Though we generally have a dim view of Russians as genetically “bearish” and morose, those of us who know the bears somewhat better realize that Russians taken one by one often have a superb sense of humor. Not British understatement. Not scatological like German folk humor. Distinctly their own and often family oriented. But there is more to it than jokes at the expense of your mother-in-law.
I invoke this observation when I look at the awful administration of the Covid-19 vaccines here in Belgium, and in particular, in the Region where I happen to live – the Brussels-Capital Region.
But before getting serious, let us consider the Russian “anecdote”:
A funeral is going on in a cemetery and a throng of those paying their respect stands by the graveside. Two passersby ask someone at the edge of the crowd what the deceased died of. The mourner points to the words on wreaths that have been deposited before the coffin: “from his beloved wife,” “from his brothers.”
Indeed, here in Belgium we are being killed, or to be more correct, we are not being saved thanks to the actions and inactions of people in authority who surely, taken one by one are quite decent and well-meaning. The only problem is that they are grossly incompetent and answerable to no one. They pay no price for their blunders, not even criticism from the newspapers who disseminate their interviews replete with very contentious and dubious logic.
I have in mind something very specific which occurred here in Belgium over the weekend. The French-language daily newspaper La Libre Belgique published, as it does every few days, statistics on the progress of the Covid infection: number of tests administered daily, number of positives, number of daily hospitalizations, number of those presently in hospital, number in ICUs. To this in the past couple of weeks they have added new updated statistics on the numbers of those who have been vaccinated, both once and twice. And on Saturday, in what is truly rare, they broke down the numbers of vaccinations by the country’s three regions: Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels-Capital Region.
To any reader, it immediately became clear why this information is not usually given out. It is too shocking for words. About 3.5% of the total population already vaccinated, nearly all in old age or other long term care institutions and their staff, have been vaccinated nationwide. This is roughly in line with the dismal results of the EU-27 vaccination program, kept low because of the incompetent administration of procurement led by European Commission President von der Leyen, whom I have previously criticized in preceding essays on this subject.
However, looking within Belgium to its three Regions, the situation becomes more dire and points to the reasons why well educated, sophisticated and caring Belgium is on the high road to hell because of the gross over-politicization of everything and anything and the widespread incompetence of those in power.
The newspaper in the same issue published an interview with the Minister for Health of the Brussels Region, Alain Maron. Well not just Health – and there by itself is a key to the problem. Mr. Maron is also responsible for “Climate Transition, Environment, Energy, Participative Democracy, and Social Action.” I have just enumerated the points in his title. “Health” follows “Social Action” in last place.
In last place! In the midst of the worst contagion the country is passing through in a hundred years that has placed the country among the worst performers in the world as regards mortality. In a situation of economic devastation from which only the fastest vaccinations to reach herd immunity can save us.
And when I name the party affiliation of this Minister, everything becomes clear: he is a “Green” party man, known in the French community as “Ecolo.” His qualifications to administer “Health” are surely nil.
Now for the punch line: whereas the Flemish and French Regions of Belgium presently have a vaccination rate of over 3.6% to population, the rate in the Brussels-Capital Region is 2% as the newspaper account in Saturday’s La Libre informed us.
Why is this so? That was one of the questions raised by the reporter during the interview. M. Alain Maron had a ready answer: because here in Brussels a lot of the support staff in the old age homes and long term care homes are commuters coming into the city from the suburbs, which happen to be situated in the Flemish Region. They are prioritized along with the old and infirm living in these institutions.
The reporter did not pursue this question further. I will.
This logic of the Minister is rubbing salt in our wounds. Anyone familiar with the budget of Belgium knows that the Brussels-Capital Region is always chastised for being unable to meet its financial obligations and going to the federal government with a begging bowl. They also know the reason why: apart from embassies and international institutions like NATO, like the EU Parliament and Commission, whose employees pay nothing into the Brussels Treasury, while requiring security, mobility and other services from the city, the commuters from Flanders are a big reason of the Brussels deficits. They use the transportation and other services of the city but contribute nothing to taxes because in Belgium you pay taxes where you live, not where you work.
Accordingly, it would have been very appropriate for the La Libre reporter to have asked why these commuters to the old age homes are not being immunized where they live and are instead taking vaccine that otherwise would go to those living and paying taxes in Brussels. I ask that question now!
This seemingly small issue is part of the very big reason why Belgium and Europe as presently governed are responding so poorly not only to the challenges of the Pandemic but to most all other global challenges. The people in power are surely well-meaning but their value system is cock-eyed and directs actions which are dysfunctional. Here the sophisticates in power are the very embodiment of Davos culture. They stand for inclusionary policies. They stand for proportional representation. The only thing they do not stand for is MERIT.
I rest my case
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2021