In The News

Taliban Decree On Women, Averted Shutdown, Metal Planet

👋 Sannu!*

Welcome to Friday, where the Taliban issue a decree on women’s rights, the U.S. avoids another government shutdown, and we discover the most metallic planet ever. Delhi-based news website The Wire also suggests Indians should pause before any nationalistic boasting about the choice of Parag Agarwal as new Twitter CEO.

[*Hausa - Nigeria & Niger]

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His Pill? We're Long Overdue For Male Contraceptive Alternatives

Male contraception, both pharmaceuticals and procedures, is gaining increasing interest. Yet to date, there is no male contraceptive drug authorized on the market.

If contraception has been a woman's business since the 1960s, it was in the 1990s that international bodies began to take an interest in the idea of sharing the burden of contraception. After the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 1994) and the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), calls emerged for sharing the responsibility for birth control with men.

By affirming gender equality in all spheres of life — societal, familial, sexual and reproductive — men are challenged to take personal and social responsibility for their sexual behavior and fertility.

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No More Monkey Business: Antwerp Zoo Bans Woman From Seeing Her Chimp Chum

"He loves me and I love him. Why would you take that away?"

There's only so much monkeying around the Antwerp Zoo will tolerate. Belgian woman Adie Timmermans learned this recently, having developed what she called a special "relationship" with Chita, a 38-year-old chimpanzee whom she visited almost every day for four years. Zoo authorities now think the bond might have grown too strong and decided to ban Timmermans from visiting her monkey friend.

Whenever Timmermans came to the zoo, Chita would walk over to the glass enclosure, blowing kisses and scratching his head. So why separate the interspecies pals? Sarah Lafaut, the zoo's mammal curator, tells Belgian news channel ATV that Chita ended up paying too much attention to Timmermans and was at risk of being excluded from his primate peers.

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Not All Frites and Beer: Does Eating Belgian Make Sense?

When it comes to food, the fears linked to globalization must be put into perspective. They must also be weighed against the negative effects that Belgian protectionism could have on our economy.

BELGIUM — "Eating local" has become a global trend. Both the political world and the private sector are riding the "ethical consumption" wave and trying to take advantage of it by catering to the patriotic feelings of the "consumer voter." Whether it's a regional food relocation plan or the "BELhaize" campaign, through which the famous chain stop promotes "local products," the aim is to encourage people to buy "Belgian." However, this is neither in the interest of Belgium, nor the planet's.

Distrust in food imports was already palpable before the pandemic, as was the reaction caused by the free trade agreement between the EU and Canada. But these sentiments have been amplified by the health-crisis related supply problems for strategic products. While it's essential to be resilient with regard to products (e.g. semi-conductors or active pharmaceutical ingredients), Belgium would not benefit from a protectionist retreat with regard to food. It's not often pointed out that Belgium is one of the EU member states that benefits the most from the free movement of goods within the single market. Erecting economic barriers to food by favorably discriminating between Belgian products and those produced elsewhere — especially European products — is potentially dangerous. Such protectionist barriers against Belgian products, if extended to all goods, could result in the loss of up to 15% of Belgian GDP.

A man shops the bio (organic) section at a Carrefour in Brussels — Photo: Isopix/ZUMA

The Belgian food industry boasts exports worth 27 billion euros and contributes to a positive trade balance of several billion. Our biggest trading partners, both for imports and exports, are the EU member states and in particular our neighbors: Germany, France and the Netherlands account for 55% of our exports. The question arises as to whether, in a small country like Belgium, it is reasonable to encourage a consumer in Liège to prefer a vegetable produced in Visé instead of Maastricht. What would happen to our economy and our jobs if we pushed other European citizens to turn away from Belgian products? Promoting the know-how of our Belgian producers should involve the creation of a favorable economic environment that allows them to keep or gain market shares, in Belgium or elsewhere.

What would happen to our economy and our jobs if we pushed other European citizens to turn away from Belgian products?

First of all, it is strange to present the purchase of Belgian products as particularly "local" even though 56% of the country's population lives less than 25km from a national border, 65% when it comes to the Walloons. Thus for the inhabitants of Bastogne, eating products from Flanders is less local than eating French, Dutch, Luxembourgish or German goods.

