Ghent, Belgium. Abortion is the hottest topic here these days. Dr. Peers, a gynecologist from the Walloon town of Namur, has been arrested for having committed numerous abortions. This has provoked lots of demonstrations and public statements, pro and con. Most statements however, demand the liberation of Dr. Peers and the legalization of abortion. Even Catholic organizations seem divided. The Association of Female Catholic Workers has proclaimed its opposition to abortion for any but purely therapeutic reasons (even this conservative statement, however, already goes beyond the official episcopal statement—by the bishop of Ghent—rejecting abortion for any reasons), but the organization of students at the Catholic university at Louvain and a Catholic medical organization both demanded liberation of Dr. Peers and "adaptations" to abortion legislation. At this moment, it seems likely that "adaptations" indeed there will be; how far they will go is another matter. They will certainly stop short of "abortion on demand", wanted by women's liberation groups.
Important in all this could be the fact that we have a new government now, with Senator Calewaert (author of a bill to partially legalize abortion) and, as replacement for the conservative Mr. Vranckx, Mr. Vanderpoorten from the Liberal Party for Freedom and Progress, as the new Minister of Justice. The new government, which was established in order to command a bigger majority in parliament, is a so-called national union coalition, consisting of what used to be three parties, but which are now five: the still-united Belgian Socialist Party and then the Christian Social Party and the Party for Freedom and Progress, each being divided in separate Flemish and Walloon parts.
Last year, the Flemish Party for Freedom and Progress held a congress about "ethical" problems (roughly equivalent to "social issues" in the U.S.A.: drugs, abortion, pornography, censorship, divorce legislation, etc.) and came up with some surprisingly progressive conclusions and policy statements. Those may become even more important, now that the liberals are inside the government. Reactions to the congress were mixed, of course, but the fact that even some Catholics reacted favorably is significant.
One who certainly will not react favorably the day something changes is the mayor of Ghent, who regularly sends police to theater performances or picture exhibitions of a "perverse" kind. Recently he complained about the waning of the true Christian spirit.
Where that "Christian" (i.e. authoritarian) spirit seems to be quite alive is in the problem of gambling. Suddenly, more and more local administrations start prohibiting jackpots on their territory. A popular left-wing magazine, always pleading for tolerance towards, e.g., drug users, doesn't have a kind word for those "capitalist gamblers". When I pointed out their inconsistency, they found nothing better to answer than "repression need not always be bad."
DEVELOPMENTS IN HOLLAND
In the meantime, Holland is miles ahead of Belgium in the area of cultural freedom: nakedness, even on public television is no longer even an issue, and soft drugs are de facto legalized (with perhaps an exception still for the trade in huge quantities). Even concerning hard drugs, the tendency is rather towards tolerance than repression. The only time, recently, when some people thought things were going too far, it was, typically, not because of "ethical" issues, but because a television show ridiculized the queen, showing her while she was peeling potatoes, etc.
It should be noticed, incidentally, that in Holland as anywhere else, it is the right-wingers (in casu the liberals and democratic socialists), the presumed defenders of free enterprise, who favor wage and price freezes as a means to "fight inflation".
When, some months ago, you heard about Belgian shopkeepers striking against taxes, this may have gladdened your libertarian heart. It may sober you to learn that, among the demands of the strikers also figured: higher state-granted pensions and measures against the increasing number of supermarkets. Since the supermarkets offer better service and prices to the consumer, a lot of shopkeepers have been put out of business because of them.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Foreign Correspondent: Belgium".