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
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
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.