It's appropriate, then, to question the widespread idea that eating locally is better for the planet. The assertion must, at best, be strongly nuanced; at worst, it's completely false. To understand why, we must first demystify the impact of transportation on the environmental cost of our plates. It is minimal: less than 10%. In reality, most of the greenhouse gas emissions come from the production of our food itself. Animal proteins have the greatest environmental impact. The "geographical" characteristics of the countries where our food is produced are also parameters that must be seriously taken into account.

Mussel farmer Peter Cooleman with his Belgian North Sea mussels. — Photo: Kurt Desplenter/Belga/ZUMA

Due to a favorable climate, produce such as strawberries or tomatoes from Spain, for example, have a much lower carbon footprint than those grown in greenhouses in northern Europe. Thus, for consumers concerned about their environmental footprint, it is much more useful to refuse their consumption of meat, even if it is Belgian, than to stop buying Italian tomatoes. Since the environmental impact of the origin of most products is insignificant compared to the impact of meat, eggs and dairy products, discriminating products according to their "nationality" is useless.

Fears of globalization must be put into perspective when it comes to food and weighed against the negative effects of protectionism on the Belgian economy. The economic opportunities that the single market offers to our small country are immense. As for the fight against climate change, it should not be used as an instrument to feed inward-looking attitudes and to support protectionist measures. On the contrary, we could seize the opportunity, on a European scale, to be part of the single market that has different climates in order, for example, to produce where the environment allows optimal production from an ecological point of view.

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Sources
Genevieve Mansfield

Google Forces 69-Year-Old To Prove That He’s Not Underage

A serious AI fail in Belgium for the supposed algorithm experts of Mountain View.

Guy, a 69-year-old Belgian, was simply trying to enjoy a YouTube video when Google threatened to lock him out of all of his affiliated accounts … because according to their software, he was under 15 years old.


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WHAT THE WORLD
Clémence Guimier

Asparagus Recipe Baked Into Belgian Legal Decree

"Preheat oven to 250 °C, add three teaspoons of salt into water, rinse and peel the asparagus and wait 30 minutes before cooking…" If you are craving asparagus au gratin after reading these lines, you can find the rest of the recipe online, on any number of cooking websites … Or, until a few days ago, smack in the middle of an official Belgian government decree.

An asparagus and Cantal cheese recipe was found, lost in the text of a new law on the price of medicine, published by the Federal Public Justice Service of Belgium. After further investigation, French daily La Voix du Nord found that the cooking recipe belongs to Marmiton, a popular cooking website in France and Belgium.

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WHAT THE WORLD
Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

This Is Not An Omelet: Belgians Try To Crack Surreal Translation Mystery

A road sign for a 'detour' gets lost in translation.

In a country with three official languages, French, Dutch and German, it's inevitable that some translations are going to get scrambled. But in Jette, a small town in Belgium, a recent road sign alerted drivers of an "Omeletje." Yes, that means "omelet" in Dutch, though it seems the translator simply jumbled the Dutch word for detour: "Omleiding."

As the Brussels Times quipped, several passers-by "questioned if the sign was really pointing people towards the well-known egg dish."

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Coronavirus
Hugues Bersini*

The Case For Letting Algorithms Run The Vaccine Rollouts

Belgium's vaccination campaign is a prime example, computer scientist Hugues Bersini argues, of how technology can not only improve efficiency, but also, in some cases, make things more fair.

-OpEd-

Even the most technophobic of our fellow citizens could acknowledge the three essential virtues of algorithms:

First, there is no better way to manipulate numbers and optimize quantities.

Second, their time-saving advantage is undeniable (take, for example, Waze, Google, banking applications, etc.).

And third, they are rigid and difficult to hijack, making fraud much harder (planes are always hijacked with a Kalashnikov — not by writing lines of code).

Since the COVID crisis began, the countries that have made the best use of software devices for tracing contacts, organizing quarantines and testing are among those which register the lowest number of casualties — specifically the Far East countries, including the least liberticidal among them.

It's easy to understand why, considering the first two virtues listed just above. This crisis is full of numbers to be minimized (the reproduction rate, the number of serious cases and contacts) or to be maximized (social distance, the number of tests...) and a race against the virus and its variants is still underway. As the French President Emmanuel Macron said, virus is the master of time.

