Master of Arts

Family triptych by Hans Laagland

The Dutch-speaking people of the Low Countries, whether in Flanders or the Netherlands, have been known for centuries as great painters. It is something so deeply cultural – even today almost every family in Flanders has its amateur painter – that one might be inclined to think that their painting talent is genetic. The Flemish and Dutch have expressed themselves in painting more than in music, literature, dance or any other art form. Flemish and Dutch painters, like Van Eyck, Memling, Bosch, Brueghel, Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Vermeer, van Gogh are world famous. They rank among the most significant in the world. In the history of painting a disproportionate number of the greatest painters of all times lived and worked in the Low Countries.

Europe Loves Castro

Louis Michel in Havana, 26 March 2005
The European Union is not considering a reintroduction of sanctions against Cuba, despite the wave of arrests of opponents of the Castro regime during the past weeks. The leftist French newspaper Le Monde recently called the crackdown “the most important operation against dissidents since 2003.” However, Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, who is an outspoken admirer of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, opposes all sanctions against Cuba. With the support of France, Michel, a Belgian, succeded in usurping the authority for policies relating to Cuba from the Austrian Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU Commissioner for External Relations.

Norwegian Left Courts Pakistani Vote

Election time in Norway: Halvorsen campaigning
On 12 September, Norway elects a new Storting (Parliament). Kristin Halvorsen, the president of the Socialist Left Party SV began her electoral campaign last week with a five-day visit to India and Pakistan.

Immigrants make up 3.6% of the Norwegian electorate in the general elections. In Oslo, however, this figure is 12%. For the municipal elections, where everybody who has lived in Norway for three years is entitled to vote, the Oslo figure is 18%. A large part of the Norwegian immigrant population is of Pakistani origin. Most of the Norwegian Pakistanis come from the region of Kharian, a Punjabi town that is sometimes referred to locally as “Little Norway”  because so many families have relatives in Norway. Halvorsen hopes that campaigning in Kharian during the holiday season will help her win votes in Norway next month.

Hitler’s Ghost Haunts German Parents

Of all religious groups Baptists were among the most fiercely persecuted in the Soviet Union. They were not just Christians but they also distrusted the state, preaching an institutional secession from state-run institutions. Many Baptists belonged to the German-speaking minority in Southern Russia and Kazakhstan. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, they emigrated to Germany, the land where their forefathers had originally come from. Today, these Baptist immigrants from Russia, as well as the Low-German Mennonites, are being prosecuted in Germany because they are unhappy with what their children are learning in the German public schools, which they consider too secular. Children are not allowed to opt out of classes or school activities and homeschooling is illegal in Germany since Adolf Hitler outlawed it in 1938.

Riyadh to Brussels: A Tale of Two Womanising Kings

King Fahd (photo: U.S. DoD)
King Fahd (b. 1923), Saudi Arabia’s ruler since 1982, died early this morning. “He had a reputation as a playboy in his youth, with allegations of womanising, drinking and gambling to excess,” the BBC writes in an obituary.


Belgium’s King Albert II has offered his condolences. Albert and Fahd crossed each other’s paths when they were both crown princes, but the Belgian will probably not like to be reminded of it. The new Saudi king, Abdullah, Fahd’s halfbrother, is also a friend of Albert’s, from the same period in Albert’s womanising past.

Shrewd Eurocrats Screwed Europeans

Wim Duisenberg, the 70-year old Dutch founding chairman of the European Central Bank, died today at a moment when his creation, the euro, is under threat. According to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, “everybody” has been “screwed” by the euro.  Berlusconi’s statement is generally perceived as marking the beginning of the campaign for the Italian general elections of May 2006. A shrewd politician, the Prime Minister is expressing the gut feeling of many Italians.

IRA versus Jihad?

According to this week’s Economist the Sinn Féin statement announcing the end of the IRA’s armed activities was delayed so that it would not “be overshadowed by the new, more violent terror campaign being waged by jihadis on the British mainland.” Were the IRA bombs that killed civilians in pubs and shopping streets less violent than al-Qaeda’s? The only difference, as far as I can see, is that the IRA members did not believe in blowing up themselves in the process. Does that make them less violent than suicide bombers?

Guarding the Guardian

In the late 1970s, when I was living in England, The Guardian was the most Soviet friendly of all British broadsheet newspapers, constantly trying to find excuses for Soviet behaviour by implying that the West was morally at least as evil as its adversaries. Apparently The Guardian has learned no lessons from the fall of Communism in 1989.

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