Foreign Correspondent: Belgium


GHENT, BELGIUM. Martin Bormann may be dead (at the time I am writing this he has once again risen from the grave and been reburied) but his and his old fellows' spirit is alive: in our tiny neighbour, Luxembourg, people wanting to marry, have to submit from now on to a medical examination. And no wedding bells, of course, if it happens to show unsatisfactory results. Even more funny (for you have to regard these things as good, if somewhat sinister jokes, if you don't want to be driven into neurosis): the prominent Flemish newspaper, which carried this news had two sidethoughts about it:

1. why only a medical examination and not also one about sexuality, fertility and psycho-hygiene (whatever that may be), and

2. why are we, Belgians, so backward once again not to follow this good example. I have to avow, shamefacedly, that on reading this for a few seconds I almost felt proud to be a Belgian. Temporary weakness!

At the same time when this happened (i.e. at the end of March), the German government adopted a divorce bill of rather mixed value. Ratification by parliament may take one year. A fault, committed by one of the partners, would no longer be the ground for divorce. A simple statement by the judge that the marriage looks like a failure, would be sufficient. He would be allowed, however, to make that statement only after both partners have lived separated for one year in case they both agree on the divorce. If only one partner wants the divorce, three years would be necessary. The judge could refuse to grant the divorce if it would inflict severe hardship on one of the partners. Economic considerations, however, could not be considered as such. These problems, indeed, have to be regulated rather by alimony, which again would no longer be based on "fault" but on the economic and social position of the partners.

These new regulations may provide some improvement from the current state of affairs but will scarcely provoke libertarian enthusiasm.

A footnote to the Belgian abortion problems: it's amusing to see how especially the Catholics, who are largely responsible for our repressive contraceptives legislation, have become enlightened and broad-minded overnight. As excellent tacticians, they have seen they would lose that fight anyway. Now their theme runs: "If contraceptives were more readily available, abortion would not be necessary." It is also somewhat alarming to see how Mr. Vanderpoorten (Minister of Justice, and successor of the infamous Mr. Franckx), who was supposed to be a progressive, starts discovering the virtues of "prudence and moderation". While his Freedom and Progress Party continues making a rather libertarian stand on abortion, he himself makes statements like: "I don't like women who always talk about their belly" (hereby alluding to the well-known feminist slogan: every woman master in her own belly).

Suddenly we, too, discovered we had an inflation problem. During 1972, e.g., the price of potatoes rose by 81 percent, steak and roast beef went up by 22 percent, bread by 11. This year, for January alone, the cost of living went up by a whole percent. Finding the heat rising too sharply, the Minister of Economic Affairs thought he urgently needed breaking the thermometer: price controls will be reinforced and all companies will have to get prior permission from the government for all proposed increases.

The same newspaper mentioned above sympathizingly represented the fact that the professional union of photographers had decided to take legal action against amateurs committing unfair commercial practices. As you may have guessed, these practices consisted in doing the same thing the professionals did and charging a lower price for it.

But the real masters in securing their own monopoly position are the doctors, as shown in previous columns. Here is another example: The official doctors' organization of Brussels has brought an action against 28 chiropractors, charging that chiropraxis is part of medical science and that, therefore, the chiropractors, none of whom has a doctor's certificate, practice medicine illegally. If the court sustains this point of view, the chiropractors will either have to kiss their profession goodbye or become employed as paramedical assistants with Herr Doktor.

In the meantime, the government of Denmark is pushing for what may become the finest example of economic collectivism in the western world. It proposes the compulsory establishing in every concern of an "Employee Fund" which ultimately should amount to 5 percent of all salaries paid. The employers would have to provide all the money for the fund, but would be totally excluded from the council controlling its use. This council would consist of six employee and four Big Brother representatives. Every employee could claim his part of the fund after seven years. Its amount would not be calculated according to his own salary, but to the average concern salary.

Well, so much for a balanced picture of recent events in Europe: some of the news was bad and some was very bad.