LE SOIR
Le Soir ("The Evening") is one of the best selling French-language daily newspapers in Belgium. Founded in 1887 and is headquartered in Brussels, it is seen as liberal and progressive with politically federalist leanings.
food / travel
Vincent Delhomme and Benjamin Jan*

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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Society
Bertrand Hauger

In Monaco, Four-Year-Old Runs Over Man With Dad's Bentley

The idea that the streets of Monaco are lined with luxury vehicles isn't an overstatement. The recently crowned "supercar capital of the world" also comes with risks, as stretch limousines and sports cars must navigate the tiny city-state's meandering streets and narrow squares.

Yet last Friday, when a Bentley crashed into a Belgian man outside the Place du Casino, the driver at fault turned out to be quite a wildcard: a four-year-old boy.

Police report that the child slid into the driver's seat when his father, an Armenian visiting from Prague, stepped out of the vehicle to give the car keys to the hotel valet. The boy then managed to hit the gas pedal, making the big British car lurch forward a dozen meters, where it ran over the unfortunate pedestrian.

The 53-year-old victim had to undergo emergency surgery in nearby Nice after being trapped under the wheels of the 2-ton Bentley, but is now out of danger, reports local daily Nice-Matin.

Belgian daily Le Soir writes that the ongoing investigation by the Monaco police will determine how the boy was able to drive forward if the father had brought the keys to the valet. First-world problems, Monaco-style.

Ideas
*Charline Burton and Allassane Drabo

Vaccinating The World Requires More Than Just Doses

It's imperative that people everywhere also have access to COVID-19 vaccines. But shipping and sharing the vaccine doses is only half the battle.

-OpEd-

BRUSSELS / CONARKY — Chances are that your social media feed already features plenty of freshly #vaxxed friends and family proudly showing off Band-Aids on their biceps or signed certificates indicating that they're now protected against COVID-19.

Throughout Europe, the vaccination campaign has indeed begun to take off. And yet, the sad reality is that in the rest of the world, one in four people will likely have to wait until at least 2023 for access to a vaccine.

Because of this disparity, many are demanding solutions: Either vaccine patents must be lifted or more contributions made to the COVAX program, the international vaccine-access campaign being co-led by the World Health Organization.

Should we be fighting for greater vaccination equity? Absolutely. It goes without saying that everyone should have access to vaccines. But we also need to make sure people are willing to get vaccinated. For that to happen, there's a crucially important factor that has unfortunately been neglected in fragile and conflict-affected countries: how much — or how little — citizens tend to trust their governments.

Our organization, Search for Common Ground, is dedicated to peacebuilding in conflict-affected countries, and we have conducted several surveys on the links between coronavirus and conflict in places where we work. We have found that only 36% of respondents responded "satisfied" when asked about their government's handling of the pandemic. Even more telling is that 50% rated their government as employing a "discriminatory approach" (i.e. failing to consider the needs of various segments of the population equally) in their coronavirus response.

For persecuted minorities or those living under authoritarianism and corruption, distrust in government is to be expected. But during a global pandemic, when trust in the state, particularly in its vaccination plan, is absolutely essential, this can be deadly.

This distrust is already unfolding with troubling ramifications. While the media celebrates the delivery of vaccines to certain parts of the Global South, the coverage of this trust factor is lacking. A case in point is the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has just returned 75% of its COVAX vaccines — the equivalent of 1.3 million unused doses.

Meanwhile, health authorities in Ivory Coast worry that 500,000 doses of vaccine will expire because there are not enough people on the vaccination lists. What links these two countries? A history of conflict and low trust in the government.

Getting vaccinated in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo — Photo: UNICEF in RDC.

Skeptics might argue that fear of the vaccine is widespread, that wild rumors are spreading even in Europe. While this is a valid observation, it is a false comparison. When distrust in government has been built from years of war, persecution and discrimination, citizens are left feeling that at best their government does not care for them, at worst it wants them dead. Such a level of distrust will surely influence national vaccination plans.

In order to end the pandemic and ensure that citizens in post-conflict societies benefit from the vaccine, we must focus, therefore, on building trust.

Our teams of mediators and analysts work in some of the most challenging areas of the world. We know that there are two key variables for ensuring trust in a vaccination campaign. The first is how the information is communicated and the second is who is communicating that information.

This is why it is essential to carefully consider who will be the face of the vaccination campaign, and how this must be adapted to different communities. Everything must be thought out, down to the radio stations chosen to broadcast messages, the locations of vaccination centers and the ethnicity or religion of the nurses who will administer vaccines. Every detail is crucial for ensuring that various communities feel respected, safe and understood. These are issues that should be central to the planning process, not an afterthought.

While the COVID-19 pandemic remains first and foremost a public health challenge, it goes without saying that there will be no sustainable global progress without seriously considering these complex social dynamics. Yes, vaccine distribution is essential. But let's face it: Investments in the COVAX program will only yield real results if we put the issue of trust at the center of immunization efforts. People in post-conflict countries deserve to see the light at the end of the tunnel too.

