Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tragedy in Liège

Today at lunch time has been a terrible tragedy in the historic city of Liege when a murderous attack killed four people and injured 75 (so far, numbers may change) in the middle of the city. The first target seems to have been a bus shelter at Place Saint-Lambert. There are conflicting reports about who is guilty for this. Witnesses said there were a group of attackers, shooting guns and throwing bombs, officials though say there was only one, Nordine Amrani (32) who carried out the killings and then did suicide to himself. Emergency stations were set up, people were advised to stay off the streets and emergency assistance was sent from Namur and Maastricht. It is a terrible, terrrible day and the pictures released even by the media are shocking of the horror and bloodshed. Who could do such a terrible thing? I don't know who is Nordine Amrani. The police say he was sentenced to 58 months in prison in 2008 after an inspection of his home found stocks of illegal weapons and 2,800 cannabis plants. From just the name, Amrani, I would guess he was a Moroccan but I cannot know that for sure yet. After what has happened in so many cities all across Europe and what happened in Norway, the first thing that entered my mind was this was either a deranged Muslim or a deranged Belgian angry at the Muslims all over the country. Every act of mass violence seems to be one of those two nowadays. Just recently the news said that in my beloved Antwerp a Kalashnikov (AK-47) was found in the home of a young Belgian convert to Islam who is a member of the radical group Sharia4Belgium. And in Mons a Muslim father was recently sentenced to 25 years in prison for the "Honor Killing" of his own daughter, Sadia Sheikh. A brother who was the one who actually shot the poor girl was sentenced to 15 years in gaol and a sister was given five years. She was 20 years old and what was her "crime"? She wanted to marry her Belgian boyfriend instead of the Pakistani chosen by her parents. What is the country coming to? Never before have such things happened. Even my parents who are the most peaceful, moderate (and really boring!) people you can think of, are becoming alarmed by all of this that seems to be increasing every day. But what can you do? Today all I can do is say a prayer for the poor people in Liege and their families who have been robbed of their loved ones by this maniac.
The King and Queen late tonight visited the scene of the disaster, meeting with local officials, survivors and families of the victims. The feeling of horror could be seen on their faces all day.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Holy Sepulchre Ordre

Recently I saw the coverage that Vatican Cardinal John Patrick Foley (American) passed away just yesterday. The Cardinal was President of the Pontifical Council on Social Communications and, I am told, for many years provided the English language commentary for the papal Midnight Mass on Christmas every year. He was also the Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. This order is, I think, not usually considered one of the "papal honors" but it is under the protection of the Popes and has a significant connection to the Kingdom of Belgium. It traces its history back to the Belgian leader of the First Crusade, Godfrey de Bouillon who was the first "Advocate of the Holy Sepulchre".
On October 19, 1955 King Albert II and Queen Paola were both given membership in the order. The King is "Knight of the Collar" and the Queen is "Dame of the Collar". It is the only Vatican order of which the Queen is a member. The King also is "Bailiff and Knight Grand Cross of Honor and Devotion" of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Prince Philippe is also a "Knight Grand Cross" of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, he was given that honor also in 1995. He is also a "Knight of Honor and Devotion" of the Order of Malta as well. Prince Laurent is not a member of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre but he is a "Knight of Honor and Devotion" of the Knights of Malta since 1998 (so take that everyone who thinks he is a bad person!). I don't think I have ever heard of Cardinal Foley before but he sounds like he was a very good, devout priest from what I have read about him since his passing away, defending even those positions of the Church which have become unpopular to many people today. The new Grand Master of the Holy Sepulchre Order is another American, Cardinal Edwin Frederick O'Brien, and I hope he has great success in that post. If any of you reading want to be a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre also, all I can say is to make some important friends. Membership is given only by invitation of local bishops with endorsement by active members.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Princess Claire Defends Her Man

To start at the beginning, some days or weeks ago was made a sensationalist report in the media against Prince Laurent in a show on RTBF. I did not care to mention it at the time because it seemed too absurd and everyone is always trying to say something negative about Prince Laurent and it seemed to me this was just trying to purposely be the most outrageous to get more attention in the media. The accusation was that Prince Laurent is some brutal maniac who is terrible to everyone around him and even abusive to his family. Just when he was starting to show up at family events again, like the King and Queen were starting to forgive him for being such a loose cannon something like this of course happens. I never believed such a thing at all, no matter what the television says. Prince Laurent has never seemed to me to be a malicious or brutal person at all, only someone who seems to lack good judgment sometimes and wants to do things his own way. He also does not realize that for a Prince, anything at all you say in public, 'can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion'. That is a long way apart from being a harsh, unfeeling brute.

As not unusual, the Prince tried to ignore these terrible accusations and go on with his life but the media will not let it go. A story like this, with Prince Laurent, is like catnip for them. So, a few days ago the Prince is opening in Brussels a new homeless shelter for homeless people with pets (he often does charity causes for pets). When he was speaking to the press about this occasion (or rather he wanted to be talking about this occasion) all they wanted to do was hurl questions at him about the show on TV saying what a terrible person he was. That was when Princess Claire could stand by silently no more. She stepped forward and ended the press conference right there, saying that would be the end of it, that what was said about her husband was totally untrue and very hurtful to her and their children. Not only these accusations but all the other stories that are passed around like gossip that always portray Prince Laurent in a negative light. Bravo Princess Claire! Here is a strong woman who will defend her husband.

