I stopped shaving on January 15, 2011, following the suggestion of the  belgian comic actor Benoît Poelvoorde.

This is a very belgian way of protesting. A visible -- yet half-joked -- way of  denouncing the deep democratic failure of  a country unable to get a government 200 days after election. In that matter, Belgium could soon hold an infamous world record...

Stopping shaving is sort of funny but also has a darker intepretation. What  needs to get hidden under the beard?  In my case, I decided to protest after a three week long strike in the prison of Lantin, 25 kms from the place where I live. Read this testimony if you want to get a taste of what a prison strike at christmas time means. I am ashamed and wonder how my country fellows dare to fuss about Guantanamo. I wish to think that this would not have happened in the presence of a proper governement. As I write those lines, tens of thousands people prepare to proclaim their shame in Brussels, following the call from 5 young students. I guess for tens of thousans of good reasons.

Do not think that Belgian politicians are just stupid. Actually, some of them  end up occupying high and envied positions in EU. Supposedly, their most praised quality is an unsurpassed sense of compromise. Well, but they get there after a long long training within a small small country. And before being allowed to think big, they have to prove that they can think very small.

The following essay about identity (!)  is a wonderful illustration of this straight fact. Of course, you should read it in the local language. A --still locally -- famous clever belgian politician is disputing against a --by now globally-- famous clever belgian politician about the question of identity. In a nutshell, the argument is that thinking globally is a luxury reserved to the wealthiest. Thinking locally is the duty of  those who want to protect the weakest.

We heard that before.  Populism is neither new nor specifically belgian. But is'nt striking to hear identity valued once again in academic cenacles?  It reminds me the horrific feeling of Stefan Zweig describing  identity praised among his academic peers in the darkest times of the last century. It reminds me his wonderful essay "Erasmus", portraying a symbolic and  intemporal comparison between the humanist Erasmus and the activist Luther. Thinking global versus thinking local. Is the global an opportunity or a threat for the local? Disputing over religion in the 16th century; over race in the 20th; over language in the 21st. A reassuring evolution, in a sense. But exploiting a same plain driving force throughout centuries: the anxiety of people when their freedom is under economic pressure.

Talking about economic consequences of our absence of government, my research lab (and many others in Belgium, including most top ones) is threatened to loose 800.000 euros over the next five years as a consequence of no government. Collectively, this means hundreds of  top belgian students, educated with belgian money, who will go abroad to do their research, offering their talents to more efficient countries. They will quickly learn to think big and will not suffer from economic pressure. Only their country will.

This is just one personal example. Actually, many many people are threatened in some of their activities by the absence of government. Singularly, politicians are'nt. Over the last 8 months, they have received peak media coverage and gained an overwhelming sense of importance.

Are economic sanctions unthinkable against politicians in office when they fail to meet a deadline? Is this universal rule of efficiency antidemocratic when it comes to preserve the efficiency of a democracy? One thing is certain: it would not harm our budget and would quickly solve our problem. Belgian politicians themselves are keen to discuss such measures when it comes to fighting unemployment, a daunting problem of Belgium. Funny that they have'nt thought of applying such measures to themselves.

But please, I am anxious to shave again.

Contact: stopshaving@gmail.com