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Ideas
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.

The Gale-Shapley algorithms are used, for example, in organ transplants — Photo: KC Wearable

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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Future
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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Coronavirus
Anne Sophie Goninet

The World Prepares For A Very Different Kind Of Christmas

After a year that's been as trying as it is troubling, the holidays are finally upon us, and for many there's a temptation to treat the upcoming festivities as a welcome catharsis. But for governments, this "most wonderful time of the year" represents a real conundrum: How to allow for some much-needed Yuletide joy while at the same time, taking steps to keep the New Year from beginning with a new surge of coronavirus cases.

Christmas bubbles: The UK will also allow people to gather, but only for five days, between Dec. 23-27, with a larger window for Northern Ireland to give more time to people to travel between the nations.

  • This "Christmas bubble" should not include people from more than three different households, the government guidelines read, adding that one person can only be in one such group and cannot change afterwards.

  • "A fixed bubble is a sensible and proportionate way to balance the desire to spend time with others over the Christmas period, while limiting the risk of spreading infection," the government says.

  • The guidelines also recommend that UK citizens celebrate Christmas in other ways — digitally, for instance, or by meeting outdoors.

A "moral contract": In Canada, the government of Québec announced an even narrower opening in the calendar for Christmas celebrations: Dec. 24-27, Radio Canada reports, with gatherings limited to 10 people maximum.

  • Prime Minister François Legault has asked Quebecers to limit themselves to two different family or friends gatherings, adding that this "moral contract" between citizens and the government also included a week of quarantine before and after these four days, to limit the risk of contagion in January.

A results-based approach: In Austria, authorities are so far taking a wait-and-see approach to the Christmas question. Easing restrictions is a possibility, but it depends — on the results of a massive voluntary testing campaign that began at the start of December.

  • Once it has the data in hand, the government will decide how and when to lift the national lockdown, which is so far set to end on Dec. 7.

  • The government has ordered at least 7 million antigen tests, which will first be used for teachers and police officers as well as citizens in areas with high infection rates.

Christmas tree baubles wearing face masks on display in a Russian factory — Photo: Andrei Samsonov/TASS via ZUMA Press

Santa's out-of-work helpers: Finland, world famous for its Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, Lapland, has imposed strict travel restrictions for foreigners

  • Citizens from all European destinations other than the Vatican are currently subjected to a 10-day self-quarantine when entering the country. Either that, or they have to submit a negative coronavirus test certificate that is less than 72 hours old at the time of arrival, but which will only allow them to stay for a maximum of three days if they don't self-isolate.

  • Clearly, though, the restrictions are a blow to the country's winter tourism industry, which relies heavily on overseas visitors. "For the period mid-March 2020 to March 2021 we estimate around 700 million euros in tourism revenue loss and 5,000 fewer tourism-related jobs in Lapland," Sanna Kärkkäinen, CEO of Visit Rovaniemi, told Yle. The region is trying to attract domestic tourists, but tourism promoters believe this will not be enough to compensate for the huge losses.

  • The Finnish Parliament's Constitutional Law Committee has recently rejected a proposed testing-based model to allow visitors to enter the country for non-essential purposes, frustrating winter tourism businesses even more.

Prudence in Palestine: For obvious reasons, Bethlehem — Jesus Christ's birthplace — is usually buzzing with activity at this time of year. But with international pilgrims banned, and restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops closed, Christmas celebrations in the Palestine city will be noticeably subdued this time around.

  • The famed Christmas tree lighting service will be limited to just 15 guests, while the Midnight Mass, normally attended by religious leaders and hundreds of pilgrims, will be scaled back. The event will be broadcast live for the general public.

  • The Palestinian Authority has imposed a new nighttime lockdown from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., which could be extended through Christmas if the number of infections continue to surge.

"Reinventing Christmas," titles French daily La Croix

Silent nights: Catholic church officials in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, have announced Christmas carol activities will be banned, The Philippine News Agency reports.

  • Churches were asked not to organize carolings in order to "protect the public and the choir members' as according to experts, the virus could easily spread through singing, officials say.

  • Christmas carols are an important part of the holiday traditions in the Philippines, a predominantly Catholic country which celebrates the world's longest Christmas season, from Sept. 1 to New Year's Eve.

New rules for Saint Nick: In Belgium, children eagerly await the arrival, on Dec. 6, of the gift-giving Saint Nicholas. But because the country is one of the hardest hit in Europe, the government decided this year to offer something to Saint Nicholas in return: a letter containing recommendations, the daily Le Soir reports, for keeping things fun but also safe:

  • "We can reassure you, you will not have to run from roof to roof in a spacesuit. However, we advise you to respect social distancing, wash your hands regularly and wear a mask when necessary," the guidelines read.

  • The letter also states that thanks to a ministerial ruling, Saint Nicholas will be allowed to distribute presents at night despite the curfew. The same permission was granted to "Père Fouettard," a companion of Saint Nicholas, who punishes naughty children. The letter adds, however, that "Every child is a hero and for once, you will not have to check your big notebook to see who was nice this year."

