Monthly Archives: December 2010

Day 92 – Two Days, Two Issues

I’ve had two completely unrelated issues on my mind for the past few days: China and domestic abuse.

My meditations on China largely come from a meeting between a group of Parliament assistants and Ambassador Song Zhe. The meeting was arranged by a Chinese-born assistant to a European People’s Party MEP in order to foster a greater understanding in China-European dealings.

I went to this meeting because my main source of information regarding politics within China is the Economist, supplemented by occasional articles in the Guardian and the Herald on high-profile Chinese citizens who have been placed under arrest or executed by the regime. The picture built up by these sources is not necessarily the most balanced, ignoring, for example, how the controlled economy deals with the overwhelming poverty in areas of China.

The meeting, as it turned out was terribly balanced either.  The Ambassador made a twenty-minute presentation on how China and the EU could work together in the 21st Century, highlighting various cultural similarities and differences. This was actually quite educational, and I learnt a few things I didn’t know about Chinese culture. Unfortunately it was also very much a party line. I’ve read propaganda from the Soviet Union and from Nazi Germany which struck a similar tone.

Following the presentation, the floor was opened to questions. Given the enormity of China’s human rights violations, I suspect no-one will be surprised that this was one of the main issues raised. Several specific cases were referred to, with the Ambassador largely stonewalling on them. It was interesting hearing him attempt to justify the human rights violations as being down to differences in perceptions of human rights in China and the West. I don’t buy the idea that exercising freedom of speech endangers the rights or quality of life of others in China. In fact it would seem to be the opposite of what freedom of speech results in.

After the Ambassador left, one of his staff opened up a lot more. He talked at length about his negative experiences growing up during Mao’s Cultural Revolution and certainly seemed to indicate that China is liberalising slowly (something which would seem to harmonise with my reading in the Economist and diplomatic trends over the past decade). One point which he made which has stuck with me was that the Chinese people remember Mao too well and they don’t want another violent upheaval. The phrase he used was “evolution, not revolution”. I can sympathise with that sentiment given historical precedent in China, Russia and Iran.

I wouldn’t say I view China particularly favourably. I dislike the CCP’s environmental policy, their nuclear policy, their attitude towards human rights, their continuation of the cult of Mao and I’m very nervous about the rate of Chinese resource consumption and European reliance on Chinese imports. I can certainly see room for working with China to deal with these issues in a mutually beneficial way while building up a stronger European export market.

As regards domestic abuse, this something I’ve been doing some research and writing on the past few days. One of the things which came up was a recently launched campaign by Scottish Women’s Aids, simply called Stop. I’ve signed up to their pledge to help stop the abuse of women, as have Alyn and my manager. I also signed up to the White Ribbon Campaign, which is a male-orientated campaign to end domestic abuse against women.

This is an issue which I have very strong feelings on. There is no excuse for the fact that one-in-five women in Scotland will experience domestic abuse of some time during their lives. Sign up to the campaigns, raise awareness and remember that domestic abuse can be perpetrated against everyone, not just women (although they are the main victims).

Day 90 – An Early (and Unpleasant) Start

It’s 1:13AM local, and I just got off the phone with the police.

This is part of a progression of events.

Around about 9:30PM, I heard some shouting and a smash. The flat next to me and both flats upstairs have kids, so shouting and the odd thump isn’t unusual. It’s actually kind of reassuring.

About 10:30PM, I nipped out to the shop across the road. I noticed that the glass door to the lobby had been smashed from the inside out. The lift door has also been jammed open on the ground floor. I tweeted, worrying about whether I should call the police or not. I decided not, thinking the vandal either wouldn’t be back or would have calmed down.

Around about 1AM, as I was drifting off to sleep, I noticed some thumping. I didn’t give it much thought until about it had gone on for about ten minutes or so. Then I noticed there was also a smashing sound. After sticking my head out the window, noticing a car that might be a police car (they aren’t as garish in Belgium as they are in Scotland) and thinking about going downstairs to investigate, I called the police.

For reference, the EU-wide emergency number is 112. If you phone this in Belgium, it puts you through to the ambulance line. 110 is the police number here. I presume 111 gets you the fire brigade. Also useful to know is the fact that the emergency operators in Belgium speak fluent English, although you might need to repeat “Parle vu Anglais” a few times before they realise.

After I’d given him the details, the operator informed me that there was a car at the scene with a second car on the way. There had also been other reports of a domestic dispute. Since then, the thumping has stopped, but the lift has been going up and down a lot and there was the sound of a child crying coming from upstairs. As of 1:30AM, the police cars have gone. It’s all rather horrible.

Of course, I’m now wired on adrenalin. I did send a text to my manager saying that I might be late in tomorrow. I think being up till 1:30AM due to a police incident might be a reasonable excuse in this case.

Last time I had a night like this was about four years ago when a couple where having a violent domestic in the car-park beside my flat in Maryhill. It was equally horrible, possibly even worse. I just hope the poor woman in that case got good support and got rid of the fellow ASAP.

I am glad to say that this doesn’t reflect my experience in Brussels overall. It’s just the sort of event which happens all too frequently all over the world. The sort of thing which really needs to be stopped, and can be stopped if people act with more sense and maturity.

Anyway, I had better try and get some sleep.