I am proud of Princesse Claire for doing this. It must be very hard on her and the three children to have their husband and father so often picked on in the media, a very popular pasttime lately it seems. And I just cannot believe those stories. Prince Laurent does not and never has seemed that type of personality to me, I don't think Princess Claire would still be married to him if he was and I think about the King and Queen. Would they let their grandchildren stay in a home if the Prince was in any way abusive? The King has shown he will take firm measures when the Prince acts in an undisciplined way and Queen Paola --what fiery Italian grandmother would let that situation continue? I cannot believe it and I always thought it was too outrageous to be true. That makes it very unfortunate for Prince Laurent and his family but I am glad he has a strong and loyal wife like Princess Claire to get him through these difficult times. She is really great!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The King and the New Government

Yesterday, in the presence of the King at Laeken Palace the new government was sworn in. So it is finally over. The bad jokes can stop, politicians wives can stop withholding sex from their husbands, patriotic men can shave their beards off and everyone be glad that the country will not be falling apart right now, at least not because of the deadlock of the parties. One thing that prompted an agreement to finally be made was the inability of the caretaker government to deal with the worsening economic crisis, not just across the European Union but Belgium itself also when agencies downgraded Belgian credit rating from AA+ to AA, which will make borrowing money more expensive (not that I understand economics at all). So, after all this time, even the parties began to realize that if Belgium did not have some kind of government, if even it was not ideal, the two halves of the country would be ruined together. So, finally an agreement was made and the King asked Elio Di Rupo to take the position of Prime Minister. It is one of the smallest governments Belgium ever had with only 13 ministers and 6 secretaries of state. In this case, at this time, maybe smaller is better anyway.

Not everyone of course is happy. That is not going to be surprising but what might be is just what some people are complaining about. One headline said of the new cabinet, “Too few women and too West Flemish”. Is this for a joke? Over five hundred days of deadlock and no government and some people are complaining because only 6 of the 19 are women and 6 of the Flemings are all from West Flanders. Too little diversity? But surely having Elio Di Rupo for Prime Minister should count for a number of different minorities. Limburg has no representative, Antwerp only 3 (hey!) and, for the first Francophone prime minister in decades there is worry for the ability of Elio Di Rupo to speak Dutch (he does not do it very well). The feminists are upset, many Flemings are upset (which should have been expected under the circumstances, by both groups) and one feminist Fleming said there is “no excuse” for this outrage! My apologies for not having all groups represented ideally but really, it was 541 days without any government at all! Obviously not everyone will have everything they want and when this much time has passed by and the situation becomes more and more serious the choices will clearly be worse and worse. This mentality itself is for me what is upsetting. It is no wonder the country seems always on the brink of collapse when everyone is keeping a chart to see if “their” side, group, language, gender, region and everything else is always represented no less than every other one with their own charts.

With everyone talking about the deal that was made, who gets this or that and how many “firsts” this represents for Elio Di Rupo being Prime Minister, the one person the media overlooks in all this is the most important, THE KING! It was all along the King who was the only person involved in the process with no ulterior motives or agenda, no special interest for anything before the nation entire and there was no one like the King who put everything else aside to find an agreement that would be in the best interests of the country. In 2007, 2010 and this year the King had to call off his vacation time because of the crisis and we know how many times he has had to pick new mediators, persuade mediators to stay on and acted himself as a broker between the leading politicians. Before anyone applauds too highly Monsieur Di Rupo, remember the times he was wanting to give up on the process but the King recalled him and persuaded him to stay on and see things through until an agreement was at last reached. While foreign politicians mock Belgium for this impasse and while the media makes a big joke of the inability of the parties to work together it has all the time been the King who has done his duty, ignoring all else, refusing to participate in any festivities so long as the work of the state was left undone because of the deadlock.

Think back to how many mediators resigned over these difficulties. Can I remember them all? Not at all, Bart De Wever, as a courtesy, made the first effort but no one was having anything to do with him. Elio Di Rupo then came in, tried and failed. Danny Pieters and Andre Flahaut took their turn, I remember Johan Vande Lanotte who quit after three months of negotiations (who tried to resign earlier but the King refused him). He was followed by Didier Reynders (who I cannot help find funny, something about him makes me always laugh) then there was Wouter Beke of the Christian Democratic and Flemish Party, also ending in frustration and finally Elio Di Rupo again who has finally emerged as the Prime Minister. Throughout all of these people who tried, grew frustrated and failed in these hundreds of days, the one permanent, reliable and sincere figure who never gave up and who always had only the best interests of his country at heart was King Albert II. He should be given credit for all of his efforts, he is the real hero in this ugly display of partisanship and it is the King who everyone should applaud and be proud of. Vive le Roi! Leve de Koning!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Birthday of Princess Lea

Last Friday, December 2, was the birthday of Princess Lea, wife (now widow) of Prince Alexandre and sister-in-law of the King. Even though I am late to mention this I wanted to because she is from that part of the family that seems to get very little attention or consideration. Surely they are grateful to be spared the sort of attention the others are given but it bothers me that so many act as though they 'don't count'. Princess Lea would agree with me I think since she said that was a reason for publishing a photograph book on her husband and the family. I realize naturally there were problems. She had been married twice (I think) before and Prince Alexandre married her without the approval or knowledge of the King and their union was only known in 1998. Even so, she seems like a nice lady and I don't wish anyone unpleasantness. They had no children so all the worry about titles and succession seemed a little silly to me, just take them all as they are I say and I hope there are still friendly relations with Princess Lea and all the rest of the family. Happy late birthday wishes to her.