A good algorithm would allowed last doses to be given to the people who needed them the most.

I have already criticized the use that has been made of these software devices and the extraordinary flaws revealed, during the crisis, when public services exploited these same devices. There was the failure of the Bluetooth contact tracing app and the initial difficulties to organize the tests. Later, and despite the fact we've been in this crisis for a year, there were the unacceptable hiccups when people booked vaccination appointments, toward the start of the campaign.

We saw young people, in good health and teleworking, lifting their shirt sleeves to get the vaccine, instead of the at-risk elderly people who need it most. And what a peculiar idea Belgium had, unlike many European countries, to send vaccination invitations without first allowing people to state whether they wanted to be vaccinated or not ... The result? An unbearable number of unanswered invitations and, today, having to compensate with a flawed software called QVAX.

The reality, though, is that the vaccination campaign actually constitutes the perfect example of a crisis situation where algorithmic assistance is vital. For a successful rollout, it is necessary to make calculations by combining at least three different quantities: the available vaccine doses, which vary all the time; the cohorts of patients who need to be vaccinated; and the capacity of vaccination centers.

We need to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible while also preventing fraud and preferential treatments — something that is inevitable as long as people are in charge and that, in some countries, has brought down ministers and other influential figures.

In Belgium, some of these priority reversals were justified by the so-called last doses that need to be administered promptly. But this is not a good reason because, again, using a good algorithm would have allowed these last doses to be given to the people who needed them the most, while respecting the priority order, instead of favoring friends.

A perfect match

Computer scientists are familiar with the Gale-Shapley algorithms: They are used, for example, in organ transplants or in France's Parcoursup, an automated system for university enrollments, and what they're able to achieve is a perfect association between several essential elements — in this case, patients and vaccines, even though that latter is subject to shortages.

The algorithm, or at least the logic behind it, should be known to all.

These algorithms start by sequencing the first elements in relation to the second. This way, each patient can arrange his or her potential vaccines and vaccination centers in order of preference. At the same time, each available vaccine can do the same for the patients (with the centers able to sort out the patients by geographical proximity).

The algorithm achieves the perfect association, for example, matching the high-priority patients with the adequate vaccines and directing these patients to easily accessible locations. Also, any type of fraud becomes almost impossible with the algorithm, as your phone informs you, and no one else, about the and time and place of the vaccination appointment.

The algorithm, or at least the logic behind it, should be known to all; better still, it should be decided by all, in particular when it comes to the priority levels we grant patients.

Common sense has already made it possible to give priority to the elderly and/or people suffering from comorbidities. But when it is time to decide which job is more essential than another in the eyes of the virus, that's a whole different story!

We fear a rough and tumble kind of situation. This is where the citizens' assembly that President Macron wanted to create in France could have really made all the difference. Once these citizens reached an agreement, priorities would have been set in algorithmic stone, clearly and transparently. And nothing and no one could have made it diverge from that.

Finally, we shouldn't let privacy concerns stand in the way of this process: A lot was said about that in the newspapers, especially for people with comorbidities who suddenly became more than reluctant to expose their obesity or hypertension to the public. It is easy to see the absurdity of it when lives are at stake.

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Smarter Cities
Jean-Philippe Lens*

Smart Cities Won't Save The Planet: We Need Low-Tech Cities

The concept of smart cities is a kind of received wisdom among planners and technologists, but our digital world of today is not sustainable.

NAMUR — Last December, the morning after Saint-Nicholas Day, my daughter was impatiently waiting for the mailman, who was due to deliver the latest issue of her youth magazine. It immediately caught my attention as its front page featured a complete dossier on what our cities of the future will be like. Vertical, green but above all, connected. The word is out, our cities will be "smart cities."

This phenomenon is already booming here in Belgium. Every year since 2013, the Agoria organization bestows Smart City Awards to cities which invest in digital technology. Antwerp, Kortrijk, Ghent, but also Liège, Namur and Houffalize have all already received awards.

The idea behind this is to think about digital technology as vital to all the challenges posed by global warming, road congestion, air quality improvement or even biodiversity loss.

