Belgian solutions

Leuven Travel Blog

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Before Flemish was recognised as an official language in Belgium, French was culturally dominant in education, politics and society. The back-lash against this is still being felt, even through the Flemish are now more numerous and richer. One of the side-effects of the official recognition was that universities were suddenly allowed to teach in Flemish. The Free University of Brussels was split into a French Free University of Brussels and a Flemish Free University of Brussels, which were able to share a campus and a city for a while at least, because Brussels (unlike the rest of Belgium) is officially bilingual.
Things were more complicated at the Catholic University Leuven. The town of Leuven is in Flemish territory but all the teaching was in French. The solution was to split the University of Leuven into a Flemish University of Leuven in the town of Leuven, and a French University of New Leuven in a brand new town 10km away in French territory (called "New Leuven"). Which university was to keep the library? Leuven kept all books A to L, while New Leuvan took M to Z. That is a "Belgian solution".

Recently the Flemish University of Leuven has found another "Belgian solution". The university was founded as a public university of the city of Leuven but later taken over by the Catholic Church. The country is now very secular, and the church has been forced into a minority position on the board, giving all Professors freedom of inquiry.

Recently, though, the University invited a top Flemish stem-cell researcher back from Minnesota. This was too much for the Pope, who protested that the University Hospital performed euthanasia and abortions and now stem-cell research – how could they call themselves Catholic? The board responded that they would remove "Catholic" from the name, but wanted to keep the funding stream from the Church and not offend the traditionalists. The Belgian solution? The international name of the university is the "University of Leuven" while the Belgian name of the university is the "Catholic University of Leuven".

Abortion was central to another Belgian solution. All laws in Belgium need to be signed into law by the King of Belgium, but the King cannot refuse to sign a law passed by Parliament. When the Catholic country became secular enough to allow women reproductive choice, they passed a law allowing abortion. The only problem was that the King was staunchly Catholic and asked Parliament not to violate his ethics by forcing him to pass a law he disagreed with against his free will. But why should the free will of the entire country be violated to maintain the free will of a single person? The Belgian solution? The King and Parliament together searched the books and found an ancient law that disposed the King if he was unfit to rule, placing his duties in the care of the Prime Minister. Parliament voted that the King's emotions were clouding his judgement making him unfit, disposed him and got the Prime Minister to sign the law. The next day they voted that since the law was a done deal, the King's emotional response against it no longer made him unfit to rule and they reinstated him.

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photo by: Chokk