Magazine article The Spectator

Land of 1,000 Scandals

Magazine article The Spectator

Land of 1,000 Scandals

Article excerpt

'I THINK we've been burgled,' I said as I came downstairs one morning to find the contents of our bags strewn over the hall floor and credit cards fanned out, like an abandoned game of bridge, over the dining-room table.

My husband gave a little cry and darted off to see if the thieves had made off with his new golf clubs. But they hadn't. All they had done was to root around for our mobile phones - disdaining our car, hi-fi, children, laptops - and steal them both.

When I told people about our first cambriolage - the way the thieves had come and gone without sound or spoor, their exclusive interest in mobile phones - my friends all jumped to the same conclusion.

'Sounds like you're under surveillance. What are you working onT asked one, even though the nearest I've come to sailing close to the wind is writing a piece about the charms of the Belgian seaside. 'You'd better ring everyone in your mobile-phone memory and warn them,' said another.

That Belgian trait of seeing conspiracies was very much in evidence last week when a Flemish teenager published a book which claims that King Albert has an illegitimate daughter called Delphine Boel, who is alive and well and living in Notting Hill. While most sensible Belgians rejoiced to hear that their King was a boulevardier after all, and much admired the pictures of his foxy daughter from the wrong side of the blanket in her high-heeled boots, the country's numerous conspiracy theorists reacted differently. To them, the revelation was part of a dastardly Flemish republican plot to destabilise the francophone monarchy only weeks before the marriage of Albert's son and heir, the droopy Crown Prince Philippe.

Brussels is a delightful place, with its food and beer, fine buildings, and proximity to London and Paris. But there is, and I say this with due affection, something of the night about Belgium. Someone once said that it was 'petit pays, petits gens', but for a small country it produces big scandals, and its little people are now connoisseurs of conspiracy as well as of chocolate.

The greatest scandals are the Dutroux case (the abduction and deaths of four young girls); the Cools case (the shooting of a socialist politician in broad daylight, leading to revelations of links between political parties and organised crime); and the Brabant Killers (who raided supermarkets and shot dead 28 people between 1982 and 1985). They all made world headlines. Years on, they remain unsolved.

Then there are the simmering scandals: the farmers who feed their animals sewage or dioxin-laced oil, the trade in illegal hormones and banned British beef, the many children who are still going missing, and the fact that Belgium is the world's entrepot for white slavery - a place where young women from poor countries can be bought for as little as L650 each.

Scandal has become an industry in itself, with its own unique breed of celebrity. While France has stars such as Johnny Halliday (well, he was born in Belgium but pretends to be French) and Brigitte Bardot, Belgium's A-list includes magistrates, journalists, parents of murdered children, detectives. It is curious that the most famous living Belgian, Marc Dutroux, is a paedophile.

One would think, with this cornucopia of crime and corruption, that there would be numerous websites for this nation of scandal junkies. …

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