The result? A multitude of sensors, screens and wifi hotspots colonize cities, connecting everything that can be connected. All kinds of objects from swimming pool boilers to war memorial spotlights, road traffic flows or the level of glass shards in recycling bins, and even trees. The collected data is then transmitted, stored and processed, allowing optimal management of everything that makes up a city.

70% of the world's population will live in cities by 2050

Full car park? The GPS will automatically redirect your autonomous car to the nearest free parking spot. A full recycling bin? The garbage truck will be notified immediately and will arrive to empty it. Tree in need of water? The sprinkler will instantly activate, delivering the correct dose of nutrients.

The concept of smart cities is now discussed in all urban planning seminars and conferences. The founding argument by advocates is that 70% of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. Yet such a vision is likely to have a colossal impact on the environment.

According to data storage company Quantum, a 100% autonomous car would emit 5 to 10 terabytes of raw data every day (1 terabyte = 1 million megabytes). But in one of its studies, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) estimates that sending an email of 1 MB generates 20 grams of CO2. With these proportions, it would mean that an autonomous car would produce 100 to 200 tonnes of CO2… every day. These figures may be just a rough approximation, but they show the enormous challenge presented by the environmental impact of big data in the future. In 2019, it was already estimated that the Internet, if it were a country, would be the world's third-largest emitter of CO2…

What if, instead, the urban population started to decline by 2050? — Photo: Jack Cohen

While the connected city can certainly provide answers to future challenges, the low-tech city — a concept that's still largely absent in urban planning debates — can offer a range of solutions and technical innovations that are just as effective and much less energy-intensive.

For instance, rather than building an underground network of pipelines and stormwater basins equipped with sensors to monitor the level of runoff water at all times and manage its flow, the low-tech city only needs an overhead network of infiltration basins and temporary immersions basins. Not only is this solution cheaper and less energy-intensive, but it also helps to develop biodiversity and reinfiltrate rainwater into the water tables.

While the connected city maintains road infrastructure and invests massively in cameras, sensors and digital panels to channel all traffic flow as efficiently as possible, the development of its low-tech counterpart relies on public spaces for public transport, bicycles and pedestrians.

Waste management can also be handled differently. While the smart city equips each bin with a connected chip which alerts the waste collector as soon as the filling level is reached, the low-tech city eliminates the door-to-door collection system by the generalization of bulk, deposit and compost.

The Internet, if it were a country, would be the world's third-largest emitter of CO2

However, the low-tech city concept doesn't work well with a high population density. Beyond human infrastructure, it also requires a large surface area dedicated to natural facilities which play a role in regulating our resources and waste. Over a certain number of inhabitants, the lack of space forces you to switch to the connected city model.

According to urbanist Carlo Ratti, this is inevitable — still because of the assumption that 70% of the world's population will live in cities by 2050. But the inevitability of this trend can be questioned.

Indeed, for the first time in a century, the number of farmers is increasing, both in Flanders and in Wallonia, Belgium's two regions. And this is not a circumstantial effect: this rise reflects the start of an economic and demographic redeployment of our rural areas, in response to a dominant agro-food policy and its low prices which, crisis after crisis, has shown all its limits. Urban planning may be born from the attractiveness of cities, but above all, it feeds on the lack of interest in the countryside that intensive agriculture helped to create.

What if, instead, the urban population started to decline by 2050? This hypothesis would open a whole range of possibilities to the low tech city — enough to question our desire to transform all our cities into smart cities.

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Geopolitics
Anthony Bellanger

Press Freedom, Another 2020 Victim We Must Not Forget

In addition to coronavirus-related deaths, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) recorded 42 murders of journalists and media workers since the beginning of 2020 in targeted attacks, bombings and shootings.

-OpEd-

BRUSSELS — Health care professionals and other essential workers have been on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic and its effects for the past 12 months. But so are media workers, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects the right of individuals to receive and impart information. Journalists' work has been particularly vital in 2020 — a year when access to high-quality and reliable information on the COVID-19 pandemic has literally saved lives.

Unfortunately, our profession has had to pay a dramatic human cost for these efforts. Since the start of the pandemic, journalists around the world have risked their lives to cover reality on the ground, without proper protective gear and safety training. Under these circumstances, several dozen got infected with the coronavirus while carrying out their professional duties, and died from it. We will never forget them.

