A sad and frustrating story from the Belgian news last week
If I could pick one Belgian politician to be my father, or at least my funny funky uncle, it would be Bert Anciaux. Probably you don’t know him if you are not from Belgium. In 1999 he was elected as a Member of the European Parliament, but soon he choosed to be Flemish minister of Culture, Youth, Sports and Brussels instead (it would also be my first choice, I guess). This is him:
In the past few years I got to know him on several cultural events for youth all around Belgium. He is not the stereotypical kind of Minister, just shaking hands and speaking in a political slang that only other politicians can understand. Instead he almost invites you for a conversation if you meet him on the street. Three years ago he visited the booth of Youth and Poetry, where I was writing ‘public poetry’. We started talking, even though he was in a hurry. I remember I asked him for whom he would like to demand a poem. Almost immediately, he responded that his youngest daughter Kato would be the happiest toddler in the world if she had her own poem. He almost missed his meeting by talking about her. I noted every single detail and half an hour later I put my name under a little personal poem for the Minister’s daughter.
When I met him again more than a year later in 2007, I reminded him of the poem. “Did you get it?”, I wondered. How big was my surprise when he could even quote one of the lines. “It got a special place in Kato’s room”, he replied, after impressing me with his poetic memory. Of course I can not check if the ’special place’ meant the front wall or inside one of the drawers… But then he said something I could actually check. ” I even wrote about your poem on my blog”. For some reason, at that time, I didn’t expect a minister to have a blog. My own blogposts were limited to travel stories and sentimental diary entries, how could a politician make himself so vulnerable?
From that day on, I frequently visited “Bert’s Webstek” (www.bertanciaux.be) as he calls it, with as a subtitle ‘politics from the heart’. And that Bert Anciaux has a heart is a well-known fact in Belgium. In Belgium we have the expression ‘high trees catch a lot of wind’ and Bert Anciaux seems an easy victim to be critized by other players in the Belgian political field. In the previous years he has been blamed for being too ‘emotional’ , being the ‘cry baby’ and for his participation in a ‘celebrity shock’ television program. But last week the opposition tried to give him the final attack by analyzing and re-interpreting … his blog.
Even though I felt some criticism against Anciaux’ blog before because he disabled the comments-function, I always thought of it as a positive initiative. Different than me, Bert Anciaux is a dedicated writer, keeping his readers almost daily up to date about his life, work and experiences of the cultural and social field in Belgium. I enjoyed, and still enjoy, reading his blogpost. I wouldn’t call them ‘too emotional’, still it shows the human being behind the minister. He is not afraid to add some personal anecdotes or opinions, which makes him sound honest and sincere. As I said, he would be my perfect uncle for long talks during family reunions. No, he is not speaking purely as a minister, therefore he as an other website www.ministeranciaux.be How could you force a politician to be totally objective, only allowing him to repeat the governments’ opinion on his own personal website?
Bert Anciaux had to put up with the hard punishment by his opponents. His rivals seem to read his blog too. Word for word, searching for the line in which Anciaux stumbles, the sentence that could be interpreted in a wrong way. And right at the moment when Belgium had fallen in a deep shock after the killings of 3 baby’s and a supervisor in a Flemish day care centre in Dendermonde, opponents see the time is ripe to select a scapegoat…
As a Minister of Youth, minister Anciaux expressed his sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims in Dendermonde. That day he even wrote a personal story on his blog about the way his own children (Kato too) don’t dare to go to day care anymore and how they also don’t understand why and how a 21-year old boy can, out of the sudden, enter a creche and create a blood bath. But then he said something he better didn’t say, but is totally understandable in the context.
The part in the red square got even more political attention than the actual killings themselves.
” Here we speak about 15 victims, of which 14 are just children. It is shocking for all of us. I also thought about the hundreds of dead children in Gaza, intentionally attacked and killed by an agressor, while the agressors are not arrested. Also here violence and dead became the hard reality. Only that is already a hell. A thunder cloud when the sky seemed bright. A panic cry for all the children.”
Just some hours later, the negative reactions reached Bert’s mailbox and the news redactions. I don’t know exactly if the main attack came from the government or from Israelian organizations in Belgium. Anyway, Bert Anciaux became a ‘immoral’ in just some days, accused of comparing the Israelian war in Gaza with the brutal killings in Dendermonde. I wonder where they read that. Of course interpretation can allow people to read whatever they want, but the only thing I read here is that the Minister of Youth feels shocked when innocent children get killed. Aren’t we all shocked by that? Should we close our eyes and heart if the children are killed in the context of a war? If the war is officially not directed towards them, but against Hamas terrorists. Isn’t it clear that little children are NOT part of a terrorist movement? Should we only feel empathy for Belgian families who loose their children in horrible circumstances and just be ok with it if there are political reasons behind it?
Personally I thought it was a misunderstanding, all the discussions and front page articles about Anciaux’ controversial blog-quote. Isn’t there any emphatic colleague in the government who sees Anciaux is not directly attacking Israeli, but that he just feels terrible hearing about dead children and places himself into the minds of the parents of the victims, imagining how painful it would be? No matter if it is in Gaza or in Flanders. But some other politicians don’t seem to understand, or don’t want to understand…
If you ask me what I don’t like about politics, it must be exactly cases like this. Young politicians enter the field full of ideals and dreams. I am sure they were inspired by people like Ghandi, wanting to ‘be the change’. But once they reach influential positions in the government, their ideological ambitions are already so flattened by criticism, that they just follow the previous program, echo the opinion of the majority parties, try not to be the outsider and most of all, not commiting the ‘affective fallacy’. Why should politicians be objective? How could they ever be? Aren’t political parties the people in the position to write manifesto’s, to go against issues they see go wrong in our society?
Young politicians like Bert Anciaux, who dare to face the new media in order to interact with who-ever it may concern, who are not afraid to show their human side and share their thoughts on a weblog (even if these thoughts don’t correspond with the Governmental ‘one’), are people I will respect more than politicians who just play hide-and-seek, only showing their face when they can criticize their rivals (and keep their own face protected).
I don’t want to sound so sceptic, I just would like to hear your opinions and express my sympathy for Minister Anciaux. What would you think of Bert Anciaux if he was a minister in your country? And what about politicians and personal blogs in general? Does freedom of speech allow politicians to write subjectively about burning issues or should he be forced to walk in the safe zone, sitting on the fence with only some hollow ‘objective’ copy-words?