way for faceless 26-storey concrete Tour Blaton. Several other Art Nouveau gems suffered the same fate – for example Horta’s sumptuous Hotel Aubecq. Only its façade survived (with façadism being another Brussels movement). But now, the once-derided architecture of the 1970s and 1980s is also being classified/saved from the bulldozer. Renaat Braem’s concrete ‘Caprice des Dieux/cigar’ building (1971) – the nickname comes from its striking narrow oval shape – is Brussels’ VUB (Flemish) university’s star attraction architecture-wise. With some 500 metres of wonderful murals inside, the Braem building’s heritage is now secure, as it was classified in 2007.
Tour Albert, Avenue Ducpétiaux 146, 1190 Forest
“Knocking down buildings was a Brussels trend in the 60s. The biggest disaster architecture wise is clearly Brusselisation with many characterless concrete buildings springing up after the Second World War.”
chitectural heritage,” she said. This means looking after what Brussels has before it gets too late, necessitating exceedingly expensive restorations. “The Tour Martini on place Rogier [with its long slim tower topped by characteristic shining red Martini sign and shops beneath] was destroyed
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Demolition aside, Brussels’ predilection for fake architecture is another disaster, Dubois adds. “For me, a real horror when I arrive in the centre of town is all the ‘pastiche architecture’ that’s been built between the Gare Centrale and the Grand’ Place. I find that horrible, badly proportioned.” Unfortunately, it is the same elsewhere in Brussels. Instead of charismatic or architecturally beautiful ‘Grand’ Places’, Auderghem has an ugly Roman-style Place Communale. And Woluwe-Saint-Lambert’s Place Saint-Lambert, also dominated by pastiche buildings, is not much better. But these are details in a city that projects an innovative, endlessly fascinating architecture. Where else would you find a folly-like ‘prison’ overlooking a gargantuan town hall (Saint-Gilles), a real grotto de Lourdes (Jette), a Cité Moderne (Berchem-Sainte-Agathe) and Modèle (Laeken), Europe’s first honeycomb retro shopping centres (Woluwe-Saint-Lambert and Anderlecht), or Royal Greenhouses, a Japanese tower, or a Chinese pavilion (Laeken)? There are even railway stations (Schaerbeek) as grand as Antwerp’s in Brussels. Moreover, all this architecture is set in a wonderfully green city, boasting not only stunning parks, but also farmhouses, fields, and even a fair few water- and windmills.
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Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling The 500 Hidden Secrets of Brussels. He picks out ten of his favourite hidden secrets in each issue of The Brussels Times Magazine.
DEREK BLYTH’S HIDDEN SECRETS
BELGA AND CO We’ve raved in the past about Belga and Co’s two coffee spots in Ixelles where they serve coffee from their own roaster in Antwerp. Now they have planted a third branch right in the heart of the city in a 17th-century house on Grand Place. The interior has a cool Nordic living room look with potted plants, rugs and a shiny Marzocco espresso machine. During renovation work, the builders uncovered a series of seven beer-themed murals signed by M. Suët in 1956. Belga and Co
Grand Place 38, Central Brussels belgacoffee.com
INSIDE ART NOUVEAU
PETIT MERCADO This relaxed spot brings a taste of Buenos Aires to a former plumber’s store in Saint-Gilles. Inspired by the grocery stores of Argentina, the owners have set up a place where people can sit around drinking coffee or eating lunch. The spacious interior is decorated with wood floors, brick walls and a white tiled central bar. You can drop in for a coffee, a sandwich or a Brussels craft beer, or grab something from the shelves for supper. Maybe a tin of Portuguese sardines, or a jar of pesto, or a pack of locally-roasted Velvet coffee.
Rue de l’Hôtel des Monnaies, Saint-Gilles +32 (0)2 428 08 62
Walking around in Brussels, you spot beautiful houses in various architectural styles. But you normally never get to see beyond the front door. A new website created by urban.brussels now reveals what lies inside more than 80 houses using archive photos and contemporary images. You can admire the fabulous ceilings in a house built by architect Paul Santenoy, a gorgeous staircase concealed within an Art Nouveau house near the Ixelles ponds and Symbolist frescoes that decorate a Schaerbeek school. The site also suggests walking tours based on the buildings you have viewed.
