The editor of the Brussels Journal blog, and the founder of the Centre for the New Europe think tank, was summoned to a police station to account for himself concerning the homeschooling of his, apparently, remaining child at home.
- The Brussels Journal, 15 June 2006, Brussels Journal Editor Threatened with Prosecution over HomeschoolingYesterday my husband Paul Belien, the editor of this website, was summoned to the police station and interrogated. He was told that the Belgian authorities are of the opinion that, as a homeschooler, he has not adequately educated his children and, hence, is neglecting his duty as a parent, which is a criminal offence.
My husband, a lawyer by training, and I, a former university lecturer, have homeschooled four of our five children through high school. These four have meanwhile moved on to university. Our youngest child is also being homeschooled, but she has yet to obtain her high school certificate, for which she is currently taking exams.
The blog post created an English-language online outpouring which isn’t as noticeable in the Francophone cyberverse, and made not a ripple when a search was made using a literal translation of “home school” into Dutch (perhaps the search term was incorrect?). For your convenience, Babel Fish is here.
Without being well-informed about Belgian and E.U. politics, it’s difficult to know exactly how the situation is viewed by the family’s non-homeschool sensitive, but seccessionist-sensitive, countrymen. The politicians’ opinions apparently are out in the open.
In looking at this incident, a little bit of Belgian history and culture is useful to know.
Belgian society is not a homogenous whole. The north of the country, Flanders, speaks Flemish, a dialect of Dutch; the south of the country, Wallonia, is French-speaking. Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot would have been a Walloon. There is also a small German-speaking part of Belgium in the east.
One of the most obvious indicators of the division in the country is that road signs are in Flemish and French, with some German added in the east for the German-speakers. When we lived outside of Mons, the traffic signs to Mons read “Mons Bergen,” “Bergen” being the Flemish name for Mons. If we were driving in Flanders, the signs indicating the direction to take for Mons read “Bergen Mons.” I don’t know how they read in the German section. Other name differences are Antwerpen/Anvers, Soignies/Zinnik, Braine-le-Comte/Gravenbrakel and for the capital, Brussel/Bruxelles. A pleasant tradeoff to the confusing road signs is that Belgium has better food in its rest stops along the Autoroute than other countries have in their restaurants. If you get almost hopelessly lost, not only will you not starve, you just might gain weight.
In Belgium, in addition to the good food, there is a separatist movement, and a separatist party is Vlaams Belang, formerly Vlaams Blok. The man who was summoned to the police station, Mr. Belien, who apparently is a flash point for Belgian authorities, is married to one of the Members of Parliament for the Vlaams Belang party, the lady who posted the report on the blog.
Local politics and outsiders
Vlaams Blok is a name with which my husband is familiar from our time in Belgium (’97 – ’99). It is the name of one of the dissident groups on which he kept tabs for American military force protection reasons.
American military personnel overseas are advised, repeatedly, to stay away from demonstrations, especially political ones. Military personnel are not supposed to involve themselves in the political workings of a host country. Such actions are professionally inappropriate and can lead to international incidents.
Vlaams Blok staged demonstrations, and so my husband stayed informed about when and where they would be demonstrating in order to advise American personnel to avoid the area. This is standard operating procedure. My husband even did this on one occasion when the Belgian police demonstrated concerning wages. The police demonstration in Brussels spilled into the area in front of the American Embassy, and so they, too, were on his list of ‘demonstrators to watch.’
Local politics can be a minefield for those who aren’t well-versed in the players and their goals, and the local ‘playbook.’ Even people ‘in the know’ can find themselves blindsided by aspects of situations of which they were unaware, so how much more foolhardy is it for those who are ignorant of anything to do with the situation to venture opinions?
And this is where I see the English-speaking homeschool community’s position on the summoning of Mr. Belien to the police station. We are outsiders and we don’t know who, what, or why. If other Belgian homeschoolers who aren’t politically active are not in jeopardy, then this particular incident probably isn’t ‘about’ homeschooling. There are probably other when and where aspects of which we are profoundly ignorant.
American ‘homeschool opinion’
The focus of online discussions concerning the spectre of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, parts of which were written into Belgian law, should probably be tempered. It is not up to us to tell other countries what they will, or will not, use in their laws. Watching may be instructive, but Chicken-Littleing will only cloud the picture.
Many of us object to the ‘one world government’ being imposed upon us via our govenment signing U.N. treaties, but yet we are in favor of a U.S. viewpoint of law as the standard for all other countries. Is the opposition to ‘one world government’ (in that there is not necessarily ‘one ring to bind them all’ but rather, one standard on which to base our viewpoint of the laws of nations) based on disagreement with the ‘one ring’ (any ring) theory in general, or rather, ‘you’re not the boss of me?’
How do you feel about the Belgian law that gives its courts jurisdiction over war crimes everywhere?
- The Flemish Republic (Vlaams Blok), July-August-September 2003, Belgium is not the conscience of the world (page 4)Ten years ago, on 16 June 1993, the Belgian Parliament accepted a bill that gives Belgian courts the right to prosecute for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide anywhere in the world, even if there is no Belgian connection to the events, the victims or the perpetrators.
- New York Times, New York, New York, 15 May 2003, World Briefing | Europe: Belgium: War Crimes Complaint Against FranksA lawmaker filed a lawsuit charging the commander of American troops in Iraq, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, with war crimes, prompting an angry demand by the United States that Belgium take action to prevent its laws from being used for political purposes. The suit was filed under Belgium’s universal competency law, which gives the courts jurisdiction to bring charges of international crimes even if the case has nothing to do with Belgium or Belgians.
Given that most Americans couldn’t find Belgium on a map with both hands and a flashlight, and couldn’t even connect the words Flemish and Flanders, much less Flanders, and Wallonia (and what is the tapped-out industry in Wallonia, and the nationality of the guest-workers still living in Belgium; can you tell me as much as that* without doing a Google search?), we should probably keep our online mouths shut, while keeping our online eyes open.
I think the folk wisdom on this is “we don’t have a dog in that fight.”
* Answers: coal and Italian