MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Take some time to ponder the reason for the season, dear reader. We are celebrating Jesus’ birthday… let’s not forget to invite Him to His own party!

As for me, I will try to relax a bit during the holidays, so don’t expect anything new here before the first days of January. But DO remember to check back in then!

Merry Christmas… and A Happy New Year!

(Detail of nativity scene in the former abbey church of Gutenzell, Germany. Photo by Andreas Praefcke, 2003. From Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Krippe_Gutenzell.jpg )

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Santa Is Using My Credit Card

…so I must have been a bad boy this year.

Ho, Ho, Ho

Growing up in an Anglo-Swedish family living in Belgium at least has one advantage that my children will eventually discover: You get Christmas presents over and over again. The only problem is that you don’t quite know from whom.

The Belgian tradition is for children to get their presents from Sinterklaas/St. Nicholas on December 6, and since the Sint, as he is commonly known, frequents the schools around that date, there is no way for us to try to ignore that tradition. (And it would be pretty harsh for the kids to come to school on that day and be asked by their friends “so what did you get from the Sint, then?”) So, already on December 5, our four- and six-year-olds put out a shoe each with carrots in them – for Sint’s horse – and awoke the morning after to find that the Sint had been there to put presents there in return.

Then, the Swedish Christmas starts officially on Christmas Eve, which is the day every Swedish child gets their presents – in fact, that is the main day of Christmas in Sweden. As we have that tradition firmly engraved in us, that is of course when we will have the next Christmas present flurry. More gifts.

The day after, Christmas Day, is traditionally the day when British children get presents in their stockings. Our kids have thus already put their stockings up, so it will be difficult to avoid even more presents then.

Well, if that sounds complicated, we haven’t got to the whole Santa business yet.

The Belgian Santa – the Sint – is not a merry figure from the North Pole; he is a skinny bishop arriving in a boat from Spain. The fact that he lives in sunny Spain rather than the freezing North isn’t so much the result of any modern-day timeshare condo programme, but rather a remnant from the years when Belgium was ruled by Spain and everything came from there. He is accomplished by Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”), a jester-looking chap dressed in medieval clothing who is usually depicted as a blackface minstrel… a seriously politicaly incorrect caricature of an African man, probably in some way stemming from Moorish influences in Spain. He is the one who actually administrates the gift distribution; now there’s another interesting ground for debate over who’s the servant and who’s the master, by the way, but that’s beside the point.

However, the Swedish Santa – Jultomten – is a reformed and overgrown gnome, who lives alternatively at the North Pole or – more often – in Rovaniemi in Finland (although there have been some attempts to relocate him to Mora, Sweden). Not only does this bearded and obese character appear on Christmas Eve: he usually turns up in person, handing out Christmas presents from his sack, usually at the very moment when Dad has popped out to buy the newspaper. Jultomten has nothing in common with the Sint at all, except for being clad in red and handing out presents.

Then, the increasingly americanised version occuring in English-speaking countries, Santa Claus, of course lives at the North Pole, but sneaks down the chimney at night between Dec. 24 and Dec. 25 while the children are sleeping. to fill their stockings.

You’d think that our biggest problem is that we don’t have a chimney, but it gets worse still.

Putting all these things together means that we have to try to explain to our kids why this figure first appears in their school in full visibility, then sneaks in at home here at night, then changes clothes completely, gives Zwarte Piet a vacation in the middle of their busiest season, puts on 30-40 kilos in 18 days and relocates to the far North before turning up here again in full visibility, only to sneak in back here again the very night after to pop a few extra gifts down the kid’s socks that he could just as well have given to them the evening before.

The other day, we went to the local British store, where we buy all things English. There, the children had the chance of meeting Father Christmas, the fourth incarnation of this seasonal fiction, who is the English version of Santa (but ethnologically not entirely Santa Claus either).

“Is Zwarte Piet with him?” the Four-year-old asked expectantly.

Help.