Journalism may not be considered one of the most dangerous professions in the world, but the global figures of how many media workers were killed show otherwise.

In addition to coronavirus-related deaths, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has recorded 42 murders of journalists and media workers since the beginning of 2020, in targeted attacks, bombings and shootings. The COVID-19 pandemic is aggravating this already critical situation: not only does it threaten journalists' safety, it also jeopardizes the environments in which media professionals carry out their work as the number of fatalities rise.

But that's nothing new. The IFJ's "White Paper on Global Journalism," launched on December 10 on International Human Rights Day, has listed the names of journalists who were killed over the past 30 years — a staggering 2,658. This means that about two journalists or media workers are killed every week. This is the unacceptable reality of our profession.

These numbers don't indicate that the most targeted and vulnerable journalists are actually the ones who work on a local level. Contrary to what everyone might think, nearly 75% of journalists killed worldwide didn't die in crossfires or during dangerous missions in conflict zones. Rather, they die in targeted assassinations, killed by a gunman on the back of a motorcycle, shot or stabbed near their home or office, or found dead after being kidnapped and tortured. This is the case in Mexico, a country with no war but which holds the second highest number of killings of journalists (178) over the 1990-2020 period, after Iraq (340).

Governments have taken advantage of anti-coronavirus measures as a pretext to restrict press freedom.

Journalists not only risk their lives doing their jobs, they also risk their freedom. At least 235 of them are currently in prison in 34 countries on work-related cases based on false "anti-state" charges. Then again, the pandemic has worsened the situation: Governments have taken advantage of anti-coronavirus measures as a pretext to restrict press freedom, increasing the pressure on critical and independent journalism.

Assassinations of journalists and arbitrary arrests have had a dramatic impact on media freedom and the people's right to know. Killing or putting journalists behind bars sends a chilling message to colleagues who are planning to cover certain topics that the powerful would prefer to cover up. The consequence: self-censorship on a particular subject or region. This is detrimental to democracy in times of a pandemic, when the role of the media as a watchdog of government decisions and transparency is essential.

Violence and authoritarian governments have threatened press freedom in 2020, but the economic crisis caused by the pandemic has also had a huge impact on the media and their workers.

Journalists in Ukraine — Photo: Volodymyr Tarasov/Ukrinform/ZUMA

According to an IFJ survey, two-thirds of employed and freelance journalists were subjected to pay cuts, job or income losses. The media "toll" is high, particularly in local and community media, where the pandemic has virtually shut down the press. Without local media, thousands of regions around the world are at risk of turning into information deserts during one of the most difficult times in recent history.

This has certainly been one of the worst years for global journalism. But 2020 has also been the year when the profession and its labor unions have reaffirmed their role and importance: They demonstrated vigorously that they can succeed and protect the rights of media workers even in the most critical situations, and demanded that tech giants pay to use journalistic work, and stop evading taxes.

IFJ members around the world also had to take on tasks which were the responsibility of the authorities, such as providing training and safety equipment to media workers or providing legal assistance to protect them against employers' oppressive decisions.

Now is the time for democratic governments to take bold actions and support journalism, to ensure the safety of media workers and their right to work, and introduce a global tax on online platforms that still engage in tax evasion, in order to collect the necessary funds to save the media and protect the right to know.

Yes, 2020 is a turning point for press freedom: Let's fight together the consequences of the pandemic, or there's a real risk that we let press freedom perish, and our democracies with it.

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BUSINESS INSIDER

Pride, Shame And VIPs: Convincing The Public To Get Vaccinated

PARIS — A threshold has been crossed this week as the first vaccinations have been administered, in the UK and Russia, with announcements of others to follow in additional countries in the coming days and weeks.

It all sets the stage for the biggest vaccination campaign in world history. But even if the obvious logistical hurdles can be overcome, there may be an even trickier task: getting people to agree to be vaccinated.

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Geopolitics
Jaume Mandeu

Flemish Fishers, Brexit And A 350-Year-Old Backup Plan

Authorities in Belgium say that regardless of how Brexit negotiations unfold, fishers from Bruges have 'royal privilege' to continue operating in British waters.