Coronavirus

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.

Even if the obvious logistical hurdles can be overcome, there may be an even trickier task: getting people to agree to be vaccinated.

Recent opinion polls in many countries show a surprising high number of people who say they'll refuse vaccination, as citizen mistrust in both government and science runs deeper than ever. So authorities around the world are already looking for ways to convince people to take the shot.

Listen first: Ermeline Gosselin and Guillaume de Walque, a pair of Belgian strategic communications experts, recently wrote in the Brussels-based daily Le Soir, that governments and health authorities need to be as "empathetic, humble and transparent" as possible in order to convince people to get vaccinated.

  • This means listening and understanding the fears expressed by citizens concerning possible secondary effects and their lack of trust in the vaccine's efficacy, as well as sending "clear messages' to the population instead of using medical data which can be confusing and not really striking for some.

  • Authorities should also adapt their speech and their language depending on their targeted audience, as well as use social media for more quirky, humorous posts.

  • It is "by shaking up old communication habits that authorities will be able to build trust and convince the greatest number of the real benefits of vaccination," the communication experts write.

The first vaccinations have been administered, in the UK and Russia — Photo: Str/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

Vaccine as civic duty: Some argue that authorities should highlight the fact that vaccination doesn't only represent a personal benefit, but is also a necessary civic act.

  • A September 2020 study by the German Leibniz Institute for Economic Research found that for a vaccine to be successful, "politicians should not present the decision to vaccinate as a simple risk assessment, but also appeal to social responsibility."

  • Vaccination doesn't only protect the immunized person, but also the people around him or her. According to the study, even if people were to decide against it out of "caution", they could still be convinced via social responsibility.

Vaccination doesn't only protect the immunized person, but also the people around him or her.

Influencers, young and old: "People are more likely to get the vaccine if they see someone they trust having it," writes Stuart Mills, a fellow in Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics in British daily inews. For the expert, choosing the appropriate "messengers' will be crucial to encourage uptake of the vaccine and some are already acting accordingly.

  • U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has said he will take the COVID-19 vaccine publicly to promote public confidence in its safety and effectiveness, joining the last three US Presidents — Barack Obama, George W Bush and Bill Clinton — who have vowed to take the vaccine in front of cameras. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson could do the same, his press secretary suggested, but not before those in greater need.

  • The National Health Service in the UK is working on a plan to enlist celebrities and influencers on social media, people who are "known and loved," in a vaccination campaign, The Guardian reports. While no name has been confirmed yet, England football Marcus Rashford has been touted as a possible spokesperson, following his popular campaign to end child food poverty. Stuart Mills also suggests involving national figures such as the Royal Family and personalities in various entertainment sectors "to appeal to differing demographics and interests."

The COMETE unit in France specialized in prevention — Photo: BMPM

Stickers & shame: French are among the most skeptical, as almost half of the population say they will refuse to get vaccinated according to recent opinion polls. According to Rustam Romaniuc and Angela Sutan, researchers in behavioral economics, writing in Le Monde, authorities could rely on "psychological and cultural factors that proved their worth when it comes to encouraging civic conduct," such as the "opt-out" option or peer pressure.

  • The researchers compare the vaccination campaign to organ donation: studies have shown that countries where the consent rates concerning organ donation are higher are the ones implementing the "opt-out" option (everybody is a donor unless decided otherwise).

  • They also suggest that authorities, instead of making vaccination compulsory, could draw inspiration from blood donation campaigns or campaigns encouraging citizens to vote, by offering badges, stickers or bracelets. Simple and cheap tools but that can be effective.

  • "The greater the number of people displaying a sticker or a bracelet, the more those who don't have one will feel the need to do it as well, out of imitation or the desire to belong to a larger group," the researchers argue, referring to the stickers displayed during the 2020 U.S. elections.

Old fashioned PR: Business Insider Deutschland says half of Germans are unsure of whether they want the shot, and the most important reason they give is "the concern that the vaccines have not yet been adequately tested."

The most important reason they give is "the concern that the vaccines have not yet been adequately tested."

  • According to Business Insider, Germany's Ministry of Health is preparing to roll out a major PR campaign to encourage people to get their shots. In a draft paper seen by the outlet, the govt wrote: "We need a ‘Yes we can" for the Corona vaccination strategy," presenting shots as an "optimistic appeal that ushers in a new, hopeful era in the containment of the pandemic and calls for people to be vaccinated".

  • "We shouldn't just call for vaccinations ("I will be vaccinated!")," says the draft "But must also accompany the information and opinion-forming process at an early stage."

  • The campaign will use the slogan "#SleevesHigh" and feature photos of people who have had the jab, including doctors, 80-somethings, workers. According to the draft, all the images will include some text pointing readers to a website to get more information or to get advice at a dedicated hotline.

Society
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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Ideas
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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