Monday 5 January 2004

World-stage village politics

Taking yourself off the social map
Gaining independence from the 4th of October 1830, this country struts the world-stage in many significant areas.
Initiated through their monarch the Scramble for the Partition of Africa; an historical term dignifying the 19th Century Europeans with the poise exhibited in carving up Africa.
This country now offers its capital city as the headquarters to a number of world and European organisations, a bilingual little-Stan with a big voice and presence, welcome to Belgium.
Village politics
This piece of news or rather gossip may not have made front covers but it made such interesting reading that one had to comment on the underlying issues that create such a farce.
The punch line goes "It's sad that because of village politics, the country gets ridiculed". How two senior diplomats with 37 years of combined experience could resort to this sort of petty tyranny is unfortunate but signals an opportunity for change before it gets out of hand.
Nadine Goertz reports in the New Year's print edition of Wall Street Journal Europe with the by-line "Tiff Between Belgian Diplomats Leaves Party Guests a Bit Frosted"
Diplomatic squabbles
The Kingdom of the Belgians has two top diplomats in the United States, the UN Ambassador Jean De Ruyt and the Consul General Stephane De Loecker.
It so happens that the ambassador was once the CG's boss at the UN with both of them having 20 and 17 years respectively in the Belgian diplomatic corps.
By circumstance, when the former Consul General left her post in October 2002, the ambassador who lived in an apartment near the UN moved into the more spacious Fifth Avenue location in December 2002.
This location happened to be the swanky location where the Belgians entertained important guests as is customary for its status.
Conflicting receptions
On instruction of the Belgian Foreign Ministry, the current CG was advised to organise a reception for the 15th of November commemorating the King's Day held annually in honour of the king.
Therefore, invitations went out concerning that event to the business, political, important and good friends of Belgium, and 75 in all.
As it transpired, the office of the Ambassador tried in vain to rescind all those invitations without offering an alternative venue.
On the night, being the first cold night of the winter the guests who did not receive the cancellation notice were stood at the locked gates of the venue. The doorman sticking out his head announced, "No party is going on".
Not a party to attend
Typical of what might be announced to one if trying to gatecrash a private party in some rundown location, but not when invited to a grand occasion like the Belgian King's Day in Upper East side New York offering impressive views of the Central Park from large windows.
Anyway, the guests received a letter of apology at the gates and the representatives who were summoned by the Foreign Minister to explain this debacle have since returned to their posts.
One is surprised that the real and underlying issue has not been addressed. A case of petty tyrants who having represented their country for so long, have evolved beyond understanding the privilege of representation into an embarrassment.
No scruples should have been pulled in serving them their golden parachutes and allow others who would pride themselves more in serving the country selflessly to mend the fences in this regard.
Egg on faces
The CG even had the integrity and dignity to offer his resignation, however, one's view is the Belgians are worthy of better.
We see the poise and dignity of Justine Henin-Hardenne, Kim Clijsters and Xavier Malisse, who as individual lawn tennis sports personalities have done a lot representing their country that these diplomatic dinosaurs seem ready for fossilisation.
One has liberally quoted from Nadine Goertz's news piece, and there might be a lot more to this story than we both have access to. However, the King's Day should have been celebrated and the guests feted by both representatives at the customary venue.
It also transpires that it is in the office of the CG to invite guests to such an event, so for the ambassador to attempt rescinding the invitations was at worst cack-handed and uncivil.
Failing the first test
Whenever the differences were between the ambassador and the CG, even though the ambassador's residence is used to host these parties, which he would well be aware of, they should not have been played out on an important diplomatic occasion as this.
In fact, with 37 years between them, they had failed the first test of diplomacy or rather tact, which by the Merriman-Webster dictionary definition is - a keen sense of what to do or say in order to maintain good relations with others or avoid offence.
If on such a small issue they have not acquitted themselves well, they cannot handle the bigger issues of world stage politics with the panache that equates the status of Belgium.
Back to Diplomacy 101
Having served as ambassadors to Poland, NATO, Ethiopia and some other African countries between them, this one misdemeanour is too great a faux pas in these times of delicate diplomatic relations with the United States and on the issues of NATO to go without a re-schooling on what diplomacy is all about.
They have served and they should now go. It is unlikely; the renown of Belgian parties in New York would have recovered sufficiently for the same guests to grace the next King's Day celebration.
The representatives have taken Belgium off the social calendar.

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