BRUSSELS — Charles II of England had a hectic life. He married the same woman twice, with two separate ceremonies; had no legitimate children but at least 12 with his lovers; and his father was beheaded. On top of all that, he spent nine years in exile before taking the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland after the death of Oliver Cromwell.

The Merry Monarch, as he was known, spent three of those exile years in the Flemish city of Bruges. And it was there, in 1666, that Charles II — grateful for the city's hospitality — granted it the Privilegie der Visscherie, the privilege of fishermen that gave 50 boats from that city eternal rights to fish in British waters.

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Coronavirus
Sophie Logjes*

A Belgian Professor Grades Remote Learning: C+

The pandemic closed classrooms and pushed the education process online. It was a desperate measure for desperate times that avoided the worst, but shouldn't be the norm.

-OpEd-

Thanks to the current technological tools available (platforms, webinars, online multiple choice tests, video conferences, etc.), distance learning isn't really a problem. Or so I've heard. They say that whatever teachers tell their pupils in a face-to-face situation can be conveyed remotely as well.

But before reading on, I invite you to revisit your own school days and think about your teachers and professors. Who do you remember? And what memories are associated with these teachers? Take two minutes to think about that.

Now, do you still agree that teaching can easily be done remotely? If your answer is "yes," then I feel sorry for you. You probably didn't have many cool teachers. Personally, when I think about my teachers, from primary school to university, my memories recall people like:

- The one who made me feel good at school because I was greeted with a smile and kind words, and who made me feel I was important to her.

- The one who helped me fit in by encouraging contacts between me and other girls.

- Those who made me want to go to school because I knew we were going to learn and work, of course, but also laugh and sing sometimes.

- The ones who gave me the energy to get up in the morning to go to the auditorium because they gave fascinating classes filled with examples, anecdotes, reactions to students' questions, pirouettes to get back on their feet when the discussion was going in all directions, and so on.

It denies the very nature of the teaching profession.

- The one who made me want to become a teacher one day too, and to make it, as he did, a profession of humanity and benevolence

- I also think of all those times when the professor could "feel" that the students were paying less attention, and was able to bounce back by changing his teaching method, by offering a break, by asking us questions ... or by getting downright angry.

I learned a lot in school. And of course, I remember some of it but have also forgotten a lot. Some of the things I learned in books are useful to me today, others not so much.

But the lessons that were most valuable, that I apply on an everyday basis, are the ones I learned "off" the blackboard: How to fit in a group, obey, conform, and sometimes rebel. How to make friends, argue with them, find solutions to resolve our conflicts. How to explain myself, say what I think (or not). How to choose my path by drawing inspiration from models around me, by taking an example ... or a counter-example.

Distance teaching must be an educational choice — Photo: Laurie Dieffembacq/Belga/ZUMA

"Bookish" learning was only possible for me because it was accompanied by a parallel education that was both human and social. Had I only been presented with the books and the theories, I would have quickly given up.

If we think that the teaching profession is limited to transmitting to students the content of a subject, then yes, in this case, the face-to-face class no longer makes much sense and could be replaced (completely or partly) by an online lesson. And for some of the teachers I had growing up — people who knew their subject matter but had no real skills for sharing that information — it maybe wouldn't have made much difference.

Needless to say, I don't remember a lot from those classes. Fortunately, such teachers were a minority in my school career.

The flip side, of course, is that good teachers can do good work remotely. Distance learning tools are great, and if used well, they offer tremendous support for education. They allow you to vary methods, grab the attention of students, and bring complicated material to life. But they remain tools that must be at the service of education and not the other way around.

In March 2020, Belgian authorities chose to close schools, Haute écoles (higher education institutions) and universities. Nevertheless, we, teachers, were called to maintain educational continuity as best as we could. And we did everything in our power to do so. But as schools restart around the world, this should not become the norm.

As soon as possible, professors should have the right to choose whether they wish to teach remotely and/or face-to-face. It must be an educational choice: For a teacher, complementing his or her range of teaching tools with distance learning tools is one thing and, for some courses, it is great.

But some courses are not suitable for this at all in Haute école. Think of music education, athletics, arts, professional training workshops, first aid, ergonomics … Distance teaching must be an educational choice and not one related to health or economics.