Another One Bites The Dust

I’ve struggled all week to steer clear of the stomach flu since my six-year-old came down with it a few days ago. Washed my hands in hospital alcohol, kept clean, tried to eat moderately… but to no avail. Today, I’m anchored up with a volcano trapped in my belly.

Well, at least it happened before Christmas, so there’s still a chance that we’ll all be healthy on the big days. But I need to finish my X-mas shopping too… help.

Like I’ve said before: Howard Hughes was right.

Belgian Crisis: A Government For Christmas (Gone By Easter)

Belgium will finally ge a new government tomorrow, almost 200 days efter the general election. But it won’t last beyond Easter – actually.

The solution to the stalemate has been to form an “emergency government” dealing with the most urgent things, such as working out a new state budget. This caretaker government will be voted on on Christmas Eve, and will be led by present Premier Guy Verhofstadt, and comprise his Flemish liberal party and its Francophone sister party, the Flemish and Francophone Christian Democrats, and the Francophone Socialists.

The Francophone Christian Democrats – led by Joëlle Milquet, dubbed “Madame Non” for her repeated refusals of all previous governmental constructions, almost opted out of the interim government. That would have meant that the Flemish Christian Democrats would have governed together with its ideological opponent, the Socialists, while not together with its ideological twin party on the other side of the language frontier. In other words, that would have once again proven that in Belgian politics, language is far more important than ideology.

By Easter, the helm is to be handed over to Yves Leterme, the leader of the Flemish Christian Democrats, who after all did come out as the election’s biggest winners. But he has repeatedly failed to unite enough parties on both sides of the language frontier to achieve a government, and the premiership he is going to take over is the doing of Mr Verhofstadt. Thus, he will be governing on someone else’s mandate.

It remains to be seen how that will work.

The Princess And I

Friday’s press conference with the Swedish Prime and Foreign Ministers offered a rare opportunity to chat for a moment with the Swedish Crown Princess Victoria as well.

(I say that with the sort of feigned disinterest that befits a journalist who wants to appear as if he is constantly rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty of this world. The awkward truth is that I spend a lot of time in the privacy of my working chambers at home, but don’t tell anyone, will you).

Princess Victoria has been a virtually constant intern at the various levels of Swedish government, preparing for her forthcoming role as Head of State, and had just spent a week serving at the Swedish permanent representation to the EU. There, she kept a low profile, but was still admitted to the Summit as a minister, and allowed to sit in on even the most sensitive of deliberations.

She was not part of the concluding press conference, merely there as an observer. Consequently, she snuck in along one wall after the press conference had started, together with assorted members of the Swedish delgation, and sat on one of the chairs lined up along the wall around the large conference table around which we journalists and the ministers were distributed. It only so happened that she sat right behind me.

There I was, slumped belly-up in those extremely comfortable chairs designed for hours and hours of intra-community haggling, and as the full truth of the event dawned on me, a few TV cameras were already pointing my direction to get a glimpse of the Princess behind me. With me in the forefront, due to the camera angles likely making me appear even larger than in real life, and with my ‘deployed vehicle airbag’ prominently positioned.

In other words: those TV pictures would have showed the future Queen of Sweden only partly visible, peeping forward behind by my big fat tummy.

I checked – it seemed that the TV people were wise enough not to use those images. I call that professional discretion.

The Economist worries about whatever she was doing there, oblivious to the fact that she as Queen will be chairing the Permanent Foreign Comittee of the Swedish Parliament, and thus has every reason to be well-informed from the start. I don’t, because after the press conference, a few of us of course took the chance to exchange a few words with her. She seemed genuinely interested and started questioning us about how we work at these events, in a way that was either professionally faked or professionally inquisitive. While not being much of a royalist, I must confess to havng had a very positive impression of how seriously she seems to take her role.

However, I do regret missing the obvious question that we journalists shared (but didn’t ask her then either) last time she was a Government intern visiting Brussels: “So, how does the Ambassador take his coffee?”

The Cake Was Awful And The Champagne Was Gone

I promised you an update on the Portuguese fiesta at the EU Summit… Well, easily done: The cake was awful and the champagne was gone.