LA CURIEUSE BALADE DU MAELBEEK The Brussels water authority has launched a creative project to remind us of the lost streams that run under the city. The plan is to create walking trails that follow the city’s hidden rivers. The first, launched earlier this year, is known poetically as La Curieuse Balade du Maelbeek. Beginning at Place Flagey, it meanders between 14 information panels along the Maelbeek valley where you can learn about local history, nature and ecology. Petit Mercado
Fernando Pessoa statue, Place Flagey curieuses-balades.be
L’ANNEXE Grégoire and Maxime started up a craft brewery in 2017 in a space in Saint-Gilles originally used as an annex to the art school across the road. They called it Brouwerij Hendrix after an old family brewery, but Straffe Hendrik brewery in Bruges complained the name was too close to their own brew. Grégoire and Maxime were forced to change the name to L’Annexe and glue new labels on their first batch of 10,000 bottles. You can drop in to chat or pick up a bottle or two of their Saison de Bruxelles beer.
Rue du Métal 19, Saint-Gilles lannexe.brussels
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BUDDY BUDDY Here is a new address to add to your list of cool brunch spots. Hidden away in a back street behind the Apple Store, it’s a stylishly minimalist coffee bar designed by trendy Mexico City firm Futura featuring terracotta coloured walls, mirrors and round tables. The coffee comes from Mok of Leuven while sourdough bread is supplied by Ixelles bakery Renard. The two owners, both vegan, make their own nut butters in a small workshop at the back of the café. Buddy Buddy
Rue des Drapiers 10, Ixelles buddybuddy.bio
LUNDI Graphic designers Line and Kathrin have created a stylish stationary shop in the chic Ixelles enclave known as Little Paris. They sell smart notebooks and paper by small Belgian, Portuguese and Danish brands, along with pencils, fountain pens and other essential supplies to set up your home office. They also have a small design studio next door where they print cards, invitations and anything else you might need.
Rue François Stroobant 14, Ixelles +32 (0)2 256 54 80, lundilundi.com
BRUSSELS COBBLES BELGIUM BEER DAYS Now that lockdown rules have been relaxed, craft beer expert Liselot Caura has relaunched beer tours in Brussels and in her home town Ghent. Her idea is to take small groups inside craft breweries like Beer Storming and L’Hermitage to meet the brewers and learn about the Belgian art of beer. She also drops into authentic bars to sample Belgian beers, including the latest low-alcohol and zero-alcohol drinks. Check her website for dates.
The cobblestone streets in Brussels are among the most beautiful in the world. After years of indifference, the city is now preserving this aspect of its heritage. The type of cobblestone varies from one neighbourhood to the next. The hard grey stones laid out on Grand Place are made from Belgian granite quarried in Wallonia. Just a few streets away, Place Saint-Jean is paved with light grey Belgian sandstone. The lovely sloping Rue des Renards in the Marolles features a warm red cobblestone mined near Jodoigne. Other streets are laid with imported sandstone cobbles from Portugal, India or China.
Grand’Place, Central Brussels
TSAR PETER THE GREAT STATUE The city has seen many important visitors over the centuries. They come. They stay a few days. And then they are forgotten. One of the most forgotten is Tsar Peter the Great, who travelled to Brussels in 1717. He is said to have drunk from a spring in the woods near the ducal palace and fallen backwards into the water. A bust of Peter the Great was put up close to the hidden valley where he tumbled into the water. The inscription says that he ‘ennobled the fountain by drinking his wine there at three in the afternoon.’ A statue near this spot was carved by the baroque sculptor Jérôme Duquesnoy the Younger. It represents Mary Magdalene lying in a grotto reading a book. It is unclear how it came to be in this lost valley near the royal palace.
Parc de Bruxelles, Central Brussels Tsar Peter The Great Statue
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