Claiming that students can learn everything online through technological tools and making distance learning the norm denies the very nature of the teaching profession. It also means denying all the things that school teaches us — everything that sits outside the curriculum and that can only be learned through teacher-student and student-student interactions.

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THE NEW NOW
Loïc Delhuvenne

How COVID-19 Is Changing The Meaning Of Borders

Coronavirus travel restrictions have been a wake-up call for Europeans, especially since nearly a third of the population lives in cross-border areas like France and Belgium's Eurometropolis Lillle-Kortrijk-Tournai.

-OpEd-

KORTRIJK — It's not an ideal, some thought thrown out there to create a stir. It's what I deal with everyday in the Eurometropolis Lille-Kortrijk-Tournai agglomeration, in my relationships with people and professional exchanges.

You may ask why I am telling you this? Because I do not believe, or no longer believe, in the mental, moral and administrative boundaries that humanity has erected. We see it every day, these borders, invisible to the naked eye, symbolized by emblems, flags or colors, no longer relevant to our reality. We move from one side to the other to maintain our social, economic and professional ties. Mental and administrative constructions fall and fade away as soon as there is talk of maintaining an exchange.

Shouldn't the border itself be reconsidered? Let's be honest, except in the minds of men and women — and to regulate their membership or to identify themselves — this border is not always acknowledged, neither by the river that crosses it, nor the drop of water that composes it, not to mention the clouds that float above. For them, there is no use for this border.

We share all this space without thinking. The elements around us know no such boundaries. We breathe the same air, share the same river, enjoy the same climate. We live the same fears, and suffer the same harmful consequences of pollution and viruses.

So why not reconsider borders, focus on their future, dare to take a step back and think about tomorrow. Let's reduce the mental weight of borders and dare to concentrate on their necessity. I notice that, on a day-to-day basis, cross-border management bodies will need to be strengthened. As close as possible to the citizens, experienced observers of life on said borders — initiators of action plans leading to collaboration between local entities on either side — these bodies should be more united.

In Éloge de la frontière, (Praise for the border) published in 2010, Régis Debray recalled this quote from French politician Christian Jacob: "A map is a projection of the spirit before being an image of the earth." I would add that building bridges between cross-border entities does not mean avoiding seeing borders or understanding why they exist, but rather going beyond the limits they represent. It is taking the high ground to forge ties, to nurture the future, to bring down walls, to take the future by hand by going beyond these administrative boundaries. It means maintaining sustainable, supportive and innovative borders.

Nearly 30% of Europeans live in cross-border areas.

The closure of borders following the coronavirus crisis has clearly given us the opportunity to reshape the role of a border and consider, in particular, how it affects those of us who are cross-border citizens. We are learning from this crisis, and from what went wrong. The future will require more cooperation, the setting up of joint projects and building a network of know-how on both sides of our borders.

le_soir_inside_rethinking_borders_coronavirus_check

A police blockage at alternative border crossing point along the Belgium/Netherlands border in MarchPhoto: Benoit Doppagne

There is an urgent need to integrate cross-border territorial groupings into decision-making for economies, urban planning, regional governments, society, the environment and public health. Coordination can only take place if there is consultation between the different levels of power, from the smallest local unit to the highest national unit, which means talking to local, regional and national elected representatives on both sides of the border, even when it concerns several nations.

Territory should no longer be confined to a border, a demarcation line, but be considered a living area where states, regions and peoples coordinate around common issues such as health, mobility, education. Nearly 30% of Europeans live in cross-border areas. Millions of people regularly cross borders for work and family reasons. We must now move toward governance at all levels that takes into account the reality of European citizens.

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Geopolitics
Thierry Amougou

Belgium Postcard: Fallen Statues And The Politics Of Public Aesthetics

Anti-racism and anti-colonial protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd raise new questions about how societies fill their public spaces.

-OpEd-

LEUVEN — Slavery may have been abolished in the United States in 1865, but George Floyd was killed as a slave in the same country in 2020. Likewise, even though Belgium no longer has colonies, "The spirit of colonization is still written in stone on every street corner," as lawmaker Kalvin Soiresse Njall of the Green Party recently argued.

Njall's statement highlights one of the major aspects of the decolonial issue, which is that reasoning, imaginations, practices, speeches and images can perpetuate colonial and slavery relations even after the official end of slavery and colonization.