The feast was to commence at 1430, but it only so happened that France was suddenly announcing its press conference to that very time as well. I thought I might go and get a glimpse and a feel of Monsieur Sarkozy, and in any case I wasn’t going to stay for that long. Or so I thought.

The room was packed well beyond its capacity, the heat from people and TV spotlights reaching corresponding levels, and oxygen had run out already before I arrived. I stood and waited, and waited, and waited. Eventually, I the floor started swaying under my feet and I realised I was about to faint, so I managed against all odds to find a free seat. There, I promptly nodded off, only to awake a few moments later to the buzz of a text message arriving in my cell phone and realising that absolutely nothing had happened. An hour and fifteen minutes had gone by and still no Sarkozy. (And no, he hadn’t come and gone while I was dozing).

The text message informed me that there was going to be a press conference with the Swedes immediately, and since I work for a Swedish news organisation, I decided for that to more important. After all, the Swedes usually do turn up on time and all that. So, I went up to the next floor in the EU Council bastion, and waited there together with the entire Swedish press corps for another quarter of an hour or so, before Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s press secretary arrived and informed us that the whole thing was postponed because all the headsofstatengovernment were still in their meeting.

I took a lift back down to the press centre, gleefully passing my French-speaking colleagues on my way, thinking that they’d probably remain sitting there until who knows when, oblivious to the fact that theman they were waiting for still hadn’t risen form the conference table yet. Good time then to have a bite and a sip.

Or so I thought.

It turned out that the champagne had all been consumed by then, by my thirsty colleagues, in spite of alarge group of them being stuck in the Fench briefing room (and another contingent in the German next doors). There were some sweaty pieces of cake left, which I sampled. Some dried-out excuse for a fruit cake, completely clad in what is best described as something between jelly candy and conserved fruit. It felt like eating dried packaging foam with glazed chewing gum.

Blah.

Sunny Portugal

Portugal is trying to put on a charm offensive after being slammed by numbers for insisting on flying all the EU leaders – and Gordon Brown – to Lisbon yesterday just to put their names on a document.

Or so it seems, at least. The Portuguese Presidency is trying to woo journalists here at the EU Smmit’s Press Centre, where I am writing this, by handing out Christmas presents. Everyone gets a windproof jacket with the legend “eu2007.pt” in large letters across the back, unusually enough, together with a book about Portuguese points of interest. Supposedly intended to make us Brussels-based reportes sit around in the standard Belgian winter weather of fog, dark, and ice water pouring from a grey, grey sky, and dream about an Algarve getaway, no doubt.

Quite unusual for a gift, actually. Normally, the Presidencies at most hand out straps that you are supposed to hang your press badge on,  or something of the same 1/magnitude.

Moreover, this afternoon, they have promised to “close with a bang”, as a text message described it some moments ago.

“The Pres. invites you for a Portuguese Xmas cake and a sparkling frong 14h30 at the press centre/main hall”, the message read.

As far as the jackets are concerned, you could always suspect that they just had an extra stockpile lying around that they couldn’t get rid of before ending their presidency. If the same goes for the cake remains to be seen in a few moments – I shall be back with a report.

However, to prove that I have not been bought by this bribery attempt, let me direct you to this wonderful butchery of the Lisbon signing madness, penned by Times journalist Ben Macintyre, who pretty much saw the same thing as the rest of us watching the event online but who describes it far better than anyone else:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article3048452.ece

Happy reading, it’s well worth the extra moments.

You Better Come Home Speedy Gonzales

Sitting at the Press Centre at the EU Summit, I just can’t get the old Pat Boone hit “You Better Come Home Speedy Gonzales” out of my head. Which is of course because his namesake, Spanish ex-Premier Felipe Gonzalez, has just been appointed head of the reflection group that is to ponder the future of the European Union. By his side: a former Latvian Pesident, Vaira Vike-Freiberga – and the former cell phone giant Nokia leader Jorma Ollila.

Ollila was expected and Ms Vike-Freiberga too, but Mr Gonzalez had been ruled out as someone who was as unlikely as Tony Blair to take the helm. Instead, he was chosen to lead the group.

Upon hearing the news, a colleague remarked: “Isn’t there a song about ‘come home Felipe Gonzalez’?” She was soon corrected, of course, but then that old song’s hook was burying itself into at least my cortex: Na-NAAAAA, na na na naaa na na na NAAAAAA, na na na na na na na naaaaaa, na na na na na na na naaaaaaaaaaaaaa…”

A Saint That Isn’t One

Today, Sweden celebrates one of its most peculiar traditions, which we of course will highlight here in Brussels as well: Sankta Lucia.

On this morning, young people in Protestant – and secular – Sweden dress up to stage the arrival of the Catholic saint, in a depiction that has nothing to do at all with the saint in question and has other roots and meanings as well. Of which most peole have little idea.

Heading a candlelit procession is a girl in a white robe with candles in her hair, symbolising (but not symbolising) St. Lucia of Syracuse, Italy, which is certainly not the reason why she is usually portrayed by a girl with long blond hair and other Scandinavian (but definitely not Italian) features. However, she historically doesn’t portray the saint, but an angel, of which there is no more mention and people usually haven’t heard of these days at all, but whch is from where she gets the candles, because while they are said to remind the secular Swedes of how St. Lucia lit up the catacombs to raise the spirits of the Christians hiding there in pre-Christian Europe days, they are actually intended to depict a halo as there is no record that St. Lucia ever illuminated the hideaway Christians’ lives in such a manner.

Along in the procession comes a group of similarly white-robed girls, with candles in their hands (but not in their hair, which is important), and boys without candles but wearing Merlin-the-wizard-style paper cones on their heads depicting them as “starboys”, the symbolism of which is unclear except that they are not wizards, and sometimes boys dressed as Santa Clauses, although they are less Santa Clauses and more of the red-dressed gnomes that are the origins of the Swedish Santa variant Jultomten, who by the way lives in Finland or at the North Pole but not in Sweden. And then of course the Gingerbread Man.

The procession sings a Swedish translation – with words that were actually incomprehensible to the standard use of Swedish already when they were written – which is a translation of the Italian folk song “Santa Lucia”, a widespread standard tune in Italy which is not about the St. Lucia at all, but about the quarters in Naples called Santa Lucia, in the original language sung by a fisherman who longs for his home there after a long hard day out on the Mediterranian Sea. Other songs are sung, too, all with the general message that Christmas is eleven days away, for those who are unable to work that out from their calendars, although Christmas itself is actually twelve days away by the Lucia day, but Christmas starts in Christmas Eve in Sweden –  which is not officially a holiday in the country, in spite of it being more observed than most holidays which are official.

Oh, yes, and sometimes they sing about St. Stephen, who in Sweden is percieved to be a stable hand who was stoned for alerting king Herod – whose horses he was tending – that the Star of Bethlehem had risen and Christ had been born, in spite of the fact that the Bible mentkons him as being stoned by a mob some time after Christ’s crucifiction, that is, three decades later (with no mention of horses); consequently, the song is exclusively about Stephen giving the horses water and riding one of them himself, and of stars twinkling in the sky, with no apparent internal connection at all.

The Lucia procession also serves coffee and saffron-filled buns with raisins, lussekatter, all of which is considered essentially Swedish even though neither coffee, saffron nor raisins are possible to produce in the country.

All of this is enough to make any Swede teary-eyed and sentimental, and considered a funamental element of the Christmas season. We shall take our kids to one evening version of the event arranged by the Swedish Lutheran church, but not by any of the Catholich churches in this officially Church of Rome country, later this evening – the ‘evening’ part being essential as the processional requires an outside darkness of the kind prevalent in Sweden this time of the year – which is held this year in the Dominican church, even though we usually attend an evangelical church in another part of town.

Did you get all that?

No? Well, while you try to work out all of the above, I think I’ll go and have another lussekatt. I baked my own last night. They turned out delicious. Especially when dunked in hot cocoa, which is not in the Lucia tradition at all but a tradition in my family.

Just to complicate things a little, that is.