In a world still comatose after COVID-19, the tragic death of George Floyd seems to be acting as an amplifier and accelerator for a civic awakening. People are breaking out of the lockdown period through political and activist mobilization in a fight against racism and other related discriminations. And among other things, completing both the abolition of slavery and decolonization requires the decolonization of public space.

People are thus turning their attention to the issue of what constitutes a "fair" public space, one that can no longer be reduced in its use to respect for the principles of continuity, neutrality and non-competition.

Given how cosmopolitan our societies are, the demand for justice through remembrance must be reflected in the aesthetics, iconography, functions and designations of public spaces. In a community where citizens have different histories, memories and origins, it's import that people don't feel hurt or offended by a public space that celebrates the executioners of their ancestors, or by the designation of roads, squares and avenues that exalt the names of figures synonymous with murder, violence and racism against certain citizens.

This brings up a democratic issue, that of the participatory and/or democratic production of the city, whose functional, memorial, historical, ecological, iconographic, social, economic and political dimensions can no longer be the result of the opinions of expert town planners, landscape designers and architects alone, but should also — and above all — be the product of a citizen-oriented public policy adopted through debate.

The demand for justice through remembrance must be reflected in the aesthetics, functions and designations of public spaces.

If a policeman who wears and represents the rule of law violates George Floyd's right to life in 2020, then the rule of law has yet to be perfected. Likewise, if a statue evokes memories for certain citizens of suffering, again, there's room for improving the rule of law. This new way of thinking about the rule of law requires not only the recognition that violence can sometimes be at the hands of police, but also that public spaces — by not respecting legacy of all citizens — are also a challenge to the rule of law.

It seems obvious therefore that there needs to be some kind of memorial justice in public spaces, as evidenced in the United States by the removal of statues depicting Confederate generals and Christopher Columbus, in the incident in England where protestors threw a statue of Edward Colston, a former slave trader, into the Bristol harbor.

Empty pedestal in Brussels on June 12 — Photo: Laurie Dieffembacq/Belga via ZUMA

In Belgium, a statue of King Leopold II was vandalized and removed by Antwerp authorities. Also, following a petition from students, a bust of the king was taken down from the University Square of Mons. Meanwhile, in France, people are debating the removal of a statue of Colbert, author of the abominable Code Noir, which defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonial empire.

Decolonization activists see these controversial historical figures as founders of the racism and inequality that continues to wreak havoc today. And since public space should be showcase for our collective values — our shared values — statues of such figures have no business being there. What people are challenging isn't history itself, but certain historical figures who contributed greatly to the discrimination and inequality that continue to structure today's world.

This moral purification of public spaces seems to maintain that there can be no lasting peace without a justice of remembrance. And yet, this inevitably leads to questions and conflict. Should the statues be simply cleared away? Or should the figures they represent be impartially inscribed with what they have done? Should the iconography and the designation of the public space be balanced by statues of women and men who fought against slavery and racism? Is this not the start of a new war of memories?

Statues of such figures have no business being there.

A public space in Brussels honoring Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is proof that a democracy can not only build a just public space, but in doing so improve itself in return. On April 23, 2018, the municipal council unanimously authorized the Patrice Lumumba Square on the 58th anniversary of the DRC's independence from Belgium. The postcolonial epistemology thus proves to be a great contribution to the deepening of democracy by using public space to examine both the values and figures of the country's past while also helping build positive empathy between citizens.

Once the diversity of eras, memories and opinions that make up the public space are revealed, a just and democratic public space seems to present itself as an instrument for deepening democracy. And it does so by redefining democracy as a dynamic and critical relationship between institutions that make use of lived experiences and backgrounds.

Having again become a critical lever for citizens thanks to the decolonial question, the question now is whether public space can be transformed into a tool for calling everyone to order not by imposing a certain status quo — with symbol's of history's victors — but by exalting our common values in order to find universal connection.

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Geopolitics
Bertrand Hauger

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Among the many villains through Europe's colonization of the African continent, a case could be made that Belgium's King Leopold II was the worst. Responsible for the genocide of an estimated 10 million people, the 19th-century monarch ordered his troops and administrators to pillage the central African colony known as Belgian Congo, renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) after its independence in the 1960s.


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