Will France Leave The EU?

When the EU had twelve members, one never went against the will of France. When the EU expanded to 15, it could happen. When it went to 25, it became a regular habit. Now, some suspect that France might even leave the EU.

That’s how a top diplomat explained France’s lost glory a few days ago, as a backdrop to why France will be snuck around at tomorrow’s EU Summit in Brussels.

Tomorrow will be the first summit since 1991 where there will be no reference to enlargement in the final document. The reason is, plain and simple, that the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, does not want to admit Turkey, which is next in line to join the club.

This has created outrage already at the Foreign Ministers’ meeting earlier this week, where the Swedish Foreign Secretary Carl Bildt demanded that there be a clearer reference to agreements already made at the EU Summit last December. All seemed to agree – except France.

“My friend Bernard Kouchner was forced to argue without one single matter-of-fact argument – only referring to what France could accept and not accept”, Mr Bildt writes himself about the event on his blog.

However, what France Can Accept and Not Accept does not mean anything anymore internationally, which still seems to be an insight yet to be made in Paris, where the prevailing outlook appears to be that we are still at the year 1777 or so.

Indeed, the French wriggling is already making Mr Sarkozy lose credibility in EU circles, and may even lead to his country losing even more influence in the 27-nation bloc. But due to the various requirements of unanimity in EU procedures, France cannot be completely run over, which is why the rest of the nations will tiptoe around the Turkey issue at this summit.

“We want to avoid a harsh discussion about enlargement at the summit that might cause Sarkozy to say, ‘I’ve had it’, and slam the door on Turkey”, an unnamed top diplomat tells the Financial Times (using words that sound identical to how a top diplomat described the situation to me a few days ago. It makes me suspect that it might very well have been the same person, but that’s beside the point).

But all this is now raising suspicions in EU circles that France may indeed be considering to withdraw from the EU it once so boastfully percived itself of leading. Instead, the reasoning goes, France will look south to form a Mediterranean club of some sort.

It sounds like a wild assumption. But given the way France has behaved so far, it isn’t all that far-fetched if the country wants to put an end to its humiliation – especially since the humiliation hurts the inflated French pride more than it would most other countries.

Meanwhile, it is soon time for France to take the rotating presidency. That may be an interesting time indeed.

Cowardy-Cowardy-Custard

…as we used to chant when I was a little boy in London at anyone backing down from anything scary. This time, I’d be happy to yell that abuse at the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Mr. Brown has a delicate problem. He can’t be seen signing the new EU Constitution Reform Treaty in Lisbon today together with his 26 colleagues from the other EU member states, because that would offend Eurosceptics in his party and in his country (like The Sun, endlessly campaigning against the Constitution Reform Treaty for wringing national sovereignty out of the British government’s hands). He can’t not sign, because that would be too much of a snub that would throw Britain’s position within the EU off balance, and because he has painted himself into the proverbial corner of speaking too much of the document as being just another treaty that doesn’t need to be put to a referendum in Britain, and therefore musnt’t be rejected by Britain at the signatory stage.

So what does he do – choose one opinion and be damned? Nope. He is sending his Foreign Secretary David Milliband to participate in the signatory ceremony, staying at home with the worst excuse in British political history: a schedule conflict has regrettably prohibited him from attending; he will be in Parliament answering questions instead. But, after that, he will fly out to Lisbon to join the rest of the gang for a few drinks – oh, what a coincidence, just after they’ve signed the document – and put his name on it in private. In secret, almost, or at least well away from all the drums and trumpets of the main event.

So acts a spineless amoeba who will avoid taking a stand even at the cost of making an utter, utter fool of hiself.

And to think that this person is to lead Britain instead of having custard pies rightl thrown at him.

Summit Week

As you might have noticed, the top people of the European Union’s member states will convene in Brussels at the end of this week – after flying out on a day trip to Lisbon to sign their names on a piece of paper, taht is.

If they do manage to write all the letters in their own names without piercing themselves to death with their fountain pens or something similar, they will be turning up late Thursday. That means that it’s time to reserve a workspace in the press centre.

Ye faithful readers of this blog know that this isn’t as easy as it seems. At the last few summits, spaces have been harder and harder to get, and at the last one, someone stole mine.

This time I’m going to avenge myself, I thought, and manufactured the most professional-looking sign I could throw together, with my company’s logo and all. I went there some time after 9 am this morning – and indeed, reservations had already started even thpough the workmen were still setting things up – and firmly taped it down. I happened to be there when another group of Swedish journalists arrived in the same business, and decided to join them hoping that the mass effect would be harder to beat (and that we would be friendly enough to keep an eye on eachother’s reswervations, among colleagues and all that). We joked that we should perhaps raise a Swedish flag or something and claim an area as occupied territory, just to be sure.

But I think I’ll follow the example of Associated Press next time. They’ve printed reservation signs on A4-sized stickers, attached permanently to the tables, which means that they have permanent reservations even though the tables in the main press area are folded up and stored away between summits. I saw some that bore visible signs of violent attempts to scrape them off, so the practice may not be all that popular with the press centre staff – but at least it seems to work.

Taking my soldering iron with me and physically enbgraving my name on one of the tables is another thought that has occured to me, but that would increase the risk of the tables being replaced due to damage, and bang goes that smart idea.

Not to mention that I might be reprimanded for it. But then again, I could just make a name up, or write my boss’s.

To Reset Day, Press Which Button

It’s not even 10 am this Monday morning and it seems that everything has gone wrong already.

I’m not going to bore you with the details. Let’s just say that I would like to reiterate my request for a Reset button to be used on such mornings, to have them rebooted.

Where do you file such a request? Is the EU capable of introducing one?

Swedish Paedophile Scandal: At Least Something Is Happening

There is some hope after all. The Swedish paedophile scandal that I wrote about yesterday may lead to some sort of investigation after all.

The Swedish Chancellor of Justice (JK), Göran Lambertz, will open an inquiry into why there was no there was no legal charges raised for abuse or minors when the scandal was first exposed 30 years ago, the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation’s radio news reports. This follows the allegations in the compensation claim from the legal representative of the two former child prostitutes, 14 at the time, that there was reason to prosecute the girls’ customers but that this was waived due to political concerns.

If I am right, this means that the JK will have to look closer into exactly which factual basis there is that former Prime ministers such as Olof Palme and Thorbjörn Fälldin were in fact among these customers. I sincerely hope that the JK will do so, and that there will be a thorough, total and impartial investigation.

The latter is more difficult than it seems, beause Sweden is a small country where anyone in top official positions quickly find themselves entangled by various bonds of loyalty to other top-ranking officials, simply because the circuits people move in at such levels are so small that a creation of a close-knit establishment is inevitable. Moreover, Olof Palme was all but canonized  in Sweden after his murder, and still holds an immaculate position where very few serious attempts have been made to unveil the semi-official and rumoured darker sides of his legacy.

But let us hope that the JK takes his mission seriously – and puts the well-being of the girls first.

Olof Palme Suspected Of Paedophilia

Today, I was supposed to write something fun about Christmas. But I cannot. Yesterday, the most hushed-down scandal in Swedish history resurfaced again, and it fills me with such grief. It is a story that is on par with the infamous Belgian paedophile scandal, with the only difference that the cover-up has succeeded in this case.

The scandal in essence is that there is reason to believe that two Swedish Prime ministers during the 1970s, the internationally known Olof Palme, and Thorbjörn Fälldin, were customers at a network of prostitutes which involved underage girls. In other words, should the allegations be true, these men were paedophiles.

And not only them. The investigation – hushed down as it is – involves a long list of top politicians and celebrities of the time. Some 70 names have been mentioned.

The girls, around 14 at the time, have now grown up, and yesterday, they held a press conference where two of them are demanding compensation fron the Swedish state.

But it doesn’t end there. As I have mentioned, there has never been a proper investigation of these matters. Olof Palme lied to the entire Swedish people when he denied that the then head of the Swedish police, Carl Persson, had written to him to inform him that his Minister of Justice, Lennart Geijer, was frequenting prostitutes and could therefore be subject to blackmail – especially since some of the prostitutes were from the Communist bloc. Mr Persson’s note was disclosed in the daily Dagens Nyheter in 1977, but Olof Palme could see from the way the article was written that the paper did not have access to the note itself. Olof Palme very aggressively denied that the note had ever existed and called the whole thing rumours and worse, but in 1991, the note was declassified and confirmed that Mr Geijer was in fact buying sex.

Why Olof Palme put his entire career at stake to lie so blatantly – about something he likely knew was true – remains an enigma; he was murdered in 1986 and took his secrets to his grave. But the fact is that the former prostitutes yesterday repeated that he would hve beneone of their customers. Did he lie in order to protect himself?

Worse still, his Minister of Justice – Mr Geijer – was trying at the time to decriminalise paedophilia (yes, it’s true). Thank God he was stopped, but that further adds to the sleaziness of it all.

Meanwhile, the girls – several of whom have identified top politicians as customers, independently of one another – descended into personal problems and drug abuse, frustrated about the massive cover-up form the establishment. They have never budged one inch from their story; they insist to this day that what they allege is true.

The whole thing has resurfaced from time to time in Sweden, but has just as regularly vanished from the headlines again and led to no repercusisons at all. Only one person has ever been tried and found guilty, Sigvard Hammar, a marginal figure who was a TV journalist as well as a paraplegic and thus less into the circles of power, who also openly admitted abusing underage girls. But he was sentenced for procuring, not for abusing minors.

There is much more to say about this disgusting, nauseating, stomach-turning, sinister, evil, deprave, vicious mess. How Dagens Nyheter’s source, criminologist Leif G W Persson who worked for Carl Persson at the time, found not only his desk but his entire room emptied the day after Dagens Nyheter broke the story. How the cover-up in 1977 was orchestrated by people involving the then Chief Constable of Stockholm, Hans Holmér, the same police officer who later made a complete mess of the murder investigation of Olof Palme – for whatever reason. How Thorbjörn Fälldin before the Swedish Parliament in 1977 stated that the entire list of suspects must have been false simply because his own name was on it – and how the Swedish nation chose to believe him.

And how an unknown number of young girls had their lives ruined by the men in power that were supposed to provide their ultimate security.

So, will there be a proper investigation this time? At present, it doesn’t seem likely. The story has already been moved to the back pages, and it seems that the whole thing will once again be ground down into the bureaucratic machinery.

Belgian Crisis: Recycling Old Prime Ministers

Belgium’s current Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt, has been asked by king Albert II to try to form a new government, after all else have failed – and in spite of being considered to have lost the general election in June.

The first information we have is that he has called upon the French-speaking Socialist party for talks; a move which will further go against the trend in the general election, and likely complicate attempts to get the centre-right parties on board even further. But such is the current political situation in Belgium, that the language-group divides are far more important than the political ideologies – and the outcome of the election  is becoming less and less important by the day as the pliticians struggle to solve the situation.

It’s Time To Learn Slovenia’s Top Domain

In 28 days, Slovenia will take over the rotating presidency of the European Union for the firs six months of 2008 – and for the first time ever, since Slovenia has only been a member of the EU for 1,311 days as we speak. Time then to start learning some basic facts about this often forgotten country – such as what its Internet top level domain (TLD) is.

The presidencies usually set up web sites with information on current events, calendars of meetings, press accreditations, and of course a little marketing of their country, using the legend http://www.euYEAR.TLD That is, the current Portuguese presidency’s web site, for the last half of 2007, is found at http://www.eu2007.pt, where “pt” of course is the TLD for Portugal.

Today, I was going online looking for the Slovenian presidency site, which of course would be found at http://www.eu2008 something. But what on Earth is the TLD for Slovenia?

My deepest apologies to any Slovenians reading this, but you must bear with those of us whose school atlases did not contain your country or any reference to it when we last studied geography. And to make things more complicated, your doubtlessly fine nation became independent roughly around the same time as Slovakia did. Slovenia, Slovakia, sorry to say, fo those of us who have visited neither, confusions are bound to happen. (Especially those of us who seem to have a gerontological mental age, argghh.)

In fact, there is a probability that many Europeans – not to mention non-Europeans – will have little clue where Slovenia is. After all, can anybody name any Slovenian celebs? The name of the Prime Minister? Any cities?

I quite agree with The Economist, which pointed out in this blog post that the rotating EU Presidency after all does have some advantages for smaller countries to get some publicity they would otherwise not achieve. Let’s hope that Slovenia will be able to lure some interest over to itself during the next few months.

So, I finally found the Slovenian Presidency’s site; the TLD is .si, so you can take a sneak peek at what Slovenia will have to offer the EU at http://www.eu2008.si  They have, thankfully, refrained from placing music on their site,. as the Portuguese did, which is seriously irritating when you are surfing among other people and suddenly your computer goes off blasting sounds all over the place – and you can’t turn it off because the Portuguese had managed to hide the volume control at the far bottom of the page.

However, can anybody tell me what that amoeba for a logo is supposed to be??

Nooooo… It’s Not Fair!!

I need to do something DRASTIC about my life!

(FYI: I was born in 1969.)

Belgian Crisis Has Now Turned Into Chaos

Yves Leterme has given up attempts to form a government and resigned from his task yesterday (Saturday). 175 days after the election, the country is thus not only without a government, but back to square one – or even furtherback a few steps from there.

Mr Leterme could not unite the two Flemish and the two French-speaking parties in his proposed coalition , which remain as divided over liguistinc lines as they ever were before talks started. In the end, it was French-speaking Christian Democrat Joëlle Milquet who rejected Mr Leterme’s final offer, again dubbing her “Madame Non” as a previous refusal from her to accept Mr Leterme’s offers thwarted his previous attempt to patch the government together, a few months ago.

Thus, the Flemings are blaming the French-speakers for throwing the process back into chaos, but the French-speakers’ standpoint is that the Flemings are to blame for holding on too stubbornly  to their demands for devoltion of federal powers into regional hands, which they fear will dry up the current federal funds that transfer money from the wealthier Flanders to the poorer French-speaking Wallonia, and eventually tempt the Flemings to break off and form their own country.

Everybody is now looking to the king, Albert II, for a solution, as the next step is formally for him to take. The odds are in favour of Didier Reynders, the leader of the French-speaking MR party and currently Minister of Finance, as the next person to try to form a government. However, the question is what he will form a government out of.

The general sentiment is that the centre-right coalition proposed so far, consisting of Mr Leterme’s CD&V, Ms Milquet’s CDH, Mr Reynders’ MR and the Flemish-nationalist N-VA, is dead. But there is little to replace it with.

Omitting ‘Madame Non’ and CDH would end up four seats short of a majority in Parliament for the remaining three partis, so they need another coalition partner. They have been in favour of taking in the French-speaking and Flemish speaking Green parties (as with most other partes, there are two parallel entities, one for each language group), but both Ecolo and Groen, as they are named, have already refused to help the CD&V-MR-N-VA lot.

The other main alternative would be to cross the left-right divide and bring in the Socialists, but that would neglect the outcome of the general election, which seemed to speak in favour of a swing to the right, and the CD&V-MR-N-VA group has so far rejected such ideas.

And even if Mr Reynders does manage to patch up a coalition, he will not get the CD&V on board unless he lets Mr Leterme become Prime Minister, the CD&V have stated. A government without CD&V would be unthinkable as they are the largest party in Parliament and generally seen as the winners of the election. But having Mr Leterme as Premier seems equally unthinkable, as he has now proven his incapacity to negotiate a solution that all involved will follow, and adding to his already vast lack of popularity among French-speakers, such an inability would cast serious doubts over his capabiliy to lead the country through whatever hard times may or may not lie ahead.

In other words: the country needs leadership, Mr Leterme has proven he can’t provide it, but the largest party insists that he takes the job or they won’t join a government.

Try